One of my guilty pleasures on Christmas Eve day is driving around listening to old radio plays on WISN. For that one day, the primary purveyor of right-wing poison in Milwaukee gives their local and national chuckleheads the day off and runs three holiday-season radio plays from the late 1940s – “It’s a Wonderful Life”, “A Christmas Carol” and “Miracle on 34th Street”. It’s a trip back in time to a lost art form, featuring talented, familiar voices from the past. The material – smarmy and corny as it often is – is crafted for moderately intelligent, thoughtful people who might be in the market to think well of sponsors Campbell’s Soup (“Christmas Carol”) or Lux Soap (“Wonderful Life” and “Miracle”).
This Christmas Eve morning, the historic passage of health insurance reform in the Senate that I watched live on TV that very morning was on my mind as I took off for a long drive. Tuning to WISN looking to amuse myself with wing-nut hysterics about the vote, I instead found the “Christmas Carol” recording; hosted by the great Orson Welles and featuring the incomparable, crusty Lionel Barrymore as Scrooge, being led around by a bunch of ghosts.
I picked up on a detail I hadn’t noticed in the story before. During his tour of the Future, Scrooge is shown the Cratchit family in mourning over the demise of the sickly Tiny Tim. For some reason, Scrooge thinks he can do something about this if he is given the chance to go back to the Present and be a nicer guy. And, indeed, he does somehow “save” him from this apparent fate – according to Wikipedia (yeah, yeah, I know...but I don't pretend to know Dickens), Tim survives even to attend Scrooge’s funeral.
Now, what could Scrooge have possibly done to affect the length and quality of Tim’s life in such a dramatic way? What else but get the poor kid some damn health care? Dicken’s tale is set in pre-industrial, pre-nationalized health-care England, where the poor and (in Bob Cratchit’s case) underemployed were left to fend for themselves. The pre-ghost Scrooge was the epitome of the social Darwinist, more than willing to let the chips fall where they may on the unfortunate heads of the underclass; even unto death, inasmuch as it “decreased the surplus population”. After his fever-dream, he cares too much – at least about the poor he knows – buying more giant turkey than the Cratchit family can handle. And Tiny Tim must be saved. No doubt Scrooge headed straight to the health insurance exchange and got his employee on his plan (alas, with high deductibles – hey, Scrooge was saved, but not crazy).
If the Republicans, Tea Baggers and their purported intellectual enablers national and local were like Scrooge, we could say their salvation is only a nightmare (or history lesson) away. But they lack Scrooge’s internal consistency. Scrooge was a dick with his money because he thought he had to be – it doesn’t seem he was doing all that great either (certainly not as good as Barrymore’s other iconic role – Henry Potter). He just decided (at least for one night) not to make whatever success he did have on the back of his employee, the long-suffering Bob Cratchit.
Right-wingers, on the other hand, only care about one thing, and that is the reinstitution of their political power. They know as well as you and I do that the health insurance industry is an elaborate, bureaucratic scam designed to siphon money off of people’s (mostly) unavoidable misery. They know the small business people they pretend to champion are suffering under the crushing weight of health insurance policies that are costing more and paying for less.
They had a chance to do something about it when they were in power and didn’t even try. Now, the grown-ups in the room – the Democrats – are finally showing some leadership on the issue, and the shrinking GOP knows it cannot survive if Obama and the Democrats succeed in actually making millions of lives better. Even the weak, incremental, industry-friendly bill that passed the Senate is something that – like Social Security and Medicare – will be a landmark of positive government action that will solidify the Democratic Party as the Good Guys for another generation.
The power-mad Republicans and their fellow travelers know the long-range implications of Democratic achievement, which is why they have unleashed the most repulsive, demagogic campaign of lies and hyperbole in U.S. political history. From the constant screeching about socialism to putting the fear of “death panels” into our seniors, the disloyal opposition has become completely unmoored from reality, floating in its own fetid sea of phony facts, deliberate exaggerations and badly-acted hysterics. Using its all-too-convenient vehicles – talk-radio, Fox News, the Wall Street Journal and their echo-chamber counterparts in the blogosphere – an alternate universe has been created where these people can talk to each other and at their vulnerable target demographic of fearful, stupid people. Most of their commentary would be laughed out of the legitimate media – and are, when they make the mistake of showing their sorry asses in the real world.
But to accuse them of Scrooge-like behavior gives them too much credit. Scrooge at least could articulate the self-interest involved in his previous behavior. The Republicans can't articulate anything except "NO". If Obama was against health insurance reform, they would find a way to be for it. All they know is that if the Democrats succeed at something -- anything -- they lose (again). Succeed Obama did (or will, soon). Lose, they did, the Republicans, all standing together as a convenient and unfortunate whole.
Scrooge saw in the Future the unnecessary suffering and death of Tiny Tim and sought redemption through change. Republicans know a million avoidable medical tragedies are out there and have one word for them -- NO!