Inside the Republican Brain

Phrenology chartA couple of weeks ago, President Obama made an argument I wish more people would make. At a press conference, he was asked if a public option for health insurance would "drive private insurers out of business."

"Why would it drive private insurers out of business?" he answered. "If private insurers say that the marketplace provides the best quality healthcare, if they tell us that they're offering a good deal, then why is it that the government -- which they say can't run anything -- suddenly is going to drive them out of business? That's not logical."

It's not only insurance companies who say this, it's Republicans. As always. cognitive dissonance rules supreme on the right. There's no way that government can possibly do something better than the private sector -- that is, until the only argument against a government program is that government will do it better than the private sector. Then all bets are off, a core argument of conservative philosophy is abandoned, and we're supposed to believe that everything we were previously told of the supremacy of the private was wrong.

It amazes me that the small minority who still consider themselves Republican can manage this logical origami. When Sarah Palin resigned, she said, "Life is too short to compromise time and resources... it may be tempting and more comfortable to just keep your head down, plod along, and appease those who demand: 'Sit down and shut up,' but that's the worthless, easy path; that's a quitter's way out" And we weren't supposed to notice that she was quitting. If you're a Republican, two entirely contradictory concepts are able to exist in the same skull.

We saw the same thing throughout the Bush administration, where we were told that we had to fight wars to "keep Americans safe." Over four thousand service members died in the Iraq war alone -- did we borrow some other country's military for that? If not, we lost more Americans in Iraq than we did on 9/11. And the Iraq war was supposedly started to protect us from another 9/11. Doesn't seem like the best math in retrospect, does it? That's probably why military funerals and the returning coffins were practically a state secret -- it's hard to argue that you're keeping Americans safe when they're returning from a war in boxes.

These mental gymnastics are nothing new. Ronald Reagan demonstrated this cognitive dissonance when he admitted to a scandal without admitting to a scandal. "A few months ago I told the American people I did not trade arms for hostages," he said. "My heart and my best intentions still tell me that's true, but the facts and the evidence tell me it is not." If you can wrap your head around that and get it to make any damned sense at all, you probably vote Republican.

Given history, I think we can easily write off Republican arguments as BS. The arguments don't even have to have any logical consistency within themselves. So expecting there to be any continuity between separate arguments would be foolish. First, we have to privatize everything government does, because the private sector is superior to government in every way. Then, we've got to keep government out of an industry, because government would put all of these superior private companies out of business. Pick a belief and stick with it, because believing everything is pretty much the same thing as believing nothing.

But that's not the case here. Republicans believe what's convenient to believe -- or, at least, they make the most convenient arguments. What they really believe is that the interests of corporations are more important than the interests of the consumers. The problem is that voters are consumers, so you have to put things in a way that isn't 100% honest. You have to get people to vote for screwing themselves.

This corporatism is a bipartisan belief, infecting both parties, but the GOP has the more severe case. If you doubt that, show me a pro-labor Republican or two. Show me the Republican who believes that government's role is to police and regulate industry.

So the public option is a bad thing because government is just too good at competing in the insurance industry. At the same time, government can't do anything right. Government insurance would be the worst thing ever, because you'll find a government bureaucrat between you and your doctor, instead of an insurance company bureaucrat. An insurance company bureaucrat is better than a government one. Don't ask why, because there is no answer to that question. It's like sending Americans to die in a war. That keeps Americans safe. It doesn't make any sense, it's just an argument that enough people will fail to think about. And when you fail to think something all the way through, when you stop thinking once you've reached the conclusion you're most comfortable with, then you've attained that state of Zen that is Republicanism.

And once that argument is shown to be false, you're supposed to forget anyone ever made it. If a bill with a public option reaches the president's desk, you'll be expected to forget that anyone predicted with absolute certainty that it would destroy our health care system. When it works out great and private insurers drop prices to compete with the public system, we're supposed to forget that this was never going to happen in a million years.

"Make no mistake about it, the president is for this strongly," Sen. Chuck Schumer said yesterday on Face the Nation. "There will be a public option in the final bill." A health care reform bill is going to leave a key senate committee with a public option included. 72% of Americans back a public health care plan and would be willing to pay more in taxes to get it.

Meanwhile, the private health insurance industry is dumping $1.4 million a day lobbying against it. In the end, the question here is who will win out -- the corporations or you. Republicans would argue that both would win if the public option were written out of a final bill, but it's hard to see how anything could change without one.

And I suppose that's the point. If we get the same damned thing as always, if the status quo is maintained, you'll be told that this is a win for you. Everything you were so unhappy with before will be what you'll be expected to be grateful for now.

It doesn't have to make sense, it's Republicanism. Just turn your brain off, forget logic and consistency, and be happy.


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