Because It Is Bitter

Stephen Crane’s remarkable poem, In the Desert, has a certain value in interpreting the current Republican political strategy:

In the desert
I saw a creature, naked, bestial,
Who, squatting upon the ground,
Held his heart in his hands,
And ate of it.
I said, “Is it good, friend?”
“It is bitter–bitter,” he answered;
“But I like it
Because it is bitter,
And because it is my heart.”

The Republican party doesn’t seem to have any strategy, except to attack President Obama. For example, New Hampshire Senator Judd Gregg has reportedly developed a manual for fighting health care reform. It’s more evidence the Republicans don’t have a real proposal for cleaning up the health care mess; their reaction is to frustrate reform. Their strategy is an effort to regain power, not solve the problems facing the country. If, by their efforts, they can prevent any health care reform, then President Obama will have been “unsuccessful” and should not be re-elected.

You can see the strategy everywhere. The effort to pull the economy out of the recession, dealing with the federal estate tax, the war in Iraq, the war in Afghanistan; all of the Republican efforts are to prevent President Obama and the Democrats from succeeding. Not to solve the underlying problems. Rather, to regain power at the expense of all Americans who are suffering as a result of the problems facing the country.

It is particularly galling that the Republicans have anchored their objections in large part because “we can’t afford it.” The Republicans point to the huge national debt, and moan about the price “our children” will pay. In most cases, that’s an utterly bankrupt argument. The last Republican administration and Congress famously turned the Clinton Administration surplus into the current deficit by cutting taxes, increasing spending and permitting a concentration of economic power without regulation, creating businesses that were “too big to be permitted to fail.” The Republican bailout of Wall Street, GMC, Chrysler and others is overwhelmingly the largest single factor in the current debt.

The “price tag” argument is morally and logically flawed in another important way, especially in the context of health care. If we don’t fix health care, the growth in the cost of health care is going to kill the economy all by itself. We can’t continue to do nothing without creating even greater problems than we already have. It’s not simply a matter of extending health care to everyone as a social goal. The unrestricted growth in the cost of health care, whether as a cost to employers, cost of medicare and medicaid, or simple direct cost to the consumer, cannot be sustained. The Democrat’s health care plan may be expensive, but it is much less expensive, in the long run, than doing nothing.

The voters aren’t that naive. The Republican “strategy” presumes a level of incompetence in the Democrats and stupidity in the voters that’s not in evidence.

Which is why I find Stephen Crane’s image so appropriate. The Republican party, for the most part, is lost in a political desert, gnawing its own heart. It’s hardly surprising the taste is bitter.