Friday, March 24, 2017

Rushdie,Reality, Symbols, Stories, Truth, , and ACA

Salman Rushdie's Two Years Eight Months and Twenty-Eight Nights seems to have understood the 'strangeness' that we are going through.  His novel suggests jinns are reeking havoc, but as I've been struggling to bring some sense to this post on ACA, this snippet from page 111, seems to focus on the underlying story of the battle over ACA (and everything else.)
"We were all trapped in stories, she said, just as he used to say, his wavy hair, his naughty smile, his beautiful mind, each us the prisoners of our own solipsistic narrative, each family the captive of the family story, each community locked within its own tale of itself, each people the victims of their own versions of history, and there were parts of the world where the narratives collided and went to war, where there were two or more incompatible stories fighting for space on, to speak, the same page."
The ACA seems to be where the Republican and Democratic narratives collided and went to war.  There were other things that raised hackles, but this was where pride and power broke out into full scale war.

And now repealing ACA is the Confederate flag of the right, a symbol of what holds them all together, and also reveals the myth of that togetherness.  

The Republican narrative on Obamacare has mostly been symbolic:
Obamacare symbolized a number of things to their narratives.
  • Republican power slipping away
  • Runaway government intrusion and spending
  • The loss of personal responsibility - the concern that the socialist state would strip people's work ethic, and the mandate forcing people to buy something they might not want
  • A black president getting his way
  • A rallying cry to their base
It didn't matter that Obamacare was based on Republican ideas for health care that Romney had put in place in Massachusetts.

But Congress is now . . . I wanted to say  "a fact free zone."  But that's not quite true.  There are lots of 'facts' (something that can be proven true or false*) floating around.  Then I wanted to say "a truth free zone."  But there is plenty of truth floating around too.  It's more accurate to say that there just aren't any trusted referees in congress who have the authority to  analyze and determine what is and is not true.  Each person's sees and validates what confirms his narrative.  There's no one arbiter to examine the various narratives and test them for how closely they reflect how the world actually works.

By January 2014, Politico reports the Republicans made 48 attempts to repeal Obamacare.

"It's [repealing Obamacare] pretty high on our agenda as you know," the Kentucky Republican said on Wednesday. "I would be shocked if we didn't move forward and keep our commitment to the American people."

Is Obamacare perfect?   Far from it.  Some states are down to a single insurer.  But Republicans wouldn't allow there to be competition from public insurance providers.  Because of this and other issues (like each state being a separate market) costs for some are prohibitively expensive for policies that are insurance in name only.

On the other hand, tens of millions of people are now insured who weren't insured before.  People with prior conditions can get insurance.  Children in college stay on their parents' plans until they are 26.  Mental health and addiction care is available.

Republicans complain about mandates, but nearly every state requires car insurance.  The exceptions, from Wikipedia:
"States that do not require the vehicle owner to carry car insurance include Virginia, where an uninsured motor vehicle fee may be paid to the state; New Hampshire, and Mississippi which offers vehicle owners the option to post cash bonds (see below)."
But car insurancecom notes in 2016:
"Every state requires that you meet financial responsibility requirements through insurance, a bond or some other approved means that show you are able to pay if you cause damages to another person or property in an automobile accident.
Each state renews its laws annually, so some states that had no insurance requirements in the past now do. New Hampshire probably has the least amount of requirements -- and it still requires that you immediately show proof of financial responsibility if you've been involved in a car accident."
I'd note that Republicans dominate state legislatures and governorships.   They could end mandatory car insurance in most states if they are as opposed to mandatory insurance as they claim.  They would argue that in a car you could hurt others, whereas lack of health insurance just hurts you.  But that neglects the health hazards of infectious diseases, not to mention the long term costs to everyone of not taking care of health issues early on.  Or the fact that some people could not buy insurance even if they could afford it.

So now enough Republicans have heeded their constituents who are saying that this or that part of Obamacare needs to be kept, that before abolishing Obamacare, a Republican replacement health care law needs to be in place.

But the Freedom Caucus in the House is calling that replacement plan for what it is - Obamacare lite.

So the vote to repeal Obamacare is really just symbolic.  It is necessary, as some Republican legislators have said, to keep their promise.

I recall when I was about four years old, a dinner table dispute resulted in my threatening to throw my milk on my mother.  "Don't threaten me,"  my mother said.  To my four year old way of thinking, a threat was something you didn't carry out, like a bad promise. To avoid it being a mere threat, I had no choice but to follow through on what I had said I would do.  Even though I knew it would end badly for all involved.

I think that's sort of where we are with health care.  The Republicans have been telling us how evil it was for so long and how it had to be repealed, that now, with majorities in the House, Senate, and a Republican president, they feel they have to repeal it.  Even if they aren't really repealing it, they have to symbolically do something that they can at least say repeals it.  Except the Freedom Caucus.

The Freedom Caucus' narrative is hard to figure out.  Jim Jordan spelled out the mission statement in 2015:
 "The House Freedom Caucus gives a voice to countless Americans who feel that Washington does not represent them. We support open, accountable and limited government, the Constitution and the rule of law, and policies that promote the liberty, safety and prosperity of all Americans."
That's not exactly a narrative.  It's a set of goals.  But we don't know the underlying stories that make these goals critical for the Freedom Caucus.  This matters because, I would argue, that except for the 'limited government,' most of Bernie Sanders' supporters could wholeheartedly embrace these goals.

We aren't going to get past this conflict until people from warring narratives sit down together, preferably over a meal (or series of meals) and listen to each others' personal narratives.  Until they find out how much they (we) have in common as human beings, how much of their (our) narrative is myth, how much overlaps with their mortal enemies' narratives.   Until they see how their (our) macho conflict myths prevent any of those goals from happening.

Those people who took the trouble to vote in November were fairly evenly divided.  The president, despite his rhetoric, did not get a mandate.  He presides over a nation of people with different narratives and that has been focusing more and more on the differences between their narratives  than the similarities.  To the extent that we focus on the conflicts and on the symbols of our differences, there will be no peace for anyone.  Just temporary Pyrrhic victories.  People on both sides of this symbolic divide would do well to be curious about how their 'enemies' come to believe what they believe.

In the world that Rushdie (remember him, whose words started this post?) created, the chaos is caused by jinns, mischievous spirits from another world.  Best I can tell, our jinns, most of whose names are hidden by Citizens United, are people like the Koch brothers and Robert Mercer, and Putin, who  invest a small portion of their billions to disrupt honest debate with fake news, adding to the difficulty of sorting out what is and what is not true.

*Yes, I know truth is squishy.  Let's just use 'true' as a surrogate for 'as best we can tell that something is true, after looking at at all the evidence.'

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