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What’s really behind the GOP’s rejection of health-care reform

Lately I have been baffled by some actions of the Republicans that appeared to be self-defeating and strategically dangerous. Now I think I have a clearer understanding of their motives, strategy and goals — as well as the reasons for their adamant stand on health-care reform. The very actions that baffled me are shaping the direction in which they are moving — and the path they have elected to take in general.

Let’s start with a macro view of the “baffling” actions, before we tackle the health-care issue. First, consider the position that all but a handful of Republicans took on Justice Sonia Sotomayer’s Senate confirmation. Then there was the “birther” controversy, along with the continual bashing of immigrants and immigration. And finally, this giant flap about “death panels,” town-hall disruptions, and rejection of virtually any health-care reform, let alone the public option. In its totality, this is not about the Supreme Court, Obama’s legitimacy, or health care — I am convinced it is about 2010 and 2012. This is the Republican strategy to win the next elections. It is also about the country’s changing demographics, which are scaring the hell out of the Republicans, and their ability and reactions to cope with it. Further, it is about race, religion and the right.

Take the Sotomayer issue. A report in August 2008 from the U.S. Census Bureau projects that by 2042 non-Hispanic whites will no longer make up the majority of the population. This is a revision of earlier projections that this would occur in 2050. Today, non-Hispanic whites make up about 66 percent of the population. This is expected to fall to 46 percent in 2050. The report foresees the Hispanic population rising from 15 percent today to 30 percent by 2050. Today, African-Americans make up 14 percent of the population; in 2050 they are projected to make up 15 percent. Asian-Americans make up 5 percent of the population and are expected to make up 9 percent in 2050. The United States has nearly 305 million people today, and is projected to reach 400 million by 2039 and 439 million in 2050.

Given these facts, it would seem like suicide for the Republican senators to oppose Sotomayer and offend a growing base of their constituents (especially in the border states). But maybe not, if their strategy is to concede that group to the Democrats and focus their efforts on their white right base. Clearly, that is what they have done.

Enhance, strengthen, deepen hold on the right
Similarly, their position on abortion and antipathy to immigrants takes the same tack: enhance, strengthen and deepen their hold on the religious right. But, for now, abortion, immigration reform and other such issues have fallen in priority to the “hot” issue of the day: health-care reform. Here the strategy is clear: Focus on the 25 percent of Americans who do not want reform — generally folks on the far right who dislike any government program or intervention, and have an innate dislike (hatred?) for Obama as well. The view, I believe, is that if they can “lock and load” that hard core group, deepen and widen it a bit, and motivate members of this group to hit the polls in extremely large numbers, they can win elections over the more sanguine and less motivated electorate in the coming elections. Using tactics that combine fear and fiction, they seem to be gaining some traction with this approach.

Michael Murphy, a well-regarded GOP political consultant and writer, noted a similar dynamic in a Time magazine article last June. While I agree with his analysis, I believe his conclusion is wrong. Murphy wrote:

“It is true that attitudes change. A magnificent Republican renewal may still be possible. Conservatism is traditionally energized by a reaction to liberal excess, and the unabashedly leftish tilt of the Obama Administration’s domestic agenda does give hope. But demography is a powerful force. Waiting and hoping didn’t do much for the Whigs. I prefer a Republican reformation right now.

Young voters need to see a GOP that is more socially libertarian, particularly toward gay rights. With changing demographics come changing attitudes, and aping the grim town elders from Footloose is not the path back to a Republican White House. The pro-life movement can still be a central part of the GOP — it has support among all ages (and a slim majority of Latino voters) — but the overall GOP view on abortion must aggressively embrace the big tent. Saving the GOP is not about diluting conservatism but about modernizing it to reflect the country it inhabits instead of an America that no longer exists.”

Making the tent smaller
True as that may be, it is obvious that is not the direction the GOP is taking. Indeed, it is quite the opposite — do not make the tent “bigger,” make it smaller — but with a reliable base it can count on to be vocal, energetic and to vote. How else can you explain actions that offend a growing minority population, and bizarre objections to a health-care program most Americans want and need? The only conclusion: They are going to rely on their white, right, religious base. Look who their spokespeople are now: Rush Limbaugh, Sarah Palin, Rep. Michele Bachmann, Newt Gingrich, et al. — and they all speak in the same tongues.

If this conclusion is true, the question remains, will it work? Maybe — if half of Americans do not vote (as they have in past elections); if the minorities who came out to vote for Obama stay home now that the euphoria of a black president has passed; if the young voters return to their habit of staying away from the polls; if the GOP fear tactics gain traction; and if the GOP has sufficiently rallied its base to the level Republicans believe can win elections.

Meanwhile, America is the victim of subtle racism, lots of fear and shouting, paralysis in the legislative branch, and the stonewalling of action on programs that could and would improve the well-being of us all.

Myles Spicer of Minnetonka has spent his business career as a professional writer and owned several successful ad agencies over the past 45 years.

Comments (10)

  1. Submitted by Steve Titterud on 08/24/2009 - 10:27 am.

    Good column. There’s another angle or two related to your view that it’s all about the next 2 election cycles.

    One factor is the huge amount of money the health insurance and pharmaceutical industries are willing and able to pay in order to protect their revenue streams. I don’t doubt that Republicans imagine that their hostility to reform will tilt those resources their way in the 2010 races.

    However, it is an extremely high-risk strategy, because if these industries co-opt the administration and the Democrats sufficiently to protect that revenue, maybe they won’t be so quick to attack their “new friends” next time around. These industries do not bite the hand that feeds them.

    The health insurance and pharmaceutical lobbies certainly seem to be succeeding in their campaign with the Democrats, who have much more to give at this time through their majority.

    Another factor is that the 25% or so named in the article not only vote at the polls, they vote with their checkbooks, too. Just look at the fund-raising success of Michelle Bachmann here in Minnesota. If Republican success in 2010 is related to campaign money (is there any doubt?), then it seems to me the Republicans are trapped in a dance with those contributors. These same contributors want to hear the hard line non-stop, and they are not very understanding of Republicans who back-track, God forbid, to a more centrist or liberal view.

    Finally, the right wing isn’t against losing in a “righteous” cause, no matter how deluded that cause be. It keeps the fires burning.

  2. Submitted by Karen Sandness on 08/24/2009 - 01:37 pm.

    The Republicans have successfully demagogued the issue of illegal immigration, understanding its connection with the fear that some white voters have of being “overwhelmed” by people of color. They may be on the wrong side of the issues, but they are past masters at appealing to deep psychological currents.

    Whenever there is a discussion of health care reform online, some Republican is sure to jump in with remarks about not wanting to subsidize illegal immigrants and their “anchor babies.”

    Name any societal reform, and the Republicans will raise the spectre of illegal immigrants benefiting somehow.

    But one thing you’ll never hear from Republicans is a call for draconian *employer* sanctions on those who hire illegal immigrants. As it is, companies that hire illegal immigrants receive a token fine and go out to hire the next crew. If hiring illegal immigrants meant that the employer was risking confiscatory fines, enough to shut down the business entirely, then the job market, the demand side, would dry up quickly.

    Other countries would no longer be able to export their unemployment problems but would be forced to reform their own economies.

    The Republicans would never propose such measures for two reasons: 1) They’d lose one of their favorite scapegoats, and 2) They’d have to pay more for their home repairs and landscaping.

  3. Submitted by Bernice Vetsch on 08/24/2009 - 01:47 pm.

    See also an article about historian Robert O. Paxton’s study of the history of fascism in the 20th century (Fascist America: Are We There Yet? by Sara Robinson,, published August 8).

    Ms. Robinson places us in the second or third of five stages that Paxton described as leading to full-blown fascism. Countries reached a stage where there occurred a “deadlock of constitutional government (produced in part by the polarization that the fascists abetted); conservative leaders who felt threatened by the loss of their capacity to keep the population under control at a moment of massive popular mobilization; an advancing Left; and conservative leaders who refused to work with that Left and who felt unable to continue to govern against the Left without further reinforcement.”

    At Stage 3, when the conservative elites enlist the “brownshirts” of Stage 1 (think Timothy McVeigh) in a desperate attempt to retain/regain power, “their last hope is to invest the hardcore remainder of their base with an undeserved legitimacy, recruit them as shock troops, and overthrow American democracy by force.”

    Today’s brownshirts, riled up and “informed” by the conservative elite? We see them at the health care forums, wearing guns at Obama rallies, at so-called tea parties. And hear/see members of the conservative elite IN CONGRESS, on Fox News and right-wing talk radio.

  4. Submitted by dan buechler on 08/24/2009 - 03:15 pm.

    There is part of me that thinks we too often engage in monolithic thinking even though its quick easy and fun and it can be partly true. It would be interesting to see graphically how political tents grow and shrink and what energizes voters. That would probably be very complex but it is doable to some degree.

  5. Submitted by myles spicer on 08/24/2009 - 03:52 pm.

    Well, Dan, with the current Republicans, it is not very difficult at all. As noted, they used the weak “Latino Lady” argument to vote against Sotomayer. They are rigidly adamant on abortion. They are incredibly shrill on immigration. They are stonewalling health care reform with fictional and bizarre comments on “death panels”.
    And not a single responsible GOP spokesperson has raised even a whisper to discount these actions. In short, they are surely not interested in “growing their tent” at this time and place. Virtually every comment and action they take is flat out pandering to their base.

  6. Submitted by Ed Stych on 08/24/2009 - 06:02 pm.

    Why is it always about identity politics for liberals? Conservatives didn’t want Sotomayer confirmed for the same reason liberals didn’t want Roberts confirmed: She’s most likely going to vote differently than the way I want the Supreme Court to vote. Is Mr. Spicer saying that Hispanic voters are going to oppose the GOP simply because it’s senators voted against Sotomayer? I give Hispanics more credit than he does.

    There are only 25 percent who don’t want health care reform? I guess it depends on what you mean. Maybe 75 percent want some kind of reform (who doesn’t believe in at least tweaking the system?), but polls show that more than 50 percent don’t like what the Democrats have proposed. The GOP is just going along with popular opinion on that.

    Has anyone read There are plenty of misleading statements being made by both Dems and Repubs. It’s clear that Obama isn’t telling the truth, but I don’t know if he’s lying, using scare tactics, or just isn’t very educated about the subject.

    Polling also shows that there are more conservatives than liberals in every state. Of course, it’s the independents and the moderates who decide each election. Polls show that Obama and the Dems have lost a vast majority of those voters for the moment … mostly because of the incredible wasteful spending by this president and the Dem congress.

    Of course the GOP is looking to 2012 (actually 2010 first, as it’s likely to gain several seats back in the House). And the plan is to go forward as consistently financially conservatives. (Note I said going FORWARD, so going on and on about Bush’s spending won’t help your argument).

    It’s not about race. Never has been, as much as liberals want to fantasize about all of us conservatives being racists. As someone (grin) once famously said, “It’s the economy, stupid,” and so it is again. Big spending, big deficit, no plan for getting out except increasing taxes, higher inflation than we’ve seen in quite some time, government takeover of industry, potential government takeover of healthcare, high unemployment that’s likely to go on for another 6-12 months,and a bigger chance for a double-dip recession than most people want to admit.

    That kind of economy hurts everyone, regardless of race. Conservatives understand that, and they believe that all Americans will understand that, too.

  7. Submitted by dan buechler on 08/24/2009 - 06:06 pm.

    Mr. Spicer, I do not want to fight and I do like your article mostly, believe me I am the last person who should be throwing stones at glass houses. Okay its about 2011 and beyond and about their shrinking but energized base. I still do not think they are monolithic except probably on taxes (to a degree). Michael Steele their elected or formal head got out of line and was brought back into the fold. Lindsey Graham SC Senator seems to have some integrity Gawd I can’t believe myself. Call me naive (I plead guilty) call me unable to root out falsehhods (I plea guilty along with 90% of the population see sue perry’s article last week). What I find more cynical is when politicians vote their conscience or go against their party when it is safe. I.E. when nothing matters because the votes have already been counted. A former senator from Hawaii has wrote about this (Inaoye sp.?)
    Interesting thought last week had a convention of Lutherans and I could maybe guess that 25% or so vote Republican. Yet the dynamic of their voting process at the MPLS Convention center produced some surprising results a couple of votes were really really close. So close in fact that the leadership had to step back and review some procedures briefly. Sorry to drift off target. I always want a bigger more detailed picture and then when I get it things can quickly change. A month can be a lifetime in politics.
    Keep writing!!!

  8. Submitted by Greg Kapphahn on 08/24/2009 - 06:39 pm.

    If our friends in the Republican base have their way, Sinclair Lewis’ ((from right next door to me in Gopher Prairie (Sauk Centre), MN)), claim will, indeed, be proved true, “Fascism will come to America wrapped in the flag and carrying a cross.”

    I guess they think they don’t need more people or better ideas. Just bigger flags to wrap around themselves (thereby violating flag etiquette) and bigger crosses to carry.

    But now that I think of it, aren’t they carrying those crosses wrong… brandishing them out front as if they were weapons, rather than carrying on their shoulders and dragging them behind, as Jesus did? No WONDER they don’t get it!

  9. Submitted by dan buechler on 08/24/2009 - 08:42 pm.

    For more info read any of the 4 books by prof. sara Diamond a liberal (anti right wing investigative work). Or a/the christian manifesto in web, sermon, video or book form by one of the founders of the contemporary anti abortion movement.
    Again as Eric Black wrote so well a couple of weeks ago our u.s. senate is a broken down system.
    I am also for one very frustrated but somewhat reasonably hopeful for our health care business shame. It may not even become a full right in my lifetime something I’ve wished for over 30 years of my life. One can also imagine the frustration of the pro lifers what they wish for will never fully come to pass (Not that I agree with them on balance). Anyway keep writing !!

  10. Submitted by Mike Wyatt on 08/25/2009 - 10:36 am.

    The cries of conservatives would ring more true if there was a shred of truth to it. The immigration issue for instance: what did the Bush administration do for 8 years to secure our borders and get us back to a system of LEGAL immigration? Answer: nothing. Special interests enjoyed the cross-borders “outsourcing” of jobs to pad their bottom line and you therefore saw no efforts to address the issue by either side. Dems and Pubs continue to grovel for the easy money from the pharmaceutical and insurance industries. This game of “opposites” politics does one thing well: takes the focus off the corruption of the politicians and engages everyone in this “tit for tat” game of finger pointing. When will we all wake up and realize we need people in office that are removed from the special interest money wagon? Is it any more obvious when watching the health care issue unfold and the special interests pushing out the public option altogether that we have lost representation under the two party system? I will certainly be looking at indedpenent candidates in the future. I already feel as though I’ve “wasted” my vote by choosing a two party candidate in past elections. I am over that erroneous stigma.

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