Jay Smooth breaks down why The Mooch getting fired is no joke…
While the neo-fascist alt-right is not entirely happy with President Donald Trump’s first few months in office, one thing for which they are grateful is that the new administration is giving them free reign to engage in building their movement, completely unencumbered by any law enforcement scrutiny of their activities.
“He’s going to give us space to destroy,” Michael Peinovich, the creator of The Right Stuff, an alt-right podcast network said during a Sunday guest appearance on “Fash the Nation,” the movement’s most popular web radio show.
Peinovich, who also goes by the pen name “Mike Enoch,” was referencing a 2015 remark by Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, then the mayor of Baltimore, which some people interpreted as giving support to rioters who committed numerous acts of violence in the city following the acquittal of several police officers who had been on trial for the death of a black resident.
“He’s going to give us space to operate, and frankly, it is space to destroy,” Peinovich continued.
“Now is the time that we have to make hay while the sun shines . . . while these investigations of ‘domestic terrorist groups’ are not being funded by the government, they’re not being pushed by the Department of Homeland Security” argued one of the co-hosts of the program, an anonymous former Republican political staffer who calls himself Jazzhands McFeels.
“We’d probably be facing fucking [racketeering] charges or some shit like that,” Peinovich said, discussing what he believed might have happened if Hillary Clinton had won the 2016 presidential election.
“We have to use these four years to grow into something that can’t be defeated by that kind of thing,” Peinovich said, referring to possible future investigations of neo-fascist groups.
Some parts of the Trump administration actively want to encourage the growth of the alt-right, the former Hill staffer “Jazzhands McFeels” said, claiming that Trump’s top strategist Steve Bannon secretly was trying to enable the fringe movement.
“They kind of expect us to be doing this. I’m not saying he’s our guy, but they want — at least Bannon, I would think — wants us to be able to operate in that space. So we should and we are,” he said.
Both podcasters’ statements were met with agreement by podcast guest Richard Spencer, an alt-right editor who operates a series of niche web publications and conferences catering to self-styled racist intellectuals who has since tried to rebrand himself as more of an activist.
In 2016, Bannon told Mother Jones writer Sarah Posner that Breitbart News, the website he oversaw before going to work for Trump, was “the platform for the alt-right.” Subsequently, the White House strategist claimed that he was referring to the anti-Washington ethos that permeates the larger Republican base.
As a matter of policy, the Department of Justice and the Federal Bureau of Investigation do not publicize ongoing investigations but presumably, given how tightly knight the small alt-right movement is, the two podcasters likely have some knowledge about the lack of law enforcement oversight.
One government policy area which does appear to have changed under Trump is that government grants to non-profit groups that seek to combat domestic extremism appear to have been frozen.
Those funds were to be disbursed under a program called Countering Violent Extremism which was approved by the GOP Congress and former president Barack Obama shortly before he left office in January of this year.
In February, Reuters reported that the Trump administration had decided to take the $10 million budget of the program, which was supposed to be given to private-sector groups trying to discourage extremism of all types, and redirect it toward counteracting Islamist influence only. The program itself would be renamed the “Countering Radical Islamic Extremism” initiative, according to the wire service. Since that report, several nonprofit groups which had been approved for funding allocations have publicly stated that they have not received any information from the federal government, despite the fact that the money was supposed to be disbursed within 30 days.
“I hope the way that he [Trump] is looked back on in history is that he was the vehicle that moved the alt-right movement, the white identity movement in the United States, back into the forefront of the political scene,” Peinovich said on the podcast.
While he is not as widely covered in the political press as some other alt-right activists, Peinovich’s “The Right Stuff” podcast network currently hosts over a dozen neofascist web radio shows that in total have hundreds of thousands of downloads every week, far in excess of the audience the podcasts of many nationally syndicated conservative radio hosts.
The Right Stuff has begun recovering some of its audience after Peinovich was exposed in January as having a Jewish wife. His business partner claimed after he was “doxxed” that Peinovich was “separating” from her but neither activist has ever offered any proof of the assertion.
The deep state is not some enigmatic entity that operates outside the US government. It is the US state itself. Like all elements of that state, the so-called deep state exists to enforce the economic supremacy of US capitalism. It does so primarily via the secret domestic and international police forces like the FBI, CIA and other intelligence agencies. The operations of these agencies run the gamut from surveillance to propaganda to covert and overt military actions. Naturally, this so-called deep state operates according to their own rules; rules which ultimately insure its continued existence and relevance. Although it can be argued that it was the 1950 National Security Directive known as NSC-68 along with the Congressional Bill creating the Central Intelligence Agency that launched the “deep state” as we understand it, a broader understanding of the “deep state” places its genesis perhaps a century prior to that date. In other words, a structure designed to maintain the economic and political domination of certain powerful US capitalists existed well back into the nineteenth century. However, the centralization of that power began in earnest in the years following World War Two.
For those who don’t know what the NSC-68 actually was, it is essentially a directive that militarized the conflict between US capitalism and Soviet communism. It was based on the correct understanding that US capitalism required open access to the resources and markets of the entire planet and that the Soviet Union represented the greatest threat to that access. Not only did this mean the US military would grow in size, it also ensured that the power of the intelligence sector would expand both in terms of its reach and its budget. When one recalls that this period in US history was also a period when the FBI and the US Congress were going after leftists and progressives in the name of a certain right-wing ideological purity, the power of the US secret police becomes quite apparent.
As the 1950s turned into the 1960s, the so-called deep state’s power continued to grow. Some of its better known manifestations include the failed attempt to invade revolutionary Cuba that became known as the Bay of Pigs, the use of psychoactive drugs on unsuspecting individuals as part of a mind control study, and numerous attempts to subvert governments considered anti-American. Among the latter actions one can include covert operations against the Vietnamese independence forces and the murder of the Congolese president Patrice Lumumba. In terms of the “deep state’s” domestic operations, this period saw the intensification of spying on and disrupting various groups involved in the civil rights and antiwar organizing. Many elements of the domestic operation would become known as COINTELPRO and were directed by the FBI.
Although the agencies of the so-called deep state operate as part of the US state, this does not mean that those agencies are of one mind. Indeed, like any power structure, there are various factions represented. This means that there are disagreements over policies, priorities, direction, and personnel. The only certainty is that all of its members agree on the need to maintain the supremacy of US capital in the world. At times, the seemingly absolute power of the CIA and FBI have caused the US Executive Branch to try and set up other means and methods in order to circumvent that power. Two examples of this that come quickly to mind are the establishment of the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) by the Kennedy administration in 1961-1962 and the failed attempt (known as the Huston plan after its creator Tom Huston) by the Nixon White House to centralize the direction of all US government intelligence operations in the White House.
There is no soft coup taking place in DC. The entire government has been owned by big business and the banking industry for more than a century, if not since its inception. That ownership has been dominated by the military-industrial complex since about the same time as when the aforementioned agencies were created. That is no coincidence. However, their role in the current uproar over Russia and Michael Flynn is not because they are taking over the government. It is because their current leadership represents the factions of the US establishment that were removed from power in November 2016.
Donald Trump is not against the so-called deep state. He is against it being used against himself and his cohorts. . In the world of capitalist power, the factions Trump represents are not the same factions represented by the presidents former FBI director Comey served—the factions represented by Bush and Obama. He understands that if he can install individuals in key positions at the FBI, CIA, DHS and other security and military agencies, he and his allies will be more than happy to use the power of these agencies against their opponents. Indeed, he would most likely greatly enhance those agencies’ power, making a further mockery of the US Constitution. If Trump is able to get the agencies of the deep state to work for the factions he represents—either by replacing those loyal to others not named Trump or by cajoling and coercing them to change their loyalty—he will think the deep state is a great thing. In this way he is no different than every other US president. He understands that whoever controls the deep state controls the US. The struggle we are witnessing between the FBI and the Trump White House is part of a power struggle between US power elites.
When the ruling class is in crisis, as it is now, the job of the left is not to choose one side or the other. Nor is it to accept the narrative provided by one or other faction of the rulers, especially when that narrative supports the police state. Instead, it is the Left’s job to go to the root of the crisis and organize resistance to the ruling class itself.
Trump’s firing of James Comey yesterday proves that even those who carry water for the president are not safe. Trump is in greater peril, it seems, by the hour. And in response, the long knives are out for anyone who is less than 100 percent dependable.
He needs unquestioned loyalists around him — especially in the office that could send almost anyone to prison.
After all, Trump and his cronies are investigable for so very many things, from questionable business dealings and conflicts of interest to tax matters to allegedly colluding with the Russian government.
Comey, under criticism for his own actions, faced significant public pressure to demonstrate that the FBI does its job. That could not have sounded good to Trump.
As it happened, just hours before the Comey news broke, WhoWhatWhy had published a lengthy investigation into the back story to Comey’s most famous — or infamous — act. It chronicled how Trump’s close surrogates and media allies pressured the FBI director to reopen the Hillary Clinton email investigation. Evidence strongly suggests that this surprising move days before the election was decisive in Trump’s unexpected victory.
Overall, having Comey at the Bureau was a blessing for Trump. Besides damaging Clinton, he also aided Trump by withholding information about the Bureau’s potentially much more serious probe into the Trump campaign’s ties with Russia.
The incoming president knew he had a good thing going. In early January, during a reception for top law-enforcement officials, an obviously grateful Trump singled Comey out for special praise and even a hug. But he soon cooled on the FBI director — as he so often does with people.
Also, Comey’s life was growing increasingly complicated, and he himself appeared to have lost his footing. In recent days, he looked incompetent in front of Congress, even bungling key testimony, such as exponentially overstating the quantity of Clinton emails forwarded to Anthony Weiner’s computer. Trump, who if anything is about appearances, could not have enjoyed watching this televised spectacle.
But the real problem was, as they say in mafia movies, you’re either with us or you’re….out.
“While I greatly appreciate you informing me, on three separate occasions, that I am not under investigation, I nevertheless concur with the judgment of the Department of Justice that you are not able to effectively lead the bureau,” Trump said in a letter dated Tuesday.
Comey is only the second FBI director ever to be fired. He joins William Sessions, who was dismissed by Bill Clinton in 1993.
Ostensibly, the reason for Comey being sacked was his “handling of the conclusion of the investigation of Secretary Clinton’s emails,” according to a May 9th memorandum from Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein. That reasoning rings hollow, however, as the alleged fireable offense took place more than six months ago.
It is much more likely that Comey’s revelation that Trump’s campaign is being investigated for its Russia ties as well as his testimony before the Senate last week were the real reason for his dismissal.
Trump and his team are desperately seeking to stifle Russiagate. Matters continue to heat up on that front. As we write, CNN is reporting that prosecutors have issued grand jury subpoenas. Firing one of the people in government who knows most about that sensitive topic would serve that aim twofold.
The FBI is itself entwined in the matter and urgently needs to clear the air. As WhoWhatWhy reported in another major investigation, published in late March, the Bureau maintained a long and close informant relationship with a Trump business associate working out of Trump Tower. The president may have been worried about where that thread could lead, as it includes hints as to Trump receiving long-term financing from oligarchs tied to Vladimir Putin and organized crime.
Comey now can’t make any trouble on the matter; and it serves to put any other determined federal appointees — planning to rigorously follow Russiagate even if it leads to the Oval Office — on notice that such conduct will mean the end of their career.
Not surprisingly, Trump acolytes are presenting the firing as long in coming. As the veteran Trump strategist and hatchet man Roger Stone, himself under scrutiny in Russiagate, tweeted yesterday:
President Trump and his advisers have taken a more and more threatening stance toward North Korea since January, and the isolated dictatorship has responded with threats of its own. Foreign-policy experts say a breaking point could be looming. Saturday marked the 105th anniversary of the birth of North Korea’s founder, Kim Il-sung, and the regime there commemorated the holiday with displays of military force — though, thankfully, not with a nuclear test, as many experts feared. Still, there is a sense of a collision course. Several days ago, the U.S. military moved a brigade of warships to the Korean Peninsula, as a show of force. Then on Friday, the North Korean government threatened to attack major American military bases in South Korea, saying it could destroy them almost instantly.
For a broader perspective on how Trump’s approach compares to what prior U.S. administrations have done, we spoke with George Lopez, professor emeritus at the Krok Institute for International Peace Studies, which is based at Notre Dame University. He has advised the United Nations and various governments on North Korea and sanctions issues since 1992. Lopez also proposes a set of directions for getting out of this conflict — directions that favor diplomacy over military force. What American leaders fail to understand, he says, is that they can’t scare North Korea by threatening war.
How is the Trump administration’s approach to North Korea so far different from what past administrations have done?
A couple things come to mind. One is that if you accept the notion of many of the pundits, that this administration’s foreign policy tends to be reactionary to the events of the moment, Mr. Trump was in the unenviable position of being the earliest U.S. president to face a direct violation of U.N. Security Council resolutions — with North Korea’s recent missile tests. He had it dumped in his lap right away.
Some recent reports say this should not be a surprise, because Obama’s people told Trump’s top foreign-policy people this was their biggest worry. Obama seems to have told Trump in their one-on-one meeting that North Korea was going to be Trump’s biggest dilemma and that he needed a regional approach to it.
Second, this is a president who, unlike prior presidents, has really surrounded himself with current or former military people, and who prides himself on saying, “The era of the gloves being on and restraining our military is over. In order to make America great again, we’re going to flex our muscles and use the resources we have, instead of keeping our hands in our pockets.” Then this week, the administration used what many would call a prohibited weapon in the Afghan theater, and it has also launched these strikes on Syria.
The timing of both those seemed pointed.
I think it was not without some delight in the White House that there was a secondary messaging effect to North Korea. These actions went in conjunction with the U.S. moving a small Navy brigade to the Korean Peninsula, and also with Trump’s meeting and phone calls with the Chinese president, to signal that our patience is running out.
Meanwhile, it’s unclear who is the Asia expert most influential in the White House’s national security staff, and the last time I checked the State Department chart, we still didn’t have a fully staffed Bureau of Asian Affairs. Have we seen, in any pronouncement where he’s talked about North Korea, anybody other than Jared Kushner, the vice-president, H.R. McMaster, or James Mattis at his side? No.
That gives many of us pause, because he’s not getting enough information about the way North Korea sees the actions he’s taken. So we’re in a kind of fog of actions in search of a strategy and a policy. I think it’s part of this administration’s style to make some big decisions as they go along, as events and opportunities and constraints present themselves. The difference here is that you’re talking about the potential for war, and I don’t sense an understanding of the gravity of that.
What do you think the administration’s philosophy is, to the extent that it has one?
It’s a belief that we’ve been weak-minded in regard to North Korea, that we’ve been continually undermined by them, and we’re at least going to show strength of will. On one hand, on the campaign trail, the president said, “I think I could sit down directly with this guy, and in ten or 15 minutes, we’ll see how far we can get.” It was “Trump as the great negotiator.” But we didn’t hear any of that after the inauguration.
Instead, what we’ve gotten follows a different theme you heard on the campaign trail: “My administration isn’t going to tie the hands of the military. We are not going to back down from any threats from places like North Korea. We’re going to solve problems with or without the Chinese.” However, this seems to sideline Japan and North Korea — our two most critical allies. We have no idea whether or not, when the Japanese prime minister visited Mar-a-Lago, North Korea came up in conversation.
You’ll notice that a tendency of this administration is to say, before every visit from a foreign dignitary — whether it’s Angela Merkel, from Germany, or Xi Jinping, from China, or Shinzo Abe, from Japan — “There’s going to be a lot of serious talking about issues.” But then we’re told after the fact, “It was a good get-to-know-you meeting.” You don’t have the detailed agenda that was discussed at the meeting, or information on what joint task forces were set up by each nation to move ahead with problems that were to be mutually explored.
Ideally, what role would our allies in the region be playing?
Well, one strategy that a group of us have advocated over the last couple weeks is to say, “Military force is so crazy to think about, the next best option is financial bankruptcy and economic strangulation.” That is, if you want to take the gloves off, take the gloves off in the trading and financial sector. Take a lesson from the tightening of the noose around Iran, and go after commodities, go after general trade sectors. You absolutely implement the top five or six recommendations of the U.N. Panel of Experts, which would hold all states in the Asian region responsible for ending corresponding banking accounts with not only North Korean banks, but with the shadow companies they’ve set up in Malaysia and China and elsewhere.
China needs to get tighter with the financial actors within its country who continue to sustain unabated channels to illicit financing for North Korea. There are a series of draconian financial measures that then get the attention of the great young dictator, and you can say, “The next move is yours. Do we talk or not?” But what this administration has done is put us in an all-or-nothing bind. Either he blinks or we blink.
If I’m an adviser to Kim Jong-un right now, and I know I could be assassinated if I seem weak and counterproductive, I’m going to say, “Look, you were right. We should do a nuclear test. But you know what? A nuclear test might invite too much response from them. Let’s shoot off one of the missiles and see if they try to shoot it down.” So, if the notion in the White House is, “By god, we go it alone, we issue the ultimatums, we tell ’em we might go it alone, we put out the strike force” — and then the test goes on, and we get louder, and we wag our finger more, we show them that in fact we don’t have a policy in mind.
How does all this look from North Korea’s point of view? And what prompted them to threaten, on Friday, that they’d launch a military strike against U.S. military posts in South Korea?
This pushes us to an area of speculation. For a year, on the U.N. Panel of Experts, I had colleagues who spent 20 hours a day trying to dissect the North Korean leader’s mind. And that’s like being a baseball player: If you hit .333, if you get one out of every three guesses right, you’re a superstar. So I can’t pretend to fully know the way they look at the world.
But the issuing of the threat against South Korea is a smart approach that says, “Well, let’s talk militarily. You could knock out our nuclear sites, but you can’t knock out the 175 major artillery batteries we have, poised to shoot at the minute we detect that we’re being attacked — and those can knock out 80 percent of Seoul. So the blood will be on your hands if you choose to initiate an attack against our nuclear sites.” In other words, “You’re not the only people who can issue ultimatums, and you’re not the only people who have military deliverables that are supposed to make us quake and fear that we must change our behavior.”
So, is issuing the threat just a way of reminding us that they have these capabilities?
Yes. Absolutely. And in particular, reminding the South Koreans and everyone else in the neighborhood.
This regime has had an ideology, through three generations, that the war of liberation of South Korea will come when the United States oversteps its boundaries. And remember, they don’t have a peace treaty with the United States. If they were interested in peace, they would be proactive in coming back to the bargaining table and finishing off the armistice agreement from 1953.
This isn’t Syria. This isn’t Afghanistan. This is the point at which, if a U.S. missile crosses into North Korean territory, all bets on everything are off. It fits their worldview, that sooner or later, they will have to fire everything they have. That’s the only way the North could potentially survive an exchange.
So, as part of their long-term vision, they think a very violent standoff is inevitable?
I wouldn’t say inevitable, but they think it’s highly likely, which is why they’ve been preparing for it for more than 40 years. When they hear talk about a U.S. strike being imminent, their trigger fingers get tighter. So I think we need a U.S. policy that doesn’t put them in a position where their trigger fingers get nervous. You have to deal with the nuclear weapons and the missiles on their own terms, and you can’t use the potential for war against them as leverage.
Because they’re not afraid of it.
Yes! They’re ready for war.
Could you explain the holiday that was marked on Saturday, the Day of the Sun? There was some speculation that North Korea would honor the day with a nuclear test.
The seriousness of the holiday can’t be exaggerated. We have no equivalent in the United States — even at, let’s say, the 200th anniversary of our independence. This is a nation with a cult of the singular leader. You could even say, from a Western point of view, “Okay, for the 100th anniversary, I’d understand a big bang. But the 105th? That’s not really a big deal, is it?” Yes. Every anniversary of the birth of the founder of the great nation — who then gave us his prodigy, his son and his grandson, who are great rulers — is the ultimate big deal. And this particular leadership, under the grandson, has not only continued to cultivate himself as the most perfect of leaders, in the image of his grandfather, but he’s upped the ante for each and every anniversary, to demonstrate what they call the shogun mentality — which is, military first, pulling the entire nation to great development on the world stage.
They’ve said they could destroy the major American military bases in the U.S. “within minutes.” Do you think that’s true?
No, there’s nothing I’ve seen that shows they have the capability. Do they have the capability to hit our Navy’s strike force? They probably do. But I’d suggest that if North Korea launches an attack on the strike force, probably two or three missiles would hit. That’s what I think their capability level is.
You said several years ago that with co-operation from China, we could choke off the supply of materials North Korea would need to enrich uranium. Where does that proposal stand now?
The error of our ways from about 2006 to 2013 is that we thought, “Let’s choke off the materials that let them build centrifuges and the like.” When what we should have been doing, and we absolutely have to do as our last-ditch effort now, is, we have to end their access to money — in all forms. We have to end the access of Korean diplomats marching off with big duffle bags, pretending they’re off to go play golf in Poland, when what they’re really doing is carrying gold bars and loads of cash, which ultimately goes to fund the various services that run the missiles. And you do need China’s help for that. Right now, China is looking the other way.
This was the victory of the Iran sanctions: There was no outlet, any longer, for illicit activities. Not in Lebanon, not in Cyprus, not in any of the traditional areas. And that net became a noose and really shut off everything. We need that on North Korea. It’s possible to attain it, but you can only attain it with a large amount of co-operation from all the banking industries involved, and with a determination of what an 18-month plan will be. Once they cry financial “Uncle!” what are you proposing for them? Starve and die? Or are you proposing, “Now maybe we should reinvigorate the diplomatic discussions that were going on in the mid-2000s?”
Ultimately we’re looking for a full peace treaty that can be signed by all parties, including the United States. Some recognition of nonaggression against North Korea can be the great Western concession, in exchange for x — whether x is a complete stabilization of their weapons programs, with no more development, or something else. I think our days of being able to bargain for, or strangle for, denuclearization is over. If you’re Kim Jong-un, you’ve looked at Saddam, you’ve looked at Syria, you’ve looked at all these other examples, and said, “These poor dumb dictators. They were attacked because they didn’t have the weapon.”
Sure. If you were in his position you’d never give that up.
Of course not. Even if the president of the United States came off a plane, landed in Pyongyang, and kissed the ground, saying, “It’s great to be here. There’s peace between our nations” — there would be nothing in their experience or ideology that would lead them to believe that tomorrow they wouldn’t be attacked.
What do you think the odds are of China actually getting onboard and helping with that kind of plan?
I think China has been onboard in lots and lots of areas. It’s looking for a little more empathy in understanding how hard it is for them to police their own economy. But I think that consistent with the anti-corruption theme that’s going on in China, they could do this. At the same time, we don’t improve their leverage or influence on Pyongyang if Pyongyang continues to believe that we prefer the military option. Then they look at the Chinese and say, “You are a weak enabler. You will allow the peninsula to go up in flames, simply because you’re not willing to stand up to the United States and tell them the military is not an option.”
Now if you look at the reporting in the official Chinese press, they’ve been saying for the last week, “We’re trying to convince Mr. Trump the military is not an option here.” But they’re not getting any help from the Trump administration.
But financial sanctions would be part of a longer-term solution, and there’s a prospect right now of very imminent violence. What’s the best way out of this immediate situation?
The best way out is to tell the folks in command of the brigade of ships, “Keep your powder dry no matter what happens, unless you’re directly attacked.” Also for the United States to be preparing multiple statements, with our allies in the region, at the U.N. Security Council, and out of Mar-a-Lago, of what we’re going to say when a nuclear-missile launch has occurred, or if a new nuclear test goes on. We’ve got to make sure our president doesn’t approach the microphone and says, “That’s the last straw. I’m taking actions in the next 48 hours, and they’ll never know what I’m going to do until I do it.” You can’t have that. In other words, someone needs to lasso him, quite frankly, and make sure we have a clearly articulated dynamic.
We think we can intimidate the North Korean leadership into keeping their powder dry. What we’re doing, more than anything else, is playing into their ongoing scenario of a likely, if not inevitable, confrontation with the West.
It seems like that’s the most fundamental error: to think we can scare them off with the threat of war.
Yeah. And if things really, really go badly here, people are going to be reading the history books, 25 years from now, and saying, “How could they not have known? How could they not have known these were North Korea’s thoughts?”
If you’re going to use as your calculus of success or failure, of an unarticulated policy, who blinks first, you’re on really, really shaky ground.
With the collapse of the House health-care bill, the cause of repealing Obamacare, a right-wing obsession for seven years and a day, has died. The flame will never be fully extinguished in the hearts of the true believers — after all, in right-wing think tanks and other places far removed from electoral politics, anti-government zealots still dream of phasing out Social Security or Medicare. But the political project dedicated to restoring the pre-Obamacare status quo, in which people too sick or poor to afford their own insurance without the subsidies and regulations of the Affordable Care Act could be safely ignored, is gone forever. And it is dead for the best possible reason, the reason that undergirds all social progress: because a good idea defeated a bad one.
Conservatives have already collapsed into mutual recriminations for their failure. Reporters have blamed Trump’s deal-making skills. Trump’s loyalists are loudly blaming Paul Ryan. “I think Paul Ryan did a major disservice to President Trump, I think the president was extremely courageous in taking on health care and trusted others to come through with a program he could sign off on,” Chris Ruddy, CEO of the right-wing site Newsmax and a longtime friend of Trump’s, tells Bloomberg. “The president had confidence Paul Ryan would come up with a good plan and to me, it is disappointing.” David Brooks blames both Trump and Congress. “The core Republican problem is this,” he writes. “The Republicans can’t run policy-making from the White House because they have a marketing guy in charge of the factory. But they can’t run policy from Capitol Hill because it’s visionless and internally divided.”
The American Health Care Act is a truly horrendous piece of legislation. But it did not become the vehicle for the Obamacare repeal effort because Trump, or Ryan, or anybody insisted on it over some other option. It became the repeal bill because nobody in the Republican Party had a better idea.
Reforming the health-care system is an inherently daunting project. What makes health care so resistant to change is that, the worse the system gets, the harder it is to change. More waste means more profit centers with an interest in protecting their income. And more uninsured people means more anxiety for those who do have insurance about losing it, and hence more resistance to change. The political miracle of Obamacare was its ability to design a way to cover the uninsured and to pay for the coverage in a politically viable fashion. The law found a way to solve a political problem that had frustrated would-be reformers for decades.
And they accomplished it against the ruthless opposition of a united party that has used every demagogic method to undermine it — in Washington, in the states, and in the courts. If Republicans had not launched a legal battle to allow states to deny Medicaid coverage to their citizens, and then cruelly taken up the opportunity to do so; sabotaged small but crucial risk-corridor payments to encourage insurer participation; and denied funds for outreach to exchange customers, it would be functioning better than it is. Still, it is functioning. As the Congressional Budget Office found last week, the exchanges are not in a death spiral. Insurers have found a stable price point.
Republicans have spent eight years fooling themselves about Obamacare. They have built a news bubble that relentlessly circulates exaggerated or made-up news of the law’s shortcomings and systematically ignores its successes. The smartest members of the conservative-wonk set played a more clever game to retain their influence. No serious conservative analyst could argue that Obamacare had actually made the health-care system worse. How could they, when the federal government is now spending less money on health care than it was projected to spend before Obamacare passed, medical inflation is at the lowest level since the government began recording it 50 years ago, and 20 million more Americans have insurance? But admitting Obamacare constituted an improvement in the health-care system, even an imperfect one, would be tantamount to expulsion from the conservative movement, and with it any hope of influencing Republican policy. The closest they might come is pleading that repealing Obamacare was “not enough,” that they must also replace it with something better. This formulation allowed them to neatly sidestep the question of whether repeal alone would make the system better or worse.
So instead of comparing Obamacare to what it replaced, they compared it to the plan Republicans would have passed, if only they had the chance. The existence of the mythical Republican health-care plan was the foundation for every serious critique of the law. And now that that plan has finally appeared, virtually the entire conservative intelligentsia has been forced to admit it is worse than Obamacare. The single data point that conservatives have repeated with the most relentless frequency is that Obamacare is unpopular. It is true that, for most of its life, the law has polled in the 40s. Republicans deemed all disapproval of Obamacare to be approval for their stance, never acknowledging that much of this disapproval came from those who wanted the law to do more, not less. Now that there is a Republican alternative, it is polling at an astonishing 17 percent. Comically, repeal efforts have pulled Obamacare’s polling above water. The slim reed of public opinion upon which they built their manic repeal crusade snapped immediately under the weight of political implementation.
It is true that other conservative health-care ideas do exist in the universe. It is also true that the GOP’s lack of a supermajority forced it to pursue fiscal-only repeal measures, and prevented the full rewriting of Obamacare regulations that right-wing purists would have liked. But those ideas would also have failed. Indeed, many of them are even more politically fatal than the ones Paul Ryan wrote. The original version of Ryan’s plan would have financed its tax credits by scaling back the tax deduction for employer-sponsored insurance. That is a sound idea, but one that would have jeopardized employer insurance for 150 million Americans, making any such bill radioactive.
The right’s insoluble problem is that people who have insurance like it. Employer-sponsored insurance is popular. Medicare is popular. Medicaid is popular. To the extent that the exchanges in the ACA are not that popular, it is because they are less like those forms of insurance and more like the kind of insurance conservatives prefer — they have higher deductibles, more price discrimination between old and young, and more market competition. Any employer-sponsored insurance plan is going to cover essential health benefits. It’s going to charge the same price to the young and the old alike. In other words, it is going to spread the risk of needing medical care throughout the population it covers.
Conservatives disagree philosophically with the very concept of insurance as most Americans experience it. Insurance means spreading risk, which is a form of redistribution. Republicans postured against Obamacare from the left, denouncing its high deductibles and premiums, and promising a better, cheaper plan that would cover everybody. Their plan, inevitably, did the opposite. All politicians overpromise, of course. But the Republicans did more than overpromise. They delivered a policy directionally opposed to their promises.
It is not possible to write a bill that meets public standards for acceptable health-insurance coverage within the parameters of conservative ideology. It is possible — just barely — to write a bill that meets public standards for acceptable health-insurance coverage within the parameters of liberal ideology. The form taken by Obama’s health-care reform will change over the decades to come. But its central triumph, creating a federal right to access to basic medical care, will never be taken away.
A debate between attorney Scott Horton, lecturer at Columbia Law School and a contributing editor at Harper’s Magazine, and Robert Parry, veteran investigative journalist and editor of the website Consortiumnews.com…