Before their 2008 meltdown, the hit on the Republican Party was simple: great at campaigning, bad at governing. Republicans were able to whip up populist fervor in ways that Democrats hadn’t in a generation, and had so successfully honed their message that in election years their strategy no longer revolved around winning independent voters, but activating a base that could win an election by itself. In spite of that, Republican candidates that reached office seemed to almost inevitably descend into scandal, like Governors Ernie Fletcher and Bob Taft in Kentucky and Ohio, or ineptitude, like Sarah Palin.
The question is, then, how did these same candidates win an election in the first place? Some ran in bright red states; some were confronted with Democrats who were slightly less talented campaigners than the yard signs that become so plentiful during even-numbered Octobers; almost universally, they sold issues that have no effect on the lives of most voters.
To be clear, the voting majority doesn’t always know an issue won’t affect their lives. Rather, they become so emotionally activated by it that they seize upon the issue, only to realize later that they’ve been duped. If you need proof, ask the 92% of Iowans who told the Des Moines Register this week that their lives had not changed since gay marriage became legal in their state.
Gay marriage, of course, is a civil rights issue, and while it has a profound effect upon the lives of some, it does inspire more of us to action because of the stakes. More than just ineffective ideas, however, we’ve seen a generation-long peddling of irrelevancies and frauds from the GOP: during the 2008 campaign, John McCain railed against earmarks. He did this without telling you, of course, that earmark spending is as readily transparent and fully disclosed as any spending in the federal government, spent in a more direct and efficient manner, and, despite all of the howling over it, comprises an infinitesimal amount of government spending. When cable news erupted over the $410 Billion Omnibus Spending Bill this spring and the multitude of earmarks included, their ire was captured by 2% of the total cost.
This trend continues even into the healthcare reform debate, as the President has thrown the GOP a bone, acknowledging their wish to explore tort reform on a national level. One would imagine that after the last eight years our federal government would have ceased looking to Texas for ideas, but I digress; tort reform just doesn’t matter. In 2003, Texas saw a campaign to pass Proposition 12 instituting tort reform, which was sold to the voter largely as a method of luring doctors to rural communities. Texas does indeed have more doctors today than it did in 2003. They’re also overwhelmingly choosing to live in the wealthiest areas; the number of neurosurgeons, obstetricians, and orthopedic surgeons (all identified as critical needs in the Proposition 12 campaign) grew by 45% in Collin County, which is the wealthiest in the state. Against this backdrop, Texas still has the highest rate of uninsured individuals in the country.
As our national debate on health care rages for what 24-hour news cycles make feel like an eternity, it’s important to maintain focus on the key issues at hand: lowering costs and expanding coverage to the uninsured. Hypothetically, lower damages would allow the provider to lower their rates; in practice, Texas has seen insurance premiums rise by 92% since 2000. After the gay marriage and earmark debates we know better than to trade away the last recourse for 98,000 families who lost a loved one to negligence for no appreciable gains. Right?