Andrew Sullivan: In the Health-Care Clash, Obama’s the Road Runner to the GOP’s Wile E. Coyote

July 24th, 2017 5:06 PM

In the spring of 2011, Newt Gingrich denounced Paul Ryan’s then-current proposed federal budget as “right-wing social engineering” and argued that a “free society” should not “impos[e] radical change.” On Friday, Andrew Sullivan made a similar case against congressional Republicans’ attempts to junk ObamaCare.

Conservatism, wrote Sullivan in New York magazine, “no longer means in America what it once meant…Pragmatism, moderation, incrementalism, reform: These might be conservative virtues in principle, but in practice, the American right junked them years ago.” He added that “to cheer the collapse of the brutal repeal of ObamaCare has not an inkling of conservatism about it,” and remarked that trying to “impose a utopian vision onto a messy, evolving human landscape will not just fail, it will likely make things worse.”

Sullivan elaborated (bolding added):

The utopia the GOP wanted was to return health care to the free market, where choice would be maximized and costs curtailed by consumers. You can see the ideological appeal. But health care is a product unlike any other, and that freewheeling vision had already been decisively rejected by a majority of Americans. Obamacare itself was, in fact, a response to that shift in opinion -- and the president was reelected after passing it. The personal bankruptcies, the soaring costs of treating the uninsured and very sick, the impossibility of getting insured with a preexisting condition: A huge majority hated that status quo ante. In the end, there was no going back.

And morally, American culture had already dispensed with the cruelty of allowing our fellow citizens to suffer and die because of a lack of resources. Ronald Reagan was in some ways the first to concede this. In 1986, he signed the law that made it illegal for hospitals to turn away the very sick if they could not pay for treatment. Once that core concession was made by the icon of the conservative movement…the logic of universal coverage was unstoppable.

And if universal coverage was unstoppable, the most conservative response to that change was…something very much like Obamacare. It was an incremental reform, it kept the private insurance market, and it attempted to create as big a risk pool as possible…It adapted ideas from left and right into a plausible, workable synthesis. And yet the GOP -- still fixated on abstract ideology -- pretended none of this had happened. Caught in the vortex of their own talk-radio fantasies, they opted to repeal and replace 21st-century reality. And -- surprise! -- reality won.

In that context, Sullivan suggested, Republicans were fake conservatives, while the true conservative was Obama, “nudging and amending, shaping and finessing as American society evolved…while the GOP flamed out in a reactionary dead end. But Obama’s conservatism has nonetheless brought about an epochal, defining achievement for American liberalism: a robust American consensus in favor of universal health insurance. Yes, he could.”

Sullivan sees the GOP’s failure to sink ObamaCare as “a testament to the skills and vision and tenacity of our greatest living president, whose political shadow completely eclipses the monstrous, ridiculous fool who succeeded him. Like the Road Runner and Wile E. Coyote, we’ve seen this story many times before in the last eight and a half years. And we also know the ending. Meep, meep.”