Last week, after seven years of railing about the socialist evils of the Affordable Care Act and solemn oaths that they would tear it down beam by beam, with a majority in both houses and a President (a half bubble off level, true, but nonetheless) enthusiastically on their side in hating Obamacare, Republicans failed. They admitted that pretty much their whole “plan” since 2010 has been “Obamacare is bad,” and there hadn’t been serious thought in all that time about what might be good. It wasn’t quite a Monty Python sketch, but it was close. Nothing could demonstrate better how easy it is to burn down a house and how hard it is to build one.
Ironically, nor could anything demonstrate better what a mistake it is to deride politicians. Because for all the romance people have with outsiders and idealists these days, it’s the politicians who get things done. But all the Republicans have is screamers. And if Donald Trump’s six-month idiot show has proven anything, it’s that you don’t lead simply by screaming. You lead by working, and in a democracy that means by lots of talk, lots of listening and persuasion and horse-trading and compromise. The very thing we despise politicians for is what makes the country go. It’s called the art of the deal. “Career politicians” are exceptionally good at it. Making a career of something doesn’t automatically corrupt a person in government any more than it corrupts a lifetime construction contractor or a baseball player or an accountant. Sometimes you just get better at your job. A politician’s job is to represent his or her constituents (including those who didn’t vote for that politician) while working with other politicians who were voted in by other people to, all together, lead the country. Change things that don’t work, keep things going that do. It isn’t to crusade. It isn’t to pull up the drawbridge. Mostly, it’s unexciting compromise. As any adult should know who has had to settle an argument among six-year-olds, “compromise” is not a bad thing. It’s what separates the men from the boys, and a democracy from a dictatorship.
Now, while there’s a mad king in the White House, is actually the perfect time for Republicans and Democrats to work together. There’s lots they could accomplish that doesn’t separate them idealogically, starting with an investigation of the Russia scandal. If Republicans want to see what influence the Russians had on the Clinton campaign, sure, let them look into it, since the Russians were undoubtedly up to no good in every nook and cranny they could find. (But they have to investigate in good faith, and so far the evidence of collusion between the Clinton campaign and Russia amounts to about nil.) Also taxes. Chuck Schumer announced he’s absolutely ready to work across the aisle on the tax code with the Republicans as long as taxes aren’t lowered for the rich—which I actually think should sound reasonable to most Trump voters. Donald also promised to do major work on the country’s infrastructure. He’s temperamentally unfit for the task, so Congress—Republicans and Democrats—needs to take the lead.
And finally, Obamacare. Obamacare was a huge, complex effort at expanding medical coverage for the country that is a bureaucratic nightmare in part, believe it or not, because of the effort made at avoiding a single-payer system, which would have been much simpler. (I’m not saying better, I’m saying simpler.) It was an effort to accomplish a national goal—like space exploration, like the highway system—using market principles and including the private insurance industry. It was an incredibly convoluted effort to do a big thing with political buy-in from a broad enough spectrum to get it done. It was bound to get things wrong. But the way to fix those things is not to burn it down and take coverage back away from tens of millions of Americans. The way to fix them is to fix them. And the only way to do that for something so big and so important is for Republicans and Democrats to work together.
Republican Senator Jeff Flake has just written a book in which he basically says Republicans have got to get their morality back and stop pretending they’re in an extended season of Game of Thrones. I disagree with almost all of his politics, but I agree with him about that. Republicans have got to stop trying to Make America Republican, because that’s never going to happen. They have to start serving their country, which means they stop screaming and scheming, and instead sit down with people they don’t agree with, but work in the same chamber with, and figure out what can be accomplished given all the different kinds of people this country is made of.
Otherwise, it will not just be the end of the Republican Party. It will be the end of America.