The American Health Care Act and the Role of the Opposition Party
Focusing on the things you disagree with while avoiding having to speak to your own principles is a path into political nihilism
After seven years of fervent and steadfast opposition to the Affordable Care Act implemented under the Obama administration, congressional Republicans were finally given the chance to carry out their plan to repeal and replace Obamacare. Since taking control of the executive branch and holding onto majorities in both the House and the Senate in last November’s elections, Republicans have been eager to make good on their campaign promises to repeal and replace the ACA with something better. Earlier this month, we saw what “something better” looks like when House Republicans released the American Health Care Act (AHCA), the conservative alternative to the ACA that was met with bipartisan reproach. Spearheading the efforts for health care reform was Speaker of the House, Paul Ryan, the intellectual darling of the modern conservative movement who for years has been among the most ardent critics of Obamacare. Ryan spent the past week working with the Trump White House to garner partisan support for the bill, most notably from the party’s ultra-conservative wing known as the Freedom Caucus—who opposed the plan for looking too much like Obamacare. Proponents of the American Health Care Act found President Trump’s past claim that “no one knew that health care could be so complicated” to be rather prescient, as a defeated Paul Ryan stood before a room of Capitol Hill reporters on Friday to inform the country that will remain, “the law of the land for the foreseeable future.”
For the better part of a decade, congressional Republicans have channeled the country’s frustration with Obamacare into political capital by becoming the face of opposition to the ACA. Last November, they cashed in on that political capital as Republicans swept the elections, and have since taken to proclaiming their plan to “repeal and replace” is the will of the people. With a majority in Congress and a Republican in the White House, healthcare reform seemed not only possible but imminent. For years they’ve been mounting chips on table as if concealing an ace in the hole, but when forced to reveal their hand they fold—called on their bluff.
If this legislative fiasco teaches us anything, it’s the role of the opposition party. Movements defined by opposition rather than ideas quickly transmute reality into a zero-sum game wherein the winner becomes the dog who caught the car. More than that, it breeds complacency. It’s easy to imagine yourself as the hero when you’ve turned your adversaries into monsters, but identification through alterity can only answer what you are not. This line of thinking is permeating every facet of our political discourse and our civic communities, forcing us to retreat into our echo-chambers as we criticize the “other side” from afar, often forgetting our own values along the way. Focusing on the things you disagree with while avoiding having to speak to your own principles is a path into political nihilism, where one can comfortably point their finger at others without having a finger pointed at them. My challenge for liberals is to seek out those difficult conversations rather than hide from them. Question your own beliefs instead of others, convince yourself of your values in the crucible of debate, and you might just convince someone else along the way.