Sunday, June 18, 2017

Trumpcare and the TPP: Republicans have learned nothing from history

As long as I'm ranting about Republican hypocrisy, I feel I should say a word about the secretive and thoroughly undemocratic process being employed by them to pass the Trumpcare bill.  If history is any guide, this will come back to bite them badly.  But Republicans don't seem to learn from history.  (Neither do Democrats, actually, but they aren't the ones trying to take my health insurance away.)

I was at a fundraiser recently where a highly placed government official (ahem) was discussing why Hillary lost the election.  A major contributing factor, he (because most highly placed government officials are still men) said was her wiffly-waffly opposition to the Trans Pacific Partnership.  This highly placed government official (OK, I'm going to start calling him Fred even though that's not his real name) said that the TPP was widely (and correctly IMHO) perceived among working-class Americans as a threat to their livelihoods, and that if she didn't come out with a full-throated repudiation of it she would lose their votes.  More prescient words have rarely been spoken in politics.

But this left Hillary in a jam because the TPP was Barack Obama's baby, so Obama told Hillary that if she opposed the TPP that she would lose his support.  Obama believed (and probably still believes) that the TPP was necessary in order to prevent China from basically taking over the world.  And he was right about that.  The problem with the TPP was not that it wasn't needed -- it was (and still is).  The problem with the TPP was the process by which it was negotiated.

In the management of human affairs, the process by which a conclusion is reached is as important -- sometimes more important -- than the conclusion itself.  People want to feel empowered even if (perhaps especially if) they are not.  That is the reason democracy works, not because it produces the best outcomes, but because it's the best way humans have come up with to get people to accept outcomes they don't like without resorting to violence.

The TPP failed in no small measure because it was negotiated in secret.  A bunch of American corporate leaders got together and negotiated a deal which, unsurprisingly, would have been very good for American corporations, under the tacit assumption that what's good for American corporations is good for the American people.  And maybe that's even true, but to argue over that is to badly miss the point which is that the secrecy surrounding the proceedings made ordinary people feel as if they did not have a seat at the table.

Now Mitch McConnell is making the exact same mistake with the TrumpCare bill, and for the exact same reason.  He knows that the bill will never survive the light of day, because the goal of the bill is not to improve health care, but to give tax breaks to the wealthy.  But people are starting to get wise to the trickle-down scam, so he can't actually admit that.

I don't know if the Senate will manage to get a bill passed in the next two weeks or not.  If they do, I don't know whether the House will manage to pass it, or if the Senate version will be insufficiently cruel to placate the House Freedom Caucus.  If all this manages to happen, I don't even know for sure if Trump will sign it because he's so mercurial that trying to predict anything he does is a fool's errand.

But I do know this: if the Republicans do manage to repeal Obamacare, that will be the end of them, not because the product will be bad (though it almost certainly will be) but because it was done in secret.  Americans don't like their government to operate in secrecy.  The secret negotiation of the TPP ultimately cost Hillary Clinton the presidency, and I predict it will cost the Republicans control of Congress in 2018.

At least I hope so.  Because if we let the Republicans get away with this, we're fucked.


Peter Donis said...

I don't want to hijack the comment thread, but can you elaborate a bit on why you think the TPP is needed to keep China from taking over the world? (A pointer to a previous post of yours or an article by someone else would be fine.)

Ron said...

@Peter: that's a fair question, and you're not hijacking the comments at all. (Is it even possible to hijack an empty comment thread?) I haven't written about this before. The TL;DR is that the TPP was an agreement between the U.S. and 11 other countries, notably not including China: Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, and Vietnam. It was like NAFTA but for the Pacific Rim. The idea was that with that many countries signing on, including the U.S., China would have to play by the rules that the TPP established. Those rules included things like intellectual property protections which were favorable to U.S. companies. Now in the absence of the TPP, China is freed to take the lead on establishing the rules for future Pacific Rim trade.

The TPP was actually quite a tour-de-force achievement in international politicking. If it hadn't been negotiated in secret it might have succeeded.

Don Geddis said...

Ron wrote: The secret negotiation of the TPP ultimately cost Hillary Clinton the presidency

In my opinion, that's a tremendously oversimplified explanation for the outcome of the election. It was a very, very close race, with the difference being only a swing of a few percentage points here or there. And, in the last few months, voter sentiment went up and down by tens of points. And finally, there were numerous significant issues, especially in the last weeks (Comey, email server, wikileaks, Russians, Billy Bush, Access Hollywood).

Saying that Hillary lost "because" her opposition to TPP was too "wiffly-waffly" and not "full-throated" enough, is an incredibly overconfident conclusion.

"More prescient words have rarely been spoken in politics."

You go to Vegas, and say "because of the alignment of Jupiter and the moon, the next roulette wheel spin will come up red." And then it does happen to come up red. Your successful "prediction", in this case, is only very, very weak evidence that your causal theory is correct.

Similarly, saying "Hillary will lose because of TPP", and then Hillary does in fact lose, hardly makes a strong case that she did indeed lose because of TPP.

Peter Donis said...

@Ron: "The idea was that with that many countries signing on, including the U.S., China would have to play by the rules that the TPP established."

Hm. That seems like a weak argument to me. See below.

"Those rules included things like intellectual property protections which were favorable to U.S. companies."

As I understand it, they were favorable to certain US companies, like the media companies who would rather have ever more draconian intellectual property "protections" than update their business models to give customers what they actually want. But it didn't seem to me like they were favorable to, for example, US startup companies trying to explore new business models. And the whole negotiated in secret thing just made that worse.

In any case, there are already international treaties that are supposed to ensure certain intellectual property protections, which China doesn't abide by. Why would TPP have been any different?

Ron said...

@Peter: I don't know. You'll have to ask someone who actually thought the TPP was a good idea. (NOTE: I thought that the TPP's ostensible goals were and still are good goals, but I was never a fan of either the process or the product.)

@Don: I probably should have hedged with "may have" cost Hillary the election. In the end, it came down to 70,000 votes in three key states. I think it's entirely plausible that those votes swung because of her (lack of a) position on the TPP. But I've already assigned the blame to James Comey so maybe I'm double-dipping here.