Government By Cliche: Repealing Obamacare one Game at a Time
(CN: Tortured Sportsball Analogy)
Bull Durham is my wife and I’s favorite film. By that I mean it’s the favorite film we have in common. My favorite film is Young Frankenstein. But Bull Durham is certainly in my top 10. It’s a story about sex and love, the price of wisdom and the fire of youth. And baseball, it is almost the perfect baseball movie, (as opposed to Field of Dreams, Kevin Costner’s other famous baseball movie which is unwatchable as far as I’m concerned.)
One of the best scenes comes well into the films second act. Hotheaded rookie flamethrower Nuke Laloosh has settled down after a rocky start to his young career and is no longer feuding with hardheaded veteran catcher Crash Davis, his erstwhile mentor. As they suffer through another interminable Carolina League bus ride they have this exchange…
Crash Davis: It’s time to work on your interviews.
Ebby Calvin LaLoosh: My interviews? What do I gotta do?
Crash Davis: You’re gonna have to learn your clichés. You’re gonna have to study them, you’re gonna have to know them. They’re your friends. Write this down: “We gotta play it one day at a time.”
Ebby Calvin LaLoosh: Got to play… it’s pretty boring.
Crash Davis: ‘Course it’s boring, that’s the point. Write it down.
What Crash is trying to teach Nuke is simple. When you are in the public spotlight you are going to be asked a LOT of questions. Sports reporters are going to ask you questions after every game. And it’s baseball, so there are a lot of games, a lot of chances for you to say something embarrassing or factually incorrect, to undermine your coach or teammates in the aftermath of a bad loss or make outlandish boasts after a big win that will come back to haunt you.
Sports cliches are boring for a reason. They are the lubrication that keeps the sports media process running smoothly. The reporters aren’t your friends, their job is to find things about you that aren’t boring. Maybe after a few years a young athlete will learn how to work the process to his advantage, to hold court before his locker after the game and become known for his witticisms rather than his gaffes. But for now, boring is good. As Crash tells Nuke at one point…
Crash Davis: Your shower shoes have fungus on them. You’ll never make it to the bigs with fungus on your shower shoes. Think classy, you’ll be classy. If you win 20 in the show, you can let the fungus grow back and the press’ll think you’re colorful. Until you win 20 in the show, however, it means you are a slob.
Sports cliche’s are useful tools in both the reporter and athletes toolbox. They fill column inches and SportsCenter segments. They get athletes and coaches on TV being gracious after a loss or magnanimous in victory. Everybody wins. The expected behavior patterns are so ingrained that the players who break them are notable. Barry Bonds was famous for his surly demeanor, a strained relationship with reporters that skewed the reporting on his alleged use of sports drugs. Cam Newton and Marshawn Lynch have been notoriously moody at NFL press conferences. Patriots Head Coach Bill Belichek is famous for his gruff and impatient responses to questions that other coaches smooth over with sports cliche’s. And heaven forbid a player say anything that might be used as “locker room material” to inspire the other team to greater intensity.
The point… and I’m getting to a point here… is that while the sports cliches may have it’s time honored utility, it doesn’t replace the actual sporting. Crash Davis teaches Nuke his time honored cliches in order to protect his young charge from the pitfalls of fame. But “playing it one game at a time,” or “I’m just here to help the team,” aren’t what gets Eppy Calvin Laloosh a trip to The Show in September, that would be hard work, mastering his control and of course a bit of light cross dressing…
Which brings us to the news that the Republican Party has finally unveiled it’s long awaited replacement for the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare.) Actual journalists like Sarah Kliff and Ezra Klein at Vox can tell you better than I how flawed the actual plan is. Klein is especially disappointed…
This bill has a lot of problems, and more will come clear as experts study its language, the Congressional Budget Office release its estimates, and industry players make themselves heard. But the biggest problem this bill has is that it’s not clear why it exists. What does it make better? What is it even trying to achieve? Democrats wanted to cover more people and reduce long-term costs, and they had an argument for how their bill did both. As far as I can tell, Republicans have neither. At best, you can say this bill makes every obvious health care metric a bit worse, but at least it cuts taxes on rich people? Is that really a winning argument in American politics?
In reality, what I think we’re seeing here is Republicans trying desperately to come up with something that would allow them to repeal and replace Obamacare. This is a compromise of a compromise of a compromise aimed at fulfilling that promise. But “repeal and replace” is a political slogan, not a policy goal. This is a lot of political pain to endure for a bill that won’t improve many peoples’ lives, but will badly hurt millions.
That last point the Mr. Klein makes is the one that brought to mind the idea of looking at this process through the lens of sports and cliche. The GOP has been fighting Obamacare for seven years, first as it was being passed through Congress, with the nascent Tea Party movement terrorizing members of Congress at town hall meetings (There is no Tea Party h/t Driftglass) then through the court system up to and including the Supreme Court. The infamous “death panels” smear and the 2010 mid terms that swept them into control of Congress made “repeal and replace Obamacare” one of the cornerstone promises of the Republican establishment. It is one of Donald Trump’s most common talking points on what has become his Neverending Campaign for the job he already has.
And then today’s big reveal happens and all they have to show is basically Obamacare Lite with 50% Less Coverage! We were assured all through the campaign that Trump and the GOP had an Obamacare replacement ready to go. I think we all assumed that Paul Ryan at least would have a plan. It would be a plan we hated but it would at least be his plan, not Obama’s plan with the numbers filed off and the subsidies backwards like his goofy ass hat…
Instead what we find is that “repeal and replace” was just another talking point. It was useful shorthand for energizing a GOP base that is largely unified in it’s hatred of anything attached to Obama. Actually repealing and replacing the Affordable Care Act? That takes work. You have to understand insurance markets and actuarial tables. You have to pay attention to what doctors, and hospitals and insurance companies and patients want and need. And it’s obvious that for the last 8 years the Republican Party has done none of that work. They promised us that they “just wanted to help the team,” but that cliche was only useful to help them win elections. But winning elections is different from governing, as they are about to find out.
The NFL Scouting Combine was over the weekend, which is often the first time you will see the new batch of NFL head coaches speaking to the media. The sports cliches flew thick and fierce (Mike Tanier of Bleacher Report has a great rundown.) At these events you will usually hear much of the same from year to year. “We want to play smashmouth football, We want to be more physical, we have a process and we are going to see it through.” Once again, this is just how these things are done, part of the rhythm of sports and sports coverage.
But the cliches don’t win football games. Nobody turned around the team by “playing the game the right way.” Sports teams are complicated organizations. You turn them around by identifying the teams needs, scouting for talent, implementing game plans that take into account your teams strengths and flaws as well as the strengths and flaws of the opponent. Then you provide your players with leadership, you convince them to buy into your plan. Heck, even a bad plan can work if the coach convinces his team to execute it to the best of their ability. Heck, Obamacare itself is such a plan.
“Repeal and Replace Obamacare” was a useful slogan in the short term. It allowed a lot of Republicans to look like they were “working hard one day at at a time and the Good Lord willing it would all work out.” But since they never did the work, they never listened to all the people telling them what health care reform should actually look like, they just kept repeating their cliches… I get the feeling that they are going to get hammered on this issue.
Like the hitter knew it was coming…