Second guessing

With ongoing fights over health care and a U.S. Interior Department “review” of the existence of some national monuments underway, it seems like a good time to point out that these are relatively new governing techniques.

When President Harding, on Jan. 24, 1922, made the Lehman cavern in eastern Nevada a national monument, no one made a political issue of it. There was no “review” or legislation to take away the president’s power to designate such monuments. But when President Obama designated Basin and Range and Gold Butte national monuments in Nevada, the howls were heard in Muscat, and Western leaders, if not residents, started talking sagebrush revolution.

In 1959, after the American Medical Association and Republicans finally lost a three-decade-long fight to enact medical care for the aged, Republicans and physicians got to work on how to make the new system a success. In those days, once Congress decided a policy, most people on both sides hoped for the best.

As we reported in 2015 (“Medicare at 50,” Aug. 6, 2015): “What happened [after the vote] would surprise anyone born thereafter who watched the Affordable Care Act being enacted by Congress in 2009. Although the 30-year battle over Medicare was long and hard fought, it was not a party line vote. Once Medicare was law, the GOP did not, for years afterward, tie approval of other, unrelated programs to it. Republicans didn’t try to shut down the government to get their way. The AMA made a point of telling doctors they didn’t have to serve Medicare patients, but it was just a gesture by then, and few doctors did refuse. No one tried to kill Medicare by defunding it. No one tried to delay the law taking effect. Rather, nearly everyone accepted the outcome, and life for most patients and doctors resumed with few changes.”

No such luck these days. Presidents and legislators try to sabotage legal programs. Established government agencies must endure guerrilla warfare instead of being allowed to show what they can do. U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke was in Nevada in the last few days, a trip to hear from locals about the national monuments, a trip he cut short but did squeeze in a symbolic visit to Bunkerville, home of the Bundy family.

The power of example is the greatest power government has, and it is particularly effective with the young. When a once-great political party is seen as submerging politics and ideology to community well being, it teaches one kind of lesson. When it slowly switches to elevating politics and ideology over the good of the community, it teaches a whole different lesson. So does refusing to abide by the decision of the public’s representatives. Republicans in the House like to brag that they have voted 50-plus times on repealing the Affordable Care Act, overlooking what it says about their members that they do not respect the proper enactment of a program. If ACA had been tried and failed, that would be one thing. But so far it has barely been given a chance to function.

As time goes on, how many programs will Republicans sulk about and try to obstruct instead of allowing a fair test of programs they oppose?