One of the key litmus tests that has emerged in the past couple of years among Republicans is how passionately they can denounce President Obama's health reform law.
The central problem, conservatives claim, is the law's individual mandate that penalizes people who can afford to purchase insurance but refuse to. Conservative Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch, for example, insisted that such a mandate shatters the very notion of liberty in America. Some in the right-wing press, like the reliably delusional and conspiratorial Jeffrey Kuhner of the Washington Times, have suggested that Obama could be impeached because of health care reform.
The plan has been described repeatedly by Republicans as radical socialism and a government takeover of the U.S. health care system, and the individual mandate continues to be challenged in court by conservative zealots who have whipped themselves into a frenzy over an imagined constitutional violation.
But let us journey back to the beginning, to the genesis of the evil, un-American, leftist assault on freedom that is the individual mandate.
The idea was originally conceived by a conservative Republican in the early '90s by the name of Mark Pauly. Pauly, an economist from the Wharton School who specializes in health care, offered the idea of the individual mandate to George H.W. Bush as a conservative, market-based alternative to the Democrats' efforts at the time to impose employer mandates or a European-style single-payer plan.
At the time, conservatives loved the idea. More than 20 Republicans in the Senate supported the individual mandate plan back then, yet four of the co-sponsors of the legislation — Hatch (!) Charles Grassley, Bob Bennett and Kit Bond, opposed the Affordable Care Act last year. Even Newt Gingrich is on the record extolling the conservative virtues of the individual mandate, because it requires personal responsibility and prevents “Free-Riders” from getting medical treatment in emergency rooms and elsewhere, while those of us with insurance foot the bill.
In 1996, the individual mandate was the centerpiece of Bob Dole's plan in his presidential campaign — a conservative answer to the failed Clinton reform efforts of the early '90s.
Most stunning, is that Mitt Romney, the probable GOP nominee to take on Obama next year, is the father of Obamacare. He implemented not just a similar plan in Massachusetts but a virtually identical one, and Romney's plan, which was endorsed by the ultra-conservative Heritage Foundation, served as the primary blueprint for the Affordable Care Act.
Yet, because Obama signed this law, it must be the worst thing that can possibly happen to America and those who don't want to see it destroyed. In last week's pitiful GOP debate, Romney, never ashamed to pander, vowed to repeal Obamacare if elected. Astonishing — a leading candidate for president essentially blasting his own most notable achievement because his party has lurched so far to the right.
The hatred of Obama has become so intense on the right, Republicans are so blinded by rage, that they've lost sight of who they once were as a party. They might not have always had the best solutions, but at least they had some worthy goals. In the '90s, Republicans truly wanted to achieve universal health care. Today, conservatives might hate Romney's health care plan simply because it links him to Obama, but it has been wildly successful. The number of uninsured in Massachusetts today is below 3 percent, which is far better than any other state in the country.
But the GOP's religious-like fervor in insisting no government program can ever be good under any circumstances has painted them into a corner, and exposed them as complete hypocrites.