I've never voted for a Republican a single day in my life, but as an American, I found what the Republican Party pulled last week to be deeply embarrassing. For the past eight years the Republicans based most of their identity on opposing and repealing and replacing Obamacare. They held more than 60 different nearly unanimous votes over that period demanding that it be repealed. Then, with full control of the House, the Senate and the Presidency, when it came time for them to repeal and replace it, moments before the vote was to be held, they took their ball and went home. They called off the vote.
It was one of the most shocking moments I've ever seen in Congress. I was watching live when the debate on the floor of the House was suddenly halted and they went to recess. Minutes later, Paul Ryan held a press conference and announced that "Obamacare is the law of the land."
What the hell? Over and over and over again, Paul Ryan had announced that Republicans would lead the efforts to repeal and replace Obamacare. It was the fundamental campaign promise of almost every Republican in national politics. Repealing Obamacare was an essential building block of the conservative identity. Yet when the rubber met the road, and they had, for the first time in eight years, every vote and signature needed to do it, they bailed out.
Republican Congressman Joe Barton of Texas told the absolute truth about what happened.
"Sometimes you're playing Fantasy Football and sometimes you're in the real game," Barton said. "We knew President Obama, if we could get a repeal bill to his desk, would almost certainly veto it. This time we knew if it got to the president's desk it would be signed."
Let me translate that for you. Joe Barton just said that his own party was playing games those 60 times they voted to repeal the Affordable Care Act. They didn't really mean it. It was for show. Every time they promised and pledged to do it, it was nothing more than hot air.
I have to admit — that shocked me. I believed them over these past eight years. It's not just peculiar, it's downright disturbing to see a party repeatedly pledge to do something, then bail out on it the first chance they get to deliver on their promise. Joe Barton literally called those 60 votes "Fantasy Football." I swear I'm not trying to twist the knife in the wound while Republicans are down, but that admission is just breathtaking.
To me, it amounts to admission that the Republican Party itself has no idea who they are or what they stand for. This past week exposed that beneath all of their rhetoric, beneath their deep insistence that Obamacare was ruining this nation from the inside out, the Republicans had nothing. They had no truly innovative ideas, no deep set of guiding principles, no real plan — just talk. President Obama was in office for nearly 3,000 days. That's roughly 70,000 hours. And in all that time, they never built a compelling alternative.
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In fact, when the nation saw their alternative, they revolted. Through town halls, phone calls, petitions, protests, marches and more — the American people humiliated every single congressperson who pledged to repeal Obamacare, and under a few weeks of scrutiny, they buckled.
But here's the thing — if Democrats aren't careful, they will fall into this exact same trap. Don't get me wrong — Donald Trump deserves to be passionately opposed. His ideas are terrible and he is a truly awful human being, but Democrats and progressives and liberals must not simply oppose Trump, they must do what Republicans never did with Obama, they must present intelligent policy alternatives to every bad idea that they present.
In fact, that's exactly what Bernie Sanders is doing by pledging to introduce a single-payer "Medicare For All" health care plan in the days ahead. Because here's the truth — while Obamacare is better than nothing, and is certainly better than any ideas the Republican Party has presented, it's still a broken system in serious need of improvement. By introducing an actual plan, Bernie is establishing himself as a lawmaker of substance.
Democrats should do this with every single policy idea being presented.
When Republicans propose a horrific ban against Muslims entering this country, the Democratic Party should propose comprehensive immigration reform.
When Republicans propose a budget that cuts funding to programs such as Meals on Wheels and PBS, Democrats should announce their alternative budget so that the American people can see the contrasts.
Sure — oppose Trump, oppose Paul Ryan, oppose Mitch McConnell, but be better than them. Present smart alternatives. More than any point I can ever remember, the American public seems to have a real appetite for policy proposals and line-item budgets. Give them a better alternative than the garbage Trump and the Republicans keep floating out there.
When Trump tells lies about the jobs he will create, Democrats must show people precisely how their plans are better. The people are watching. And if they get the idea that Democrats are pulling the same BS that Republicans just pulled, voters will smell it from a mile away. Don't just talk the talk. It's time for Democrats to walk the walk.