If only they’d read more Edmund Burke and less Ayn Rand.
If only Tennessee Republicans placed the quiet and thoughtful philosophy of conservatism’s intellectual godfather on a higher plane than the destructive and reactionary hoarding of individualism’s selfish aunt.
But these Tennessee Republicans don’t see humanity as a family. They don’t see society as a good. They see themselves and their tribe and then they see The Great Other — which they perceive as a nebulous collection of thieves and grabbers.
They are as revolutionary and vicious as any of history’s most strident Jacobins.
Gov. Bill Haslam announced Wednesday he would not ask for an expansion of Medicaid in Tennessee, where it operates as TennCare and provides coverage to 1.2 million people — primarily children of low-income families, pregnant women, the elderly and disabled. The expanded coverage under the Affordable Care Act would have extended that to anyone without insurance below 138 percent of the poverty line.
Instead of accepting these funds — $1.4 billion — the governor punted, claiming he’s offering a third way. His plan is to negotiate a scheme with the federal government by which those poorest Tennesseans are given vouchers with which to enter the free market — the Tennessee Republican Party’s paradise and answer to all ills.
By the way, there’s no guarantee the federal government will accept this idea today, tomorrow, six months from now or two years from now.
The governor’s move, predictably, was applauded by legislative Republicans, who took time out from debating whether a mop sink was the first step in a jihadist takeover to grandstand and again claim that by blocking health insurance coverage to the state’s poorest citizens they were standing guard against the perniciousness of socialism.
It is a streak of so-called conservatism Burke would not recognize. He was a man who embraced measured and thoughtful and gradual change.
He favored tradition.
He preferred to live as a member of society rather than as an individual surrounded by fearsome strangers.
Rand, on the other hand, and her disciples are out only for themselves.
Burke would have seen a Medicaid’s expansion as a logical and orderly next step. This is not a drastic change; the drastic change would have been a universal, single-payer system like that envisioned by the Clintons in the ’90s and which exists in dozens of countries around the world.
That would be the revolution and Burke, as a conservative, would have feared such an overhaul. But an expansion of a program that has existed for 50 years to cover the poorest members of society? That is a logical turn.
That is a gradual step.
That is a conservative move.
But instead we have a Randian answer: Turn the health care of the state’s most impoverished over to the free market, the market that has failed those citizens so miserably already. That, not an expansion of Medicaid, is far more radical than anything President Obama has proposed.
Meanwhile, these Republicans with their funhouse-mirror version of conservatism, so enamored with the free market they’re literally in favor of letting it decide who lives and dies, preside over a state that manipulates that same free market via $1.58 billion annually in grants, incentives and tax breaks. And these incentives don’t go to the fierce, up-by-the-bootstrap hard-working small-business-starting individuals these Republicans claim to fetishize, but to massive multinational corporations.
By their actions, they’ve shown, despite what the governor said, it’s not “the least among us” they care about, but the very largest.