GOP “Moderates,” the Hollow Men

Anne Lyman Powers, “The Hollow Men”


The Washington Post’s Alexandra Petri has a scathing takedown of GOP moderates in a recent column, dramatizing how, though they may sometimes talk a good game, they invariably follow the mob. This proved to be the case earlier in the week when all but Senators Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski voted to let action proceed on a healthcare bill that didn’t exist. The occasion was an exercise in cynicism devised by arch cynic Mitch McConnell, designed to allow Republicans to repeal Obamacare without being blamed for repealing Obamacare.

In the process, the “moderates” bore a perilous resemblance to T. S. Eliot’s Hollow Men.

Washington Post columnist E. J. Dionne explains the rationale behind McConnell’s bill:

The most insidious aspect of McConnell’s strategy is that he is shooting to pass something, anything, that would continue to save Republicans from having a transparent give-and-take on measures that could ultimately strip health insurance from 20 million Americans or more. Passing even the most meager of health bills this week would move the covert coverage-demolition effort to a conference committee with the House.

The rightwing caucus, of course, is fairly blunt about what it wants, although even most of its members don’t say right out that they are in favor of depriving tens of millions of Americans healthcare and rescinding the ban on preexisting conditions. (They talk about “freedom” instead.) Compared to the so-called moderates, however, they come across as profiles in courage.

Here’s Petri speaking in the voice of a GOP moderate:

This bill is bad, and it was made in a process that was even worse. The courageous thing to do would be to stand against it. And yet no one will, not even me.

I am disgusted.

Bills ought to be passed with deliberation by committees. Change should be achieved in a bipartisan manner. Incrementally, day by day, we should reach a consensus — not perfect, by any means — but something that we can be proud of, nonetheless. That is why, when this dangerous and secret bill came up for a vote, I said “Aye,” in such a cold and cutting tone.

And in conclusion:

This bill was not given the process it deserves. We should have deliberated in committee. We should have held hearings. We should have done this the right way. There is only one way to proceed: We must absolutely proceed with it. I, for one, will fight it tooth and nail. I will do everything except vote against it.

Who will stand without me?

Compare such politicians with Eliot’s Hollow Men:

We are the hollow men
We are the stuffed men
Leaning together
Headpiece filled with straw. Alas!
Our dried voices, when
We whisper together
Are quiet and meaningless
As wind in dry grass
Or rats’ feet over broken glass
In our dry cellar
Shape without form, shade without color,
Paralyzed force, gesture without motion;
Those who have crossed
With direct eyes, to death’s other Kingdom
Remember us–if at all–not as lost
Violent souls, but only
As the hollow men
The stuffed men.

The poem has a running theme about feeling ashamed to look people in the eye, which is not a bad description for those members of Congress avoiding town hall meetings and refusing to meet with patients who would lose their healthcare. Instead, they prefer to gather in their bubble and avoid thinking about consequences to their constituents:

In this last of meeting places
We grope together
And avoid speech
Gathered on this beach of the tumid river

When you have no core convictions–“Here we go round the prickly pear,” Eliot writes–then you don’t push back against rightwing billionaires but let them buffet you like scarecrows:

Let me also wear
Such deliberate disguises
Rat’s coat, crowskin, crossed staves
In a field
Behaving as the wind behaves
No nearer—

Eliot tells us how history will judge them if millions lose. They will be remembered with contempt.

If McConnell gets his way, the dream of affordable healthcare for all will end, not with a bang, but a whimper.

Further evidence of hollowness – The following just appeared in The Daily Kos lest you think that Petri exaggerates:

Sens. John McCain (R-AZ), Lindsey Graham (R-SC), Ron Johnson (R-WI), and Bill Cassidy (R-LA) all really, really don’t want the skinny Trumpcare bill they are going to vote on in the coming hours to become law. They really, really hate it. They just held a press conference to say so.
Johnson says “‘virtually nothing we’re doing in any of these bills’ are keeping their promise to fix the problems with health care.” Graham called it a “fraud,” “disaster,” “pig in a poke” and also “half-assed.” McCain, again, said they needed some bipartisanship here.

So they’re all voting against it, right? Wrong.

This whole exercise was to say that they are going to vote for this bill just as long as House Speaker Paul Ryan promises he won’t let it become law. They are demanding a bipartisan conference committee with input from all the governors. And what will they take as a promise?

[Tweet from Frank Thorp V]: Asked how they’ll know they’ve got an assurance the House will go to conf: Graham: “It’s like pornography, you know it when you see it.”

Update: Good news! Three Republican moderates (I remove the quotation marks) stood up and joined with the 48 Democratic senators to kill the “skinny bill,” which would have thrown 16 million off of healthcare, raised insurance premiums by 20 percent, and started a death spiral (by revoking the individual mandate, key to financing the sickest). John McCain, perhaps thinking of how other cancer patients would be impacted by the GOP bill, shocked fellow Republicans by voting no, along with Collins and Murkowski. Maybe bipartisan fixes, such as reducing the price of pharmaceuticals and lowering premiums (which both sides say they want), are possible after all.

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