Evil. Despicable. Pure socialism. Unconstitutional. Oklahoma won't stand for it!
So sayeth the state's Republican leaders, forever heaping scorn on the federal Affordable Care Act -- aka Obamacare.
Gov. Mary Fallin not only campaigned against it, but she also rejoiced publicly when new Attorney General Scott Pruitt filed suit in late January to overturn it, making Oklahoma one of 28 states to challenge its constitutionality.
"I am proud," she declared, "that Oklahoma can now be counted among the states standing up for constitutional rights and opposing a law that is harmful to both our economy and to the health of our citizens."
Ah, but in spring the trees bud, the flowers bloom and Fallin and GOP legislative titans awaken to a whole new world of possibilities!
Thus it is that in the Alice in Wonderland parallel universe known as Oklahoma politics, our Constitution-wavin', states' rights assertin' governor, House speaker and Senate president pro tem suddenly opened their once-clenched fists to accept a $54.6 million handout from -- gasp! -- the federal Affordable Care Act.
Oh, the humanity!
Under normal circumstances, it would be appropriate to invoke the "H" word -- hypocrisy. But such chiseling is so routine at the state Capitol these days that it often doesn't even draw notice from the state's establishment media watchdogs.
Yet, it is especially brazen -- even by today's low standards -- for political leaders who enhanced their careers with anti-federal government rhetoric to now accept a handsome federal grant made possible by a federal law they think should be overturned.
Sorry, folks, but you can't have it both ways. Either you believe in the constitutionality of Obamacare or you don't. If you think it's constitutional, you have no business wasting the taxpayers' hard-earned dollars challenging it in federal court. If you think it's unconstitutional, you have no business accepting a $54.6 million grant from it.
Of course, there's another way to look at this: Perhaps you don't really care whether Obamacare is unconstitutional -- you just think it's good politics to play along with the masses whipped into an anti-Obama lather by a factually challenged rightwing noise machine. Perhaps you figure those dummies in the Tea Party aren't smart enough to figure out that you're talking out of both sides of your mouth. And that by the time Obamacare really kicks in and people start to appreciate its provisions -- sort of like what happened with Social Security and Medicare -- you'll have diverted their attention to the latest big government scare.
The written announcement from Fallin, Speaker Kris Steele and Senate President Brian Bingman that Oklahoma would be accepting the federal grant to help establish a health care exchange was notable for what was missing.
No mention of Obamacare -- which critics usually spit out with venom.
Nor of the federal lawsuit that Fallin heralded in January. Nor of her contention, in an interview with Fox News, that the Affordable Care Act violates the Oklahoma Constitution.
The news release more closely resembled a scene from Jerry Maguire: Show me the money!
Fallin: "After thoroughly reviewing the 'early innovator' grant, I am happy to say that the federal assistance we are being offered is consistent with our mission to design and implement an Oklahoma-based health insurance exchange. That exchange will empower consumers and help individuals and small businesses to shop for and enroll in affordable, quality health insurance plans. This is a step in the right direction for Oklahoma and its citizens."
Steele, R-Shawnee: "This opportunity will remove the obstacles many people face in obtaining health insurance and allow many more Oklahomans to become insured. This would not only improve the overall health of our state, it will also empower and equip patients to invest in their own healthcare needs and outcomes."
Bingman, R-Sapulpa: "Real solutions to our health care needs are best found through market-based principals of choice and competition. The health insurance exchange empowers Oklahomans with those free-market tools. This early innovator grant will allow Oklahoma to put in place the necessary technological infrastructure that makes these plans accessible to citizens of our state."
Did you also notice that not one of them thanked the evil Uncle Sugar for his help? Where are their manners? Surely this was an oversight. Surely it's not a sign they think Oklahoma's great unwashed aren't savvy enough to connect the $54.6 million and Obamacare. Surely this isn't all about politics.
This exercise in venality illustrates vividly why the American electorate is so cynical about government and politics and so despairing that anything will change significantly, no matter who's elected.
The health exchange is a terrific idea -- a vehicle for people and businesses to joint together in pursuit of affordable health insurance plans. I'm ecstatic that cash-strapped Oklahoma will receive $54.6 million to help get our exchange up-and-running. It could really help hundreds of thousands of Oklahoma who are either uninsured or on the verge of economic calamity because of staggering health care costs. It's certainly worth a try.
It's also time to start telling voters the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth: these are tough times and the list of difficult issues is long. Spending most of your time demonizing Barack Obama isn't going to help patch the state's $500 million budget hole. Railing incessantly against federal "overreach" isn't going to solve prison overcrowding or improve education, either.
Leadership that relies on spin and fear and demagoguery usually ends up in the dustbin of history, not memorialized on the side of Mount Rushmore. It offends the sensibilities to champion overturning the health care law at the same time you're bragging about bringing home the bacon.
-(Arnold Hamilton is editor of The Oklahoma Observer; www.okobserver.net)
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