Ihad never seen my phone flash like that, as if it was its own rock-concert light show. The screen images kept rolling out of sight and getting instantly replaced by new ones. The screen was pulsating and, for a couple of minutes, doing so relentlessly.
I thought the trusted old iPhone 5 had finally lost its remarkable mind.
It turned out that celebratory liberals across the country—by the hundreds—were activating the notifications function on my Twitter account by either liking or retweeting the simple little social media statement I’d just typed and released.
“Red-state liberals can kick your tail.”
“I love Arkansas tonight,” replied a man from Indiana. “I feel better about our country because of Arkansas tonight,” said a woman from … somewhere. A woman from San Francisco responded that she’d never experienced such kinship as she was sensing at that very moment with those people in Arkansas.
I, and they, were watching U.S. Sen. Tom Cotton’s town-hall meeting from Springdale, which was being shown nationwide.
More than 2,000 people were crammed into a high school auditorium in the reddest congressional district in one of our reddest states. They were giving one of our reddest members of Congress unabashed hell.
They were asking him precise, profound, pointed and sometimes-preachy questions. While some were saying “shhh,” they were booing or shouting or chanting “yes or no” as Cotton deflected the complexities of health care with handy talking-point simplicities so glibly sufficient on Fox News.
When a woman asked about the compelling public need for release of President Donald Trump’s tax returns, and Cotton made excuses, the woman said, “The last president, my God, released his birth certificate.” They stood and cheered.
The next morning the news article in this paper gave dominant attention to the crowd’s raucous behavior and to Cotton’s “patience” in enduring it. A pastor from Fayetteville who asked a sensitive question about refugee acceptance told MSNBC the next day the crowd behavior reminded him of “Question Time” in the British Parliament. That’s when the prime minister comes over to get questioned and interrupted and hooted by the other side.
Inadequate attention was given to the lameness and inadequacy of the junior senator’s responses. He got credit merely for showing up. Cotton said he wasn’t there to try to tell anyone that Obamacare hadn’t helped people in Arkansas. But, golly, darn, he said, the Affordable Care Act has been a train wreck of unsustainable costs. He said Republicans are going to repeal it and replace it in a way that will save everyone money and ease everyone’s regulatory burden. He said they will continue the level and universal accessibility of care.
They’ll do that somehow, some way, he said, if only you’ll trust him and The Donald and Mitch and Paul and Bannon and Kellyanne and Reince and the rest of them.
Specifics? The Democrats provided those in their arduous building of the program. And you see what that got them.
To the woman who specifically named and described her disease and said she’d die without the coverage the Affordable Care Act makes available … Tom told her she’s going to be fine.
He was from the government and he was there to help her.
Republicans in Washington have had six years to design a replacement for Obamacare. But it was easy to vote for repeal when it was certain to be blocked by Senate filibuster or presidential veto.
It’s harder to dig responsibly and accountably below talking points and into such complexities as how, if you do away with the mandate for individual coverage, you generate enough pool assets to cover the high treatment costs of a woman in Northwest Arkansas you’re essentially patting on the back with a vague assurance.
There is one problem with Obamacare. Its premiums are rising too fast, too much for individuals and for the subsidizing government.
The law itself addressed that by seeking to foster as-yet-unachieved universal paying coverage, including expansion of Medicaid to cover the working poor—a provision the U.S. Supreme Court overturned and left to the states, 19 of which, Republican ones, declined to participate.
Republicans essentially are declining to participate in a program they assail as failing because they are declining to participate.
Speaking of Twitter and lame and inadequate responses, Vice President Mike Pence tweeted this gem last week: “Obamacare will be replaced with something that actually works—bringing freedom and individual responsibility back to American health care.”
The key word: “Something.” The key phrase: “Individual responsibility,” the exercise of which is not always available to the diseased or dying and non-wealthy patient.
The real story from the Cotton town hall is one we can’t know. How did the ambitious young GOP phenom respond as he left that stage? Did he say thank the Lord I’m done dealing with those crazies? Or did he say hmmm?
The latter would be the seed for personal and political growth.
John Brummett, whose column appears regularly in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, was inducted into the Arkansas Writers’ Hall of Fame in 2014. Email him at email@example.com. Read his @johnbrummett Twitter feed.