The title comes from a classic scene in Casablanca. Local Captain Renault, a regular at Rick’s establishment, must find an excuse to shut the place down after a contentious rendition of “La Marseillaise” from the Frenchman prompts the local German Nazi commander to order the place closed. It’s a perfect moment; Renault is a lovably dirty cop, erstwhile friend of Rick, who nevertheless accedes to the constraints of a difficult situation, and pocketing his winnings without missing a beat.
I thought of that scene after reading this Dave Weigel post over at Slate, “The Baucus Dialogues: My Conversation With a GOP Congressman About a Magic Quote.” The mystical quote in question comes from Senator Max Baucus (D), who at one point during questioning over the public relations budget for the Affordable Care Act to the Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said the following:
“A lot of people have no idea about all of this,” he said. “People just don’t know a lot about it, and the Kaiser poll pointed that out. I understand you’ve hired a contractor. I’m just worried that that’s gonna be money down the drain because contractors like to make money … I just tell ya, I just see a huge train wreck coming down.”
That is the birth of a perfect talking point, still in use, for everything about the health reform law to expired coupons and burnt toast. It’s utterly specious in any other context, of course, and something Weigel demolished in a prior post. Yet I found his exchange over this quote with Georgia Rep. Jack Kingston (R) really interesting, because I’m not at all convinced the House Republican is emulating Renault by regurgitating the Baucus talking point.
After being asked by Weigel whether the House Republican caucus would stick to it’s defunding or delaying ACA demand, given it’s absence in the 2011 budget talks, this was Kingston’s response:
“I’m not sure why it wasn’t part of the August 2011 discussions,” said Kingston, “but, you know, in the words of Sen. Baucus, the Senate architect of the bill, it’s a train wreck.”
Weigel retorts with what I imagine to be the type of frustration advocates of the ACA feel after hearing this so often, and is rewarded with this quick turn to another talking point from Kingston:
“He didn’t mean the actual implementation,” I said. “He meant it if wasn’t advertised correctly.”
“All I know is that he said it was a train wreck,” said Kingston. “You might be closer to him than I am. We do know—you know what’s a great questions for you guys, since you’re so interested in Obamacare? How many members of the administration went through the exchange. Does anybody want that story? I think it’d be a good one. Did Kathleen Sebelius go into the exchange Oct. 1?”
The problem with the distraction to a new, also often used, message is that it’s also spurious beyond belief. This is the meme that there is a congressional exemption from the ACA, but of course there is no congressional exemption from the law. I highly encourage you to read the rest of Weigel’s exchange, because it’s represents (what I perceive to be) a relatively rare push-back on these absurd positions from the law’s detractors. As Weigel eventually gets to, Secretary Sebelius didn’t go into the exchange October 1st for the same reason Kingston didn’t; they both have health insurance. They’re like most Americans who, come January, will not actually have to do anything because they already receive coverage through their employer or the federal government. Kingston, seemingly, doesn’t know how to respond to this basic fact about the ACA. He just moves on to another reporter and nothing substantive is resolved in this conversation.
Now Kingston isn’t some just Tea Party freshmen (or sophomore) congressman. This is his eleventh term. My resting assumption on politicians used to be that they knew these messages were only so much BS strategy. Maybe I’m late to this observation, but Republicans seem to be consuming too much of the product they’re selling. Combined with a conservative activist base that really does believe some of the worst things about the president and the direction of this country, well, what do we expect? Perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised at the status quo.