Opinion: Obama-care and shut down of the American Government

by Adeolu Ademoyo


The failure of the Republicans and the rightwing to listen to the people and speak the substance of their language is a lesson Nigerian right wing parties and politicians must learn even when in the Nigerian case their (Nigerian) situation is complicated hopelessly by the weight of corruption and graft.

The American democracy works in a combination of simple and complex ways. Thus some broad explanation may be necessary. Also, given that on the surface, we appear to run the same type of democracy the practitioners (politicians) of Nigerian “democracy” and people may have something to learn from the American democracy.

Two parties dominate the US party system-the Democratic and Republican parties. Other parties can and do exist. Relatively speaking there is a separation of powers between the executive and the legislature.

The legislature has two houses-Senate and Congress. Bills traditionally originate from Congress, and then they go to the Senate for ratification before landing on the President’s table for its signing into law.  Thus, theoretically and practically any bill can “die” at any stage of this process before it becomes law.

In the American democracy, the Congress must pass the annual budget. Without a budget, the American government cannot run. That is the law! We know this in America! So?

If the Congress refuses to initiate or pass a budget, then theoretically and practically the countdown to shutdown of government will commence because   the American President dares not touch public money without a Congressional passed and Senate ratified budget. This is America, and not anywhere else! And we know this!  In America, we put this in folk terms for our common understanding by saying ‘It is the Law’!

Now let us attend to the ObamaCare, President Barak Obama’s initiated health care policy-which primarily caused the 16 day shutdown of Government by Congressional Republicans this year, 2013. President Obama signed the Affordable Care Act into law in March 2010. As a social democrat, this act is Obama’s moral signature tune.

The US health care system is insurance based. That is, a patient needs a health insurance before he/she can take care of his/her health. Your insurance card is your passage to treatment in the hospital. Also, if I have insurance, it means I am paying a monthly premium for that is the meaning of insurance. That monthly premium is/can be shared between my employer and myself if I am employed. If I am not employed and if I have health insurance then I am paying by myself.

America’s population is about 316m. America is a capitalist society like virtually all-western countries. There is a high social division and disparity in wealth distribution. Also, unemployment rate has recently gone down to about 7.3%.   In plain language, it means if I am unemployed and economically (not spiritually) “poor” then it is likely that I have no health insurance.

Many Americans belong to this category a situation, which is not due to their own fault, and neither is it due to “laziness”-something the rightwing is quick to appeal to with respect to the unemployed.  For example, if I am unemployed, then that is not my fault for it is presumed that work is dignifying and everyone wants to work for no one in his/her right sense prefer to be on government welfare or dole.

But if someone does not work, then that person does not and will not have resources to pay for any health insurance. That is the grim moral and economic situation, which will not be of the making of an unemployed person.

About 48m Americans do not have health insurance. Without President Obama’s Affordable Care Act, this huge number will go without health care because they do not have health insurance. These are facts we all know in America, though we all differ in their interpretations and what to do about the facts.

The moral question therefore is: given that a cultivated and nurtured society and human nature are all essentially social and moral what is the moral obligation of the society to its “weakest” (economically, not spiritually) members? Unlike Nigeria, despite the extreme capitalist nature of the American economic system, the beauty and strength of the American society and her democracy is that we ask this question formally, pointedly and informally with no holds barred. And everyone in the American society struggle to answer this moral question.

Answers to this question morally divide Americans down the line. Though there are those who will disagree, it is obvious that this is the moral divide that led to the shut down in 2013 of the American government for sixteen days by the Republican Party, which was pushed to the extreme by its extreme rightwing caucus, The Tea Party.

There are lessons we can learn both from the moral justification of the ObamaCare-President Obama Health Policy-on one hand and the shut down of the American government by the Republican party which controls the congress on the other hand.

In-spite of the different interpretations given to ObamaCare its ethical meaning is simple, lucid, and clear. And that ethical import is not a new one even when the Republicans and their extreme right wing caucus-the Tea Party hope to demonize it by suggesting that it is a “new” thing in the history of social policies. It is not new.

It is a simple moral obligation that in view of the inherent sociality of and in human nature that inevitably (in-spite of our differences) bonds all of us, and which makes us all depend on one another, the economically able has the moral obligation to help where it is obvious that the so-called economically unable (the “poor” and “needy”) cannot do it alone.

This eliminates begging which diminishes one. This moral view is justified on the simple explanation that the economically able, the rich cannot exist without the economically unable, the “poor” for the wealth of the rich comes from the consuming power of the “poor” and “needy”. So it is in the interest of the rich that the “poor” should at the minimum exist.

Also, the import of the Obamacare is that the human-whether rich or poor- is not simply a material entity; neither is the human person a machine. Rather the human person is a soul, mind and body.  In this regard, the human being has natural rights, soul rights; mind rights which trump the physical, and which trump his/her material poverty. And the social network in society, which creates extreme wealth on one hand and extreme poverty on the other, provides for that trump. It is a situation where the fates of the rich and the materially poor are inevitably locked and interwoven.

However, for some reasons, the extreme right wing in the Republican party-the Tea Party has consistently failed to learn from this simple economic and moral history. Yet this is a party that claims to be of faith, of God and which defends the interest of business!

As problematic as the position of the rightwing is on this issue, the Republican Party defend their decision to use their Congressional majority to shut down the government this way. The Republicans recognize that ObamaCare is part of the nation’s law. But the Republicans in the House of Representatives argue that they have a right under the law to defund (i.e. not to fund) a law because Congressional budget control of laws and policies is part of American democracy. So Congressional Republicans and their party argue that while the government (presently run by Democratic Party) has all the powers of implementation, to prevent an abuse, the Congress has a budgetary control it can and ought to use to prevent abuse by the government.

The defense of the Republicans in Congress appears solid and infallible on the surface and truly this Congressional Republican defense is a legitimate appeal to American law and democracy.  But that appeal to the formality of law and democracy is where the strength of the explanation of the Congressional Republicans and the Republican Party ends. This is because law and democracy are values. Democracy and law become meaningless and useless if we take an immoral and a-moral merely formal relationship to law and democracy.

Let us illustrate this and show why the shut down of the American government by the Congressional Republicans due to their opposition to ObamaCare raised and will continue to raise serious moral questions. Suppose there is a law called Atomic-Death Act. Such law will obviously be evil. But suppose the law says that each American household should have nuclear, chemical, biological and atomic weapons in their homes. We know that this law, Atomic-Death Act is nothing but perdition for the human race.

So if hypothetically speaking a President asks for budgetary allocation to fund Atomic-Death Act, Congress can and should legitimately refuse to fund. In other words, Congress can and should defund such evil law.

The reason for this will include both the formality of law, which gives Congress the power to use budgetary control to fund or defund a law and the obvious immorality and evil in the hypothetical Atomic Death Act. So here we are combining both the formality of the law and law as a value that has an ethical face.

But what is really bothersome and perhaps boring and uninteresting about the position of the Republican Party is that Congressional Republicans have appealed only to the formal face of law in their opposition to the Affordable Care Act. And that is sad and unfortunate.

If Congressional Republicans continue to appeal to formal law of budgetary control to fund and defund a law as an aspect of American democracy in their shut down of the government, then they –the Republicans and their extreme right wing –the Tea Party are placing a health law for the poor and needy-the ObamaCare- which we all have a moral obligation to fund and support given the sociality in human nature -on the same level as our hypothetical evil law-Atomic Death Act- which we do not have a moral obligation to fund given the same sociality of human nature which makes us see ourselves in  the faces of our neighbors-the fabled “other” who we must not therefore allow to die due to the evil Atomic Death Act.

This is why given the way the Republican Party has allowed its extreme rightwing to push it away from the American people, it seems to me that the party is not speaking the language of the neighbor next door. This is why the view that they are out of tune and out of touch with the people is true.

The substance and language of the Republicans and all rightwing parties and politicians have frozen.  And this is why they are likely going to fail again if they try next time to shut down the American government as a result of their opposition to the Affordable Care Act.

The failure of the Republicans and the rightwing to listen to the people and speak the substance of their language is a lesson Nigerian right wing parties and politicians must learn even when in the Nigerian case their (Nigerian) situation is complicated hopelessly by the weight of corruption and graft.


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Op-ed pieces and contributions are the opinions of the writers only and do not represent the opinions of Y!/YNaija.

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