Tuesday, January 27, 2009

John Boehner and the Art of Demagoguery

Last Friday, the Republicans focused on attacking the spending entailed by the Obama stimulus package working its way through the House. Republican leader John Boehner put it this way.
“How can you spend hundreds of millions of dollars on contraceptives? How does that stimulate the economy?”
Where did Boehner get "hundreds of millions of dollars on contraceptives?" That's an interesting question. Here's the actual provision of the legislation from ThinkProgress.
State Option to Cover Family Planning Services. Under current law, the Secretary has the authority under section 1115 of the Social Security Act to grant waivers to states to allow them to cover family planning services and supplies to low-income women who are not otherwise eligible for Medicaid. The bill would give states the option to provide such coverage without obtaining a waiver. States could continue to use the existing waiver authority if they preferred.

The purpose of the legislation is to provide "family planning services" as part of a general effort to maintain health services for poor women.

As the Republican leader in the House, Boehner could have taken "the high road" and argued that "maintaining health services for poor women" provides little economic stimulus. In terms of economic consequences, the main effect of providing health services for poorer women would be to lower future health expenses. According to ThinkProgress, the figure would be $200 million over 5 years. More health services means fewer unwanted pregnancies, guarding against chronic illnesses like cancer, and things like that. Certainly, lowering health expenses is a worthwhile goal, but there's an argument there it wouldn't provide a significant economic stimulus.

In this context, Boehner could have suggested that family health services could be linked to the construction or remodeling of health clinics in low income areas or Obama's efforts to transform medical record-keeping. In that way, the economic stimulus from putting up new buildings and installing new computer systems would be directly connected to improved health outcomes.

But Boehner decided to take the low road--the very low road.

Instead of framing a serious criticism of "maintaining health services" as economic stimulus, Boehner focused on contraception in a way that impugned an association with promiscuity or abortion or impugned that women's health was not a serious matter.

At the same time, Boehner made up a figure of "hundreds of millions of dollars" and attached it to legislation. The ultimate result was that Boehner deceptively represented the Obama administration and the Democrats as squandering an enormous amount of money on something that's "morally questionable" on the one hand and impugned the seriousness of women's health on the other.

In other words, it was a neat bit of demagoguery.

To top it all off, Boehner made his sensational claim about contraceptives on Friday and thus guaranteed that the Sunday news shows would be about "hundreds of millions of dollars for contraceptives." The result was that he put the Democrats on the defensive for an entire 48 hour news cycle.

No doubt Boehner and other Republicans were happy over winning a small victory on Monday.

What this means is that we're back to the 2008 election in which Obama focused on the big picture and the McCain campaign fought hard to win the daily news.

In fact, McCain managed to create a lot of headlines with his "Celeb" ads. Likewise, a lot of people on the left (like me) wanted the Obama people to be more aggressive in response.

But Obama won handily and I suspect that he'll also win handily on the stimulus package.


Anonymous said...

Looks like boner Boehner won this one. Obama has asked House Dems to drop this from package.

Ric Caric said...

It will be interesting to see what Boehner does with that though. Whether Boehner accepts that or not, Obama is still going to look good which is a big problem for Boehner.