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November 27, 2013 1:04 PM Obamacare McCarthyism

By Ed Kilgore

I should have probably noted this earlier since I’m in Georgia, though the underlying facts are so confusing and the atmosphere so regularly overheated that it was hard to determine if it was noteworthy: U.S. Rep. Jack Kingston, the closest thing to a non-radical conservative in the crowded 2014 Republican Senate primary field, has gotten into hot water for suggesting Congress do what it can to “fix” the Affordable Care Act.

This happened in the context of an appropriately destructive bill Kingston was offering to exempt large swaths of small businesses from Obamacare’s employer mandate. His mistake was incautiously saying it would be “irresponsible” not to fix the ACA when possible, per this report from The Hill’s Alexandra Jaffe:

“And there’s some criticism, ‘Well, are you helping improve this law when you make that change? And should we be doing that?’” Kingston said of pushback to his bill.
“A lot of conservatives say, ‘Nah, let’s just step back and let this thing fall to pieces on its own.’ But I don’t think that’s always the responsible thing to do,” he added.
“I think we need to be looking for things that improve healthcare overall for all of us. And if there is something in ObamaCare, we need to know about it.”

Kingston and his staff have subsequently sought to turn this toxic comment and the underlying bill into a contribution to a “replacement” agenda once Obamacare is repealed. But his Senate primary rivals ain’t buying it. He’s already been attacked by Paul Broun and Karen Handel for the heresy of failing to keep a glassy-eyed focus on bringing down the ACA in its entirety. But now the Georgia-based RedState blog has nationalized Kingston’s shaming, as noted by TPM’s Daniel Strauss:

“Sadly, the recent comments by Rep. Jack Kingston (R-GA) suggesting that we should help fix the law serve as a vivid illustration of why we failed the battle to defund the law,” wrote Redstate.com blogger Daniel Horowitz, who also serves as the policy director for the conservative Madison Project, in a blog post titled “Jack Kingston has Surrendered on Obamacare” on Tuesday.
“Coming to terms with Obamacare is nothing new for Kingston,” Horowitz wrote in the post. “At the beginning of the year, he said “I don’t want to go in there saying, ‘By golly, there’s a new sheriff in town.’”
Horowitz cited a Politico article which quotes Kingston saying “Obamacare has been the law of the land, and it is getting implemented. We have to work in that context.”

Noting this development, along with an attack ad on Sen. Mike Enzi for once saying something positive about insurance exchanges, Josh Marshall suggests we are witnessing the “birth of Obamacare McCarthyism” on the Right:

We get it. Republicans don’t like the Affordable Care Act, aka ‘Obamacare’. But over the last few days I’ve noticed a new trend, or at least the frequency of it seems to be increasing. Let’s call it Obamacare McCarthyism, a new intra-Republican political cudgel cued up for the 2014 political season, in which different anti-Obamacare Republicans attack each other for either being crypto-supporters of Obamacare, being Obamacare-curious or even just having earlier periods of Obamacare confusion.

I see Josh’s point, though I’m not sure this is really anything new. I know the CW is that the “defund Obamacare” crowd—from whence the attacks on both Kingston and Enzi are emanating—have been silenced by the negative public reaction to the government shutdown and the subsequent explosion of bad publicity about the ACA exchange rollout, which the “defund Obamacare” crusade obscured for a while. But best I can tell, the “defunders” feel entirely vindicated, and think a citizenry souring on Obamacare will now see the wisdom of killing it off early at any price. So in their view, “fixers” like Kingston are really indistiguishable from the “let Obamacare fail” advocates Kingston himself was criticizing.

In other words, “Obamacare McCarthyism” is likely to be a continuing weapon against any Republican who doesn’t favor the the most radical tactics available at any given moment to bring down the Great White Whale of the Affordable Care Act. So don’t be surprised if Georgia candidates like Paul Broun soon lump Kingston’s critics together with the “Establishment” congressman himself as RINO wimps unwilling to turn the country upside down to kill the hated law that would outrageously give looters access to affordable health care.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.

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