Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Tomorrow Is Guaranteed To No One

Funny, of all the pets I have, the last one I figured would be cut down prematurely was Henry. Puffin, one of two cats we have, was on death’s door three times – two blockages in his intestine and a severe case of pancreatitis – yet survived them all. Skye, our other cat, had so many problems with her skin, she could’ve made the cover of Dermatology magazine. To this day our greatest challenge with her is keeping her from licking the fur off her tail.

But Henry was a rock; a carefree spirit who chased squirrels, ate anything that happened to be in front of him, tempted fate and always escaped unscathed. The idea that anything could pose a serious threat to his life seemed ridiculous. Even now, two weeks after he left us, it still seems impossible. And yet the impossible is exactly what happened.

Over the last couple of weeks I have been consumed by two emotions. The first is obvious: I miss him terribly. He was such an indelible part of our lives that it is hard to find a room in the house that isn’t considerably emptier now that he is gone. But the second emotion haunts me even more. Despite the fact that Henry had cancer, I simply never came to grips with it. I always believed he would beat it. Hence, I never truly appreciated the time he had left.

Throughout the spring and summer months of this year, I can’t tell you how many opportunities there were for me to spend more time with him. A slightly longer walk, maybe an additional ride or two in the car, or perhaps just a few more rough-housing episodes with him and one of his toys. One of his favorite games involved him teasing you with his bone. He would show it to you, then, when you lunged for it, he’d pull it back and made you chase after him. The term fetch had a far different meaning to Henry than most dogs. In his world, people came to him, not the other way around. He loved the tug of war as you tried to pry the bone out of his mouth. He would growl while his tail wagged back and forth.

It’s no secret that over the last few years I buried myself in my blog, consumed by politics. It was and is a wonderful release for me. But it took me away from my family. I would spend hours and hours typing away at the keyboard, much to my wife’s chagrin. Some of those hours could easily have been spent with Henry. I justified my “obsession” by telling myself that one day my efforts would pay off by getting a job writing for a well-known on-line publication.  I’ll spend more time with Henry tomorrow, I rationalized to myself. After all, he’s only 12.  He still has a few good years left in him. Even that last long walk we had with him that first weekend in November, I really believed we still had the holidays to look forward to; maybe even the winter, even though the vet only gave him about 1 to 2 months to live. Henry would show them. He survived the first surgery; he would survive this one. He was my champ. There would always be a tomorrow, I reasoned.

On November 14, Henry ran out of tomorrows. All the chips I thought I had stored up that I wanted to cash in were now worthless. No more long walks or drives to near-by parks. No more wrestling matches with his bone or slobbering kisses on the mouth. He had given me all he had and, in the end, all I had left were the memories I cheated myself out of.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s not like I was Harry Chapin in Cats in the Cradle. I did spend a fair amount of time with Henry, but I could’ve spent more with him and, what’s more, I know it. Love isn’t a word, it’s an action. And, as my wife knows all too well, my actions have often been wanting.

What I wouldn’t give to have one or two of those days that I blew off Henry back. It is often said that the only regrets we carry with us to the grave are the missed opportunities to live life to its fullest. Dickens’ A Christmas Carol warns us there are consequences for a life squandered. And while I am certainly no Ebenezer Scrooge, that is still no excuse for my transgressions.

Did I love Henry? With all my heart. Did I show it? Sadly, not nearly enough. I know that now. Unfortunately it’s too late to make a difference. My doggie is gone and he’s never coming back. There is no time machine that can take me back and give me that chance at redemption. The cruelest irony about life is that it only moves in one direction: forward. We can learn from our mistakes, but we can never erase them.

I know in Henry’s heart, he had nothing but unconditional love for me. Dogs are funny that way. A friend of mine once said if you lock your wife and dog in the trunk of your car, only one of them will be happy to see you when you open it. It would be fitting for Henry to absolve me of my guilt and remorse. Of all the souls I’ve met on this planet, his was the least judgmental and most giving. To paraphrase Quasimodo, why was I not made like thee?

The moral of this story could not be plainer: cherish every precious moment with your loved one, whoever they may be. For tomorrow is guaranteed to no one.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Putting the Nuclear Option in Perspective

So Harry Reid finally said enough is enough and pushed the button on the nuclear option. Now what? Well, it's important to understand a few things about what happened and why.

First of all, contrary to what Mitch McConnell and the GOP are saying, this move to change the filibuster rules is really not that big of a deal. All it does is allow for a simple 51-vote majority on appointments and nominees for cabinet posts and judges. It excludes legislation and Supreme Court nominations. Those will still require a 60-vote threshold to overcome a filibuster. In other words, business as usual will, for the most part, continue in the Senate. The world did not come to an end yesterday.

The reason Harry Reid finally went ahead with the move is quite simple: he had no other choice. Simply put, Senate Republicans had blocked virtually every one of President Obama's nominees. Of particular concern was the D.C. Circuit, which normally has eleven justices, but which currently has only eight. Obama has been trying to fill those vacancies and each and every time he has nominated someone, the minority party has blocked him.

It is a political axiom that a president has the right to pick and choose his cabinet and to fill judicial vacancies as he or she sees fit. For over two centuries that is pretty much been the case. Until Barack Obama came to town. Prior to his arrival, there had been a grand total of 86 filibusters on presidential nominations. To date, the GOP has filibustered Obama 82 times. In less than three years, Republicans have almost equaled the total number of filibusters of all the prior presidents combined.

These filibusters have nothing to do with competence. Rather, it is a blatant attempt to thwart this president's agenda by any means necessary. Ever since the 2010 midterms, the GOP has successfully stymied Obama legislatively. By blocking his nominees from heading agencies and departments, as well as preventing the appointment of judges to lower courts, the hope was to completely cut the legs out from under him. Now that hope is gone, courtesy of an emboldened majority leader who finally had the courage to put a stop to the obstructionism.

The threat that McConnell levied at Reid and Senate Democrats that they would regret their actions is as laughable as it is hypocritical. Does anyone seriously believe that had the shoe been on the other foot, McConnell wouldn't have pulled the trigger? Or that if Republicans actually take back the Senate in next year's midterms, the first thing on their to-do list won't be making sure Democrats couldn't prevent them from jamming through legislation aimed at undermining every Obama initiative from the ACA to Dodd-Frank?

It was high time Democratic leadership finally woke up and smelled the coffee. If anything, this move was months overdue and quite measured, given the stunts Republicans have pulled. Maybe now, the GOP will finally understand that there are consequences for behaving like dicks.

Oh, what am I saying? We're talking about the Republicans here. They'll never learn.


Sunday, November 17, 2013

Regarding Henry

How do you sum up a lifetime's worth of memories in a few paragraphs? The truth is you can't. No one can. It's impossible. But try I will.

The first time I met Henry was at my wife's friend's house. He was a young, gregarious Westie who was full of life and full of himself. His need for attention was surpassed only by his enormous personality. He was easily the center of attention in any room he happened to be.

A couple of years later, that very same friend of my wife decided to sell her house and move into an apartment. She asked us if we could take Henry in. Suffice to say, I had my doubts. My wife and I already had two cats and we feared there could be a conflict between both breeds. And then there was the fact that Henry had a reputation of, shall we say, having accidents. The last thing I needed was a 3-year old dog destroying our house.

I decided to give it a try though. After a week, my worst fears had been realized. Henry had managed to "mark" just about every nook and cranny of our home, including a pair of speakers I had in the den. I was at my wits end and was prepared to call it a night on the experiment, when he gave me that look - a look that virtually all dogs give, but which Westies particularly excel at - that said, "please don't kick me out, I want to stay, please, please!" One look at those eyes and I was hooked. I couldn't send him away.  He had nowhere else to go.

So my wife and I decided to keep him. By far, it was the best decision we ever made. Henry soon became an integral part of our every day lives and, over the next nine and a half years, blessed our home over and over. He had an indelible spirit and an unconditional love for people. Guests were greeted by a dog who slobbered them with affection and kisses. Around town, we were known, not as the Fegans, but as Henry's owners. Every where we went, all anybody wanted to talk about was how Henry was doing.

Henry loved long walks, especially in parks. The longer the better. All I needed to do was jiggle his leash or say "what would you like?" or "walkie poo" and he would go nuts. His favorite place to "hang out" was the backyard where he would often keep a watchful eye for unwelcomed squirrels. Whenever he saw one, he'd chase after them. And though he never managed to catch one, in my book he always got an "E" for effort. He had a particular affinity for my wife's tomato garden. Regardless of how high or thoroughly built the fence was, he'd always manage to find his way around it and nab himself a nice snack. It was better than a biscuit.

No matter what kind of trouble Henry got into, you couldn't stay mad at him for long. There was the time he buried one of his bones in the backyard and when he came back to the deck, his face looked like he had just finished a 12-hour shift in a coal mine. One time he thought it would be a good idea to roll around in what my wife and I thought was mud. Turns out it wasn't mud. It took us over an hour scrubbing him down in the sink to get the stench off him. Afterwards, he gave us one of those "what did I do?" looks. If only we'd had a camera at that moment.

And then there were those times when he woke us up in the middle of the night over something he heard outside the bedroom window. We would spend half the night trying to calm him down. The following morning he'd be two sheets to the wind, while we were sleep-deprived wrecks.

And then there were his legendary escape attempts from the backyard in his earlier years, some of which were successful. One time he made it all the way down the block and was in a neighbor's yard. It was times like those that made us grateful we didn't live on a busy street. Henry brought a whole new meaning to the term playing in traffic.

Having Henry around was like living with a perpetual 2-year old. Freud would've had a field day with him. He was pure id. Everywhere we went in the house, Henry would follow. If we went outside, he wanted to come; if we were in the den watching TV, he'd jump on the couch and hang with us; when we went to bed at night, he insisted on sleeping with us. He loved dolling out his love and affection for us in the form of what we called "hugs and kisses." It was as though there was an umbilical cord between us and him.

At no time was this more true than meal time. No matter what my wife and I were eating, he absolutely insisted on getting his fair share, which for Henry meant the lion's share. And Heaven forbid you ignored his "requests" for morsels, you'd never hear the end of it. He had a bark that went right through you. I swear he must've had a tape worm or something. No animal could've been that hungry.

Through the first eight and a half years with us, Henry was as healthy as a horse. The only time he ever needed medical attention, aside from his vaccinations, came after a scrum he had gotten into with our cat Puffin; an altercation that was decidedly lopsided in favor of the cat. After an emergency visit to the Vet for some repair work, Henry was good as new, though apparently no wiser for the wear. He continually needed to be reminded that some cats just don't like dogs, no matter how big a personality they might have, and Puffin was all too eager to give him an education.

A persistent cough, though, caught our attention in the autumn of 2012. At first, it didn't seem very serious. The Vet gave Henry some meds that seemed to work a bit. But the problem never completely abated, so we decided to have an X-ray taken. It revealed a mass in one of his lungs. A follow-up visit with a specialist showed that the mass was a cancerous tumor.

The tumor was small enough so that it was operable, so my wife and I made the decision to have it removed. On December 26, Henry went in for the operation. All went well. The tumor was completely removed and our little guy, after a couple, three weeks of convalescence, was back to his old jovial self.

While the specialist was guarded in his prognosis - he initially gave Henry about a year - we were hopeful that he could make a full recovery. We elected not to have him undergo chemotherapy, partly because of the side-effects, but mainly because there was no conclusive medical evidence that such treatments would prevent future tumors from occurring.

Throughout the spring and summer we brought Henry in for checkups. Each time he received a clean bill of health. We were starting to believe that he had dodged a bullet. He would be one of the lucky ones who defied the odds.

Then in September we noticed he was off his dog food. The only food that seemed to appeal to him was people food and even that he wasn't eating much of. On September 28, I brought him down to the Vet to have him examined. There was a swelling in his abdomen and an X-ray revealed a massive tumor the size of an orange.

Henry needed emergency surgery to have the tumor removed. Without it, he had days, if not hours, to live. Like the last operation, Henry made a speedy recovery, but this time our hope that he was going to beat this thing was dashed. It was no longer a question of if but when he would succumb to cancer. Another follow up visit to the specialist a few weeks later showed multiple tumors throughout his abdomen. The Vet gave him one to two months to live.

My wife and I were devastated. We committed ourselves to making sure that whatever days Henry had left would be as memorable and joyous as possible. That very same weekend, we took him to one of his favorite parks - Garvies Point - for a nice, long walk. It was an unseasonably mild afternoon and he was in his glory.

But the moment was as fleeting as it was memorable. Within 24 hours of that afternoon walk, Henry began experiencing pain. He started shaking and panting. The Vet gave us some medication to lessen his symptoms. Initially, it worked, but soon the pain began to win out. Over the next week and a half, my wife and I did our best to get him to take his meds while also trying to get him to eat some food. The latter proved a lesson in futility.

He had his good days, like last Sunday, when his former owner came over to spend some time with him. He was so happy to see her. It did wonders for his spirits and ours as well. Even in his pain, he had nothing but unconditional love for his family and loved ones. But that would prove to be the last good day he would have. In our hearts we knew the end was near.

On Thursday evening, November 14, my wife and I decided we had seen enough. We brought Henry down to the Vet to end his suffering. It was, by far, the most difficult, gut-wrenching decision I have ever been a part of, but in the end, my wife and I both knew we were doing the right thing. We had to put Henry's needs ahead of ours, no matter how painful it was to us.

That night was the longest night of our lives. We were grief stricken beyond words. While Henry was finally at peace, all we had was our anguish. Anyone who has ever lost a dog knows how painful this moment is. The house felt empty. I looked for him everywhere. His leash, his bowl, his bed were right where they had been earlier that day. Part of me was in disbelief over what had happened. I couldn't conceive of a life without Henry in it, and now I was face to face with a staggering reality: he was gone and he wasn't coming back.

Over the next couple of days, my wife and I spent as much time out of the house as possible. It was the only way we could keep our wits about us. It will take quite some time before we get over this loss. While it is comforting that we still have two cats to keep us company, it's just not the same thing. Cats may own the house but dogs run it. Every time we came home, Henry was there to greet us. About the only time our cats "greet" us is when they're hungry.

As the both of us continue to mourn our beloved and faithful companion, we are comforted by the knowledge that one day we will be reunited with him in Paradise. For now, he is in a much better place. A place where there are plenty of doggies and kitties to play with, the squirrels aren't quite as fast and where cherry tomatoes are bountiful and ripe.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Tip of the Hat

Hard to mince words with Bruce Bartlett's recent piece in the Fiscal Times on this week's elections in Virginia and New Jersey. As a former Kool-Aid drinker, his observations are more salient than just about anybody I know of.

As of result, he gets this month's nod for Tip of the Hat.

What We’ve Learned From Tuesday’s Election

Bruce Bartlett, The Fiscal Times

November 8, 2013

Following are some takeaways I see in the election results.

1. New Jersey Governor Chris Christie is the establishment candidate for the Republican president nomination in 2016.

His impressive 60 percent victory in New Jersey clearly puts him at the front of the class for Republicans just looking for a winner in 2016. Ironically, Democrats are contributing to the view that Christie is the strongest Republican likely to run for the Republican nomination by immediately going after him in a post-election offensive. Why would they bother to do so if they weren’t worried about his vote-getting potential?


Personally, I wouldn’t worry too much if I were a Democrat. Christie is poison among conservatives who dominate the Republican nominating process because he supports gun control and immigration reform; he believes in global warming and doesn’t demonize Democrats as the party of Satan, as many conservatives are wont to do.

Kentucky Senator Rand Paul, a darling of the Republican right, has already begun blasting Christie as, heaven forbid, a “moderate.” No doubt, other conservatives also seeking the Republican nomination, such as Texas Senator Ted Cruz and former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum, will have worse to say in coming days.

The problem for Christie is that he is the strongest available Republican in the general election. But I see no possible way he can win the nomination when those who dominate the Republican primaries are conservatives who believe that the only reason Arizona Senator John McCain lost in 2008 and former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney lost in 2012 is because they were too moderate.

While there is a growing chorus of Republicans who think electability ought to rank higher on the list of qualities their presidential candidates ought to possess, the nominating process is still dominated by the Tea Party and religious conservatives who put devotion to principle above all else. I don’t see Christie winning these people over, and if he moves right to accommodate them then his electability goes out the window. I think he would be smart to sit out the 2016 race, which will probably be won by former First Lady Hillary Clinton, and wait for 2020.


2. Virginia continues to trend Democratic, strengthening the Democratic hold on the all-important Electoral College. The importance of Democratic money man Terry McAuliffe’s victory in the Virginia governor’s race is that he won despite being a dreadful candidate. He is virtually a caricature of a “pol,” the sort of slimy politician who gets into politics to get rich—and does. Worse, McAuliffe is a “carpetbagger” born in New York with no close ties to the state he is now about to lead. Historically, such ties have been essential to victory in Virginia elections.

Yet McAuliffe won relatively easily by a 2.5 percent margin for one reason and one reason only—his Republican opponent, state attorney general Ken Cuccinelli, was widely viewed as a right-wing ideologue, obsessed with outlawing sodomy and abortion. Although music to the ears of some conservatives, such views turned off voters in all the state’s urban centers, especially in fast-growing Northern Virginia.

Not too many years ago, the Northern Virginia suburbs of Fairfax and Louden counties and the cities of Arlington and Alexandria were solidly Republican. Now they are solidly Democratic and provided McAuliffe with his statewide margin of victory.

If McAuliffe turns out to be half-competent, he could help the drift of Virginia out of the “red” column solidly into the “blue.” That will give Democrats an almost insurmountable Electoral College advantage in presidential elections, according to a post-2012 election analysis by ace election handicapper Nate Silver.

3. Republican outreach to libertarians is unnecessary. Many Republicans believe the party must move in a libertarian direction to pick up young voters and make the party viable in 2016. They can point to the Libertarian Party candidate Robert Sarvis who got 6.6 percent of the vote for governor in Virginia—enough to have handed an easy victory to Cuccinelli had the bulk of those votes gone Republican. Indeed, some Republicans charge that Sarvis cost him the election.


Libertarians respond that in fact Sarvis drew more from McAuliffe than Cuccinelli, according to polling. According to a pre-election Washington Post poll, if Sarvis wasn’t in the race then 53 percent of his support would have gone to McAuliffe and 43 percent to Cuccinelli.

However, an analysis by Keith Humphreys of the Reality-Based Community blog suggests that many of those libertarians did in fact vote for Republican Cuccinelli in the end. Sarvis’ final vote fell to 6.6 percent from pre-election polls showing him with 10.5 percent—a decline of 3.9 percent. At the same time, Cuccinelli’s final vote was 45.5 percent, up from 41.1 percent in pre-election polls—an increase of 4.4 percent. Since McAuliffe’s final vote was almost exactly the same as in the pre-election polls, this is a very strong evidence that libertarians defected heavily from Sarvis and voted for Cuccinelli.

This analysis would seem to indicate that Republicans have little to gain by reaching out for libertarians; they already get their votes on Election Day anyway. There is actually much more potential for Democrats to lure libertarians into their column by emphasizing issues such as immigration reform, drug legalization, privacy and opposition to the influence of religion in politics.

My final thought is that both parties did well enough on Tuesday that neither feels any need to change strategy, at least before the 2014 congressional elections. Polls suggest that the Democrats could do well and would probably retake control without the gerrymandering of so many districts in the Republicans’ favor. For example, an Economist/YouGov poll out this week shows 35 percent of voters saying they will vote Democratic next year versus 27 percent voting Republican. But no independent analyst is yet forecasting a Democratic takeover.

If Democrats do retake the House of Representatives, however, it will greatly strengthen pragmatists in the GOP that appear to be coalescing around Governor Christie.


Friday, November 8, 2013

Further Thoughts on Tuesday's Election Results

Well, it didn't take long for the Tea Party to shit all over Chris Christie's huge win over his generic Democrat to be determined opponent. Freshman Republican Senator and part-time Wikipedia ghost writer Rand Paul decried the New Jersey governor's appearances in Sandy relief ads.

"Some of these ads, people who are running for office put their mug all over the ads while they’re in the middle of a political campaign.  In New Jersey, $25 million was spent on ads that included somebody running for political office."

Boy, somebody sure has his panties in a bunch. Talk about a spoiled sport. You'd think Christie's reelection was the second coming of Lenin. But if Paul and his Tea Party cohorts were smart (I know that's asking a lot) they'd figure out what everyone with a calculator and a little common sense already knew.  It was a pretty good night for the GOP.

Seriously, take away Bill de Blasio's enormous win in New York and what you have left is a fascinating dichotomy. In races that featured establishment Republicans against Democrats in purple or blue states, the Republicans faired pretty well. In fact, in my neck of the woods - Nassau County, Long Island - voters reelected a Republican to county executive and the GOP added a seat in the legislature. In Glen Cove, the three-term Democratic mayor trails his Republican opponent by just over 100 votes with 200 absentee ballots still outstanding. Assuming the lead holds, it will be the first time in twenty years the city has had a Republican mayor. Conversely, Tea Party candidates like Ken Cuccinelli, who ran in geographic areas not already deeply red, lost.

Hmmm. Me thinks me sees a pattern forming here.

In case I wasn't clear enough earlier in the week, there is no doubt that the biggest problem plaguing the Republican Party comes down to its most radical elements. Where those elements are either muted or missing altogether, the Party seems to be prospering; where they are front and center, the Party, at least on a national level, is foundering. What that should tell you is that sane Republicans are viewed far more favorably than their bat-shit crazy counterparts.

Now, you'd think with such encouraging news, the GOP would be falling all over itself with glee. And yet the wingnuts on the Right seem intent on looking this gift horse in the mouth. With just under a year to go before the midterms, the Tea Party is poised to mount primary challenges to any and all establishment Republicans who aren't down for the cause and, if they're successful, snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. Apparently, words like purification and annihilation are one in the same in their dictionary.

And that's why I maintain that the biggest edge Democrats have going for them next year is the fact that they're not Republicans. The simple truth is the GOP just can't help itself. Even with the all the problems with Obamacare, Republicans have been unable to capitalize on what should've been a substantial advantage. The Party is mired in side-show antics that gin up its base but turn off more moderate voters. Just this week, Florida Republican Congressman Ted Yoho - yes, that's his real name - said he plans on calling for Eric Holder's impeachment. With friends like this, who needs enemies?

It just goes to show, you can lead a horse to water but you can't make him drown.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

A Tale of Two Gubernatorial Elections

If you were looking for a central theme in the reelection of Chris Christie in New Jersey and the defeat of Ken Cuccinelli in Virginia, it was this: the Tea Party has ostensibly worn out its welcome with the electorate. Voters in both states rejected the politics of obstructionism and made it clear that they want solution-based governing.

Let's get one thing straight.  Neither of these two elections had anything to do with policy positions. Both Christie and Cuccinelli are Republicans and, despite what some pundits keep saying, conservative Republicans. Both are pro-life and both are beholden to the same supply-side drivel that has been thoroughly and soundly dismissed by most economists.

The difference is how both men handled the Tea Party. Cuccinelli was virtually tied at the hip to it; Christie did everything possible to distance himself from it. That was it in a nutshell. In every way imaginable, both campaigns were polar opposites of each other in both tactics and temperament. The reason you never saw Sarah Palin at a Christie rally is because Christie didn't want her there. In fact, the only time Palin visited New Jersey was to campaign for her pal, Senate candidate Steve Lonegan, who got trounced by Cory Booker in last month's special election.

It was only four years ago that both states flipped from blue to red in what was hailed by many as a harbinger of things to come. The emergence of the Tea Party that year led to a wave election in the 2010 midterms that saw Republicans take back the House and net gains in the Senate. But ever since, the Tea Party has done everything possible to give back the mojo they had. Two near debt-ceiling defaults, a government shutdown and 42 attempted repeals of a healthcare law passed by Congress, signed by a sitting president and upheld by the Supreme Court was simply too much to overcome for Cuccinelli.

The lesson here for the GOP is undeniable. The four-year run of the Tea Party has now come to an end.  For all intents and purposes, it has become the political equivalent of a toxic waste dump. For the national party to be taken seriously going forward, it must abandon the fairytale that the path to victory lies in nominating candidates with extreme positions who refuse to compromise. If there is anyone at the RNC who seriously believes either Ted Cruz or Rand Paul has a shot at the White House in 2016 they must be smoking from the same crack pipe as Toronto mayor Robert Ford.

But if Republicans need to do some soul searching in the weeks ahead, Democrats should refrain from doing any gloating. This was a referendum on the Tea Party, period. The results in New Jersey prove that an establishment Republican can win in a blue state. Please spare me all the "Democrats phoned it in" claims and "Barbara Buono was a flawed candidate" nonsense. When it comes to flawed candidates, Terry McAuliffe takes the cake. Flawed candidates win all the time. Need I remind anyone that George W. Bush managed to win reelection in 2004? The truth is that had the Virginia GOP nominated a more "reasonable" candidate, the state would still be red today.  When you outspend your opponent by a 2 to 1 margin and you barely win by two and a half points, that's hardly reassuring. McAuliffe didn't so much win as Cuccinelli lost.

As of right now, the biggest advantage Democrats have going into the 2014 midterms and the 2016 presidential campaign is that they're not Republicans. While that's encouraging if you're a Democratic strategist, by no means is it a glowing tribute. I have long maintained that if the GOP ever cleaned up its act and decided to reclaim its past, it could present problems for the Democratic Party. The Christie win in New Jersey confirms that belief.

Mark my words, if the Obama Administration doesn't resolve the issues with the Affordable Care Act soon, those issues could play a major role in next year's midterms. And if the Republicans actually manage to exorcize the Tea Party and find the courage to nominate a Christie-like candidate to run for president in 2016, Democrats will have their hands full.

Friday, November 1, 2013

Nightmare at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue

Okay, it has now been one month since the Affordable Care Act went live and I thought I would share my nickel's worth on both the website rollout and the growing concern over the plethora of policy cancellations that have provided the law's opponents yet new ammunition with which to attack it.

Let's start with the website. Suffice to say it has been a clusterfuck. Regardless of the hows and the whys, this much is certain: the Administration apparently was warned some months ago that there were problems with the software. It's hard to imagine that anyone at HHS could've thought they were prepared for what was expected to be a high turnout. Even if you allow for the fact that a lot of new software rollouts are rocky - the rollout of Medicare Part D in '05 was an unmitigated disaster - somebody high up should've been on top of this. The fact that the state websites, where the exchanges were set up, are doing quite well, proves that this wasn't an impossible task. Somebody clearly screwed the pooch.

The good news is that this is fixable. The Administration has said it will get the website up and running properly by the end of November. If that indeed happens, most of this will blow over by the middle of the winter.

The bad news is that many people who wanted to sign up for medical coverage still haven't been able to, and that could be a problem, primarily because of the  individual mandate, which kicks in March 31, 2014. Already there are calls to delay it, some even from Democrats. Given that we are looking at a two-month delay in fixing the website, a one month delay on the mandate would not be too much to ask. Delaying it any further would be kowtowing to the wingnuts on the Right who never wanted the law in the first place and have been doing everything possible to derail it.

And speaking of the wingnuts, how typical that the fiercest opponents of this law are now hopping mad that it isn't working properly. Disingenuous would be a word in a half for this bunch. Fortunately, most of the public isn't buying the dog and pony show. GOP poll numbers continue to plummet.

But now we come to the second and most important issue: the canceled policies that are starting to mount. The President was quoted many times over the last three years that if you liked your current plan, you could keep it. As we speak hundreds of thousands of privately insured people have been notified that their existing policies will be canceled as of the end of the year. While none of these policies are employer or government based, they do represent a sizable amount.

The problem comes down to the fact that the ACA requires all healthcare insurers to provide ostensibly the same benefits to all their policy holders. Those policies that don't measure up and were issued prior to the law's implementation were allowed to be grandfathered in. Supposedly that was the end of the story. However, HHS added additional language that said "that if any part of a policy was significantly changed since that date -- the deductible, co-pay, or benefits, for example -- the policy would not be grandfathered."


It is estimated that as many as 80 percent of these individual policies will be canceled and that has naturally prompted outrage, some legitimate, most illegitimate. As far as the former goes, yes, some of these people will end up paying more for their coverage. But the fact is that the plans they had weren't all that good to begin with. Paying $54 per month for healthcare coverage that doesn't provide for hospitalization or outpatient care or co-pays for doctor visits, really isn't coverage at all; it's like paying for a car that doesn't have an engine.

Still, the Administration should have come clean and said that plans that don't measure up to certain standards will not be renewed. Yes, it would've been politically difficult to do, but the whole idea for passing the law in the first place was to eliminate the nightmare of people who were either under insured or not insured at all putting a strain on the healthcare system. What better way to make your case to the American people then to have an adult conversation about what constitutes adequate and inadequate insurance.

But then we come the real crux of the matter: communication breakdown. If I've said it once, I've said it at least a hundred times. President Obama's biggest problem has been an innate inability to effectively draw a narrative that explains where he is going and why. It is a fact that with the launch of the website just days away, most Americans still didn't know what was in the healthcare law. In fact one of the more sadly amusing story lines that developed - to the delight of a particular late-night comedian - was that some people apparently didn't know that the Affordable Care Act and Obamacare were the same law.  All kidding aside, that was inexcusable.

Had this President simply been more out in front of his signature piece of legislation, it might've preempted some if not all of the attacks against it, almost all of which have been proven false. It would most assuredly have stopped idiots like Tennessee representative Marsha Blackburn from suggesting that people who buy insurance that adequately covers them are being forced to buy Ferraris. A Ferrari? How about a Honda Civic?

Now the Administration is on the defensive and Obama is hitting the road doing damage control. None of this was necessary. Had the HHS or the President himself simply taken the time to explain what was in the healthcare law, we wouldn't be at this stage now with Republicans holding fake hearings expressing fake outrage over fake issues concerning a law they detested from day one.

Of all the wounds, it is the self inflicted ones that hurt the most.