The title of this post is taken from an early version of Stephen Sondheim's musical "Road Show," back when it was called "Bounce" and played at the Kennedy Center in Washington. The show is about the Mizner brothers, Wilson and Addison, in the early 20th century; the latter an architect who designed the city of Boca Raton, Florida, the former a born con artist who sold much of the real estate his brother designed. Coming from a song entitled, appropriately enough, "The Game," the song enables Wilson to let us know what really gets him out of bed in the morning: the thrill of the con, the vicarious joy involved in getting away with "putting on over" on others, regardless of the cost to them. And the artist? By the time his or her victims have caught on to what's happened to them, he or she is off to the next con. The game is essential. The consequences for others aren't.
If you've been with me for a while, it should be no secret to you that I consider the current Senate majority leader to be a con artist. This is why I refer to him routinely as Mitch McCONnell: a not-so-subtle tribute to his essence. The only truly interesting thing about him, as with all con artists, is the answer to an important question: how far will one of them go in putting one over on others, regardless of the self-inflicted consequences.
In McCONnell's case, we can now put a more-or-less exact number on it: one million. That is the difference between the number of people who would lose health insurance under the House version of repealing and replacing Obamacare, and the Senate version of that bill cobbled together by McCONnell and a handle of senators (all Republicans, all male) in secret. A big difference in one sense, but an inconsequential one to anyone with a heart for the millions of Americans who will lose health insurance if either version of the bill becomes the law of the land.
Beyond that number, we can add another number to it 100. That is the percentage of McCONnell's brazenness when it comes to the gap between his words and his deeds. McCONnell has been in the Senate for decades, but only become its majority leader after the 2014 election season. Prior to that time, he had managed to convince a large number of chattering-class members that, considerations of partisanship aside, he deeply respected the legislative process as it has existed for decades in the so-called World's Greatest Deliberative Body. In fact, during the 2014 election process, he made a point of complaining about how the then-Democratic majority had subverted that process, and that he would make a point of restoring it if the election flipped control of the chamber.
No one should have taken that viewpoint seriously, given what we know about McCONnell's unprecedented use of the filibuster rule, as minority leader, to deny then-President Obama not only a number of significant legislative accomplishments, but also a large number of judicial appointments to the Federal bench. In hindsight, that should have been a sign of the shape of things as they would subsequently come. Nevertheless, for a majority of voters and pundits, it wasn't.
And so, McCONnell as majority leader showed us exactly what he though of Senate traditions, and so-called "regular order" generally, by a long-shot gambit to keep a Supreme Court seat open for a year in the hope that a Republican president would be able to fill it. He won. "Regular order," due process, the right of Obama to offer a nomination to the Court, and perhaps constitutional government itself, all lost.
As bad as all of this was and is, the current debacle over repealing and replacing Obamacare is far worse. To begin with, there was the decision to use the budget reconciliation process to move forward, thereby eliminating the threat of a Democratic filibuster. Never mind the fact that conservatives had criticized Democrats for enacting the ACA in exactly the same way; it was now time for revenge, and revenge is sweetened by using the tactics of the enemy. Besides, to break a filibuster, they would need to offer concessions to Democrats in exchange for cooperation, and President Chump's base would never accept that.
Next, there was the secretive process of drafting the Senate version of the bill, without public hearings or any opportunity for the media--and the public--to examine and debate it. As previously noted, women were specifically excluded from this process, despite the impact it might ultimately have on the care of many of their female constituents. Finally, there was the finished product itself, unveiled days before a snap-vote was scheduled to push it across the finish line. Somehow, all of this was enough for Senate Democrats and the media to grow something resembling spines, and slow the process down long enough for people to discover what had been written in secret.
And boy, when they did, were they less than excited. Less than 20% of the public supports this monstrosity. Not even the ACA has ever polled that badly. Has that stopped McCONnell? Well, maybe a little bit, since the vote has now been delayed until after the Fourth of July. But not really. Even now, he's wheeling and dealing to make the bill marginally less worse, or to at least find new and more exciting cosmetic ways to disguise its badness. Anything, anything, to get those 50 votes (with Vice President Pence ready to break the tie). Why, he's even raised the threat of--shudder!--cooperating with Democrats if he can't get those 50 votes!
Amazing. Using the threat of the democratic process, so that you can accomplish your ultimate goal of subverting it. And, in the meantime, the goal of serving the American people, like the rest of Republican thinking, has been reduced to little more than a bumper-sticker.
But, that's what happens when the only thing that matters is the game.