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The Failed Attempt to Repeal Obamacare Is a Culmination of Republican White Resentment Politics

The Affordable Care Act remains the signature achievement of President Barack Obama.(Source: Obama White House Archives)

In whatever version it was in, the now failed attempt at Trumpcare, the complete repeal of Obamacare, “repeal and replace,” or the “skinny repeal,” the plan by Republican congressional leaders and President Donald Trump to eliminate the Affordable Care Act, was resoundingly unpopular.

Despite the harshness and severity of the legislation and paucity of support, Republicans pushed it along until what seems to be its final deathbed a little before 2:00 am last night, when three Republican Senators voted against its party’s last desperate attempt at repeal. For years Republicans made the Obamacare repeal their mantra, appealing to their white conservative base. The party had built itself on a Southern Strategy over the past 50 years, winning elections based on a fear and hatred of Black people and a resentment of civil rights. The GOP also has capitalized on resentment of national government programs, the role of the federal government in curbing states’ rights, and by extension, Barack Obama and his signature legislation. Once the party of Abraham Lincoln, Frederick Douglass and 2,000 Black elected officials during Reconstruction, today’s GOP has evolved into a white nationalist party under Trump.

Since the Affordable Care Act was passed in October 2009, Congress has voted to repeal or amend it over 50 times, an example of political posturing by lawmakers who were aware their efforts faced a certain veto from President Obama. Despite controlling majorities in both the House and Senate — particularly in the Senate, where cooler heads prevail, and the moderating influence of six-year terms tends to slow down legislation from the lower house — the GOP has been unable to deliver an Obamacare repeal bill to Trump’s desk. This has been due to a handful of responsible Republican legislators, perhaps guided by conscience or reelection fears, and aware Trump will sign any bill without reading it.

On Thursday, four GOP Senators — John McCain of Arizona, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, Ron Johnson of Wisconsin and Bill Cassidy of Louisiana — threatened to block the so-called “skinny” Obamacare repeal bill unless House Speaker Paul Ryan assures them the bill will not become the final legislation coming out of Congress. The watered-down measure would repeal portions of the ACA. “There’s increasing concern on my part and others that what the House will do is take whatever we pass” and pass it without making changes, Graham said, as quoted by The Hill. “The skinny bill as policy is a disaster. The skinny bill as a replacement is a fraud,” he added. In the end it was Senator McCain who cast the deciding no vote, who no more than two weeks ago had brain surgery, paid for by his government sponsored health insurance.

Stuck with its promises to the base to eliminate Obamacare, the Republican leadership was unable to deliver. Ambiguous and drafted in secrecy by a group of white men, the Senate Trumpcare plans in their various iterations have been unpopular, with this week’s motion to proceed with the Obamacare repeal regardless of a replacement yielding only 18 percent support in the most recent CNN poll. One Senate bill would have cut Medicaid by over $800 billion, and according to the Congressional Budget Office would strip 22 million additional Americans of health coverage, all to fund massive tax cuts of over half a trillion dollars.

After this stark defeat, we don’t know what the future will hold, but what is known is the GOP quest to end Obamacare is part of its overall message of racial scapegoating and is an important, though often neglected component to the healthcare debate.


Trump is intent upon destroying the Obama legacy in its entirety, in the same manner that white society has resisted and attempted to neutralize Black power, progress and success. The passage of Obamacare was a milestone in expanding access to healthcare to millions of uninsured Americans. According to a report from the Council of Economic Advisers, while there were 44 million people living without health insurance before Obama took office in 2009, 20 million uninsured people gained access to health insurance thanks to Obamacare, including 3 million African-Americans, lowering the uninsured rate to an historic low of under 9 percent.

Obamacare is by no means perfect. After all, Obamacare accommodates the for-profit insurance industry as it stands, and is far less ambitious than a single-payer “Medicare for all” system providing universal health coverage. The ACA borrowed heavily from a Republican plan in the 1990s, yet killing the program — and other social programs — has been a Republican Party priority, even as millions of poor and working-class whites stand to lose their health coverage in the midst of an opioid epidemic. This is because the GOP has become an anti-tax, anti-government group wrapped up in racial resentment of Black people.

Derrick Bell noted in his 1992 book, “Faces at the Bottom of the Well: The Permanence of Racism,” that the “critically important stabilizing role that blacks play in this society constitutes a major barrier in the way of achieving racial equality. 

“Throughout history, politicians have used blacks as scapegoats for failed economic or political policies. Before the Civil War, rich slave owners persuaded the white working class to stand with them against the danger of slave revolts — even though the existence of slavery condemned white workers to a life of economic privation. After the Civil War, poor whites fought social reforms and settled for segregation rather than see formerly enslaved blacks get ahead,” Bell wrote, noting that the “them against us” ploy is working today, even as conservative politicians fail to address inequality and worsening social conditions among white and Black people. Rather, the author argued, these politicians rely on convincing underprivileged whites to identify with skin color solidarity against Black people and civil rights. “Whites are rallied on the basis of racial pride and patriotism to accept their often lowly lot in life, and encouraged to vent their frustration by opposing any serious advancement by blacks,” Bell added. “Crucial to this situation is the unstated understanding by the mass of whites that they will accept large disparities in economic opportunity in respect to other whites as long as they have a priority over blacks and other people of color for access to the few opportunities available.”

Therefore, Obamacare still risks becoming a casualty of a political philosophy that equates government programs with benefits to Black people, even as the ACA benefits all Americans, of whom a majority are white. White conservatives simply cannot retreat on attacking, undermining and repealing Obamacare, because they have promised their constituencies they would do so, and have won elections based on that promise. The modern history of the Republican Party is wrapped up in destroying Obamacare, Medicaid, and the rest of those government programs they have vilified through dog-whistle politics.

For a GOP that controls all branches of government this setback will sting, however it won’t stop a continued effort to undermine Obamacare and win a victory for its ‘dog-whistle’ politics, no matter how disastrous it could be to the majority of the American people.

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