The paranoid caucus, reality and Obamacare

A few days after the Supreme Court, with some tweaks, upheld the Affordable Care Act, conservative political analyst/journalist Byron York reported “conservative anger is growing.”

In one example York gave:

I ran into a prominent conservative member of Congress Friday night just before the huge storms moved through Washington.  He was, he said, far angrier on the day after the Supreme Court Obamacare decision than he had been the moment he learned Chief Justice John Roberts had joined the Court’s liberal bloc to uphold the individual mandate at the heart of Obamacare.  He didn’t resort to histrionics or profanity, but he was spitting mad — and his anger was growing, not diminishing.

As York doesn’t identify this legislator, it’s not clear if this is a conservative who opposed the ACA for rational and principled reasons or one who has embraced some of the wilder claims, like death panels.

Whatever the case about that individual, Maine Governor LePage’s “Gestapo” comment and reactions from some show that there are many opponents whose views of the health reform law are based in misinformation and paranoia.

Many of those were probably pretty well convinced that the Supreme Court would strike down the law.  After all, their leaders and media figures had told them over and over again that it was unprecedented and obviously unconstitutional. (Neither was true. That’s why, before the oral arguments, nearly all legal scholars and constitutional lawyers predicted the law would be upheld.)

No wonder the shock that it was actually constitutional prompted anger that, rather than calming, increased.

They may be getting even more upset if they realize that polls on Obamacare have shifted since the decision, with support growing and opposition decreasing. But then again, maybe they don’t know what’s happened on public opinion. This may not be reported in the news sources they use.

LePage’s radio address was filled with misinformation. One element was the assertion — inserted by the governor into a speech drafted by his communications staff — that “You must buy health insurance or pay the new Gestapo – the I.R.S.”

Besides getting key elements of the mandate wrong — only 7% fall under this requirement and only 1% would pay the fee/tax, how did the IRS become “the new Gestapo”?

This is an agency that’s been around since 1863 and was created in President Abraham Lincoln’s administration. What does Gov. LePage think it would be doing that it hasn’t done before?

After all, its role in the ACA with respect to individuals is change the tax forms so some people can get subsidies to buy insurance and to collect the penalty/fee if others do not. Does not that seem like normal IRS stuff, like getting a credit or deduction for mortgage interest or buying energy-efficient windows or contributing to a retirement plan?

Clues about what Governor LePage meant with the IRS-as-Gestapo comparison come from the comments left by his supporters. They repeat a whole set of myths and paranoid fears.

Here are some musings from Maine Republican Richard Cebra, a screen shot from his Facebook page (set in a frame by the Maine People’s Alliance).

Representative Cebra says “the IRS is going to act like the Gestapo,” there will be “DEATHPANELS,” and people will be “IMPRISONED FOR NOT BUYING INSURANCE.”

All of that is nonsense. “Death panels” was PolitFact’s 2009 Lie of the Year. The ACA specifically says there can be no criminal penalties associated with the freeloader fee and the IRS will do its usual thing with the payments: if you don’t pay it, you owe it. In Massachusetts, under Romneycare, 1% don’t pay it.

But Cebra is not alone. I’ve seen newspaper and Facebook commenters who say similar things and these folks are very, very upset.

And who wouldn’t be anxious and angry, if you really believed there are death panels in the bill and thousands of new IRS agents to hound everyone? (By the way, Politifact debunked that hordes-of-IRS-agents one long ago as well.) 


When it comes to reality, it would be great if supplying information would change minds.  And I’m happy to promote reality. Here is a link to a set of resources I provided before oral arguments. Also worthwhile is this analysis of taxes in Obama’s policies, which includes a breakdown of tax provisions in the Affordable Care Act.

However, if folks are still convinced of death panels and see the IRS as some “new Gestapo” (and convinced that’s not horribly offensive), then many of those folks, face it, are close to impermeable when it comes to reality.

But, reality aside, the politics are still kind of interesting

There is a “paranoid caucus” that’s part of the Republican party. It is by no means the party as a whole.

The existence of this element of the party means that Republican candidates may be concerned about challenging a certain set of falsehoods, assuming they recognize them as such.

Since LePage’s “Gestapo” comments and his angry non-apology statement to a reporter — “It was never intended to offend anyone. And if someone’s offended, then they ought to be goddamned mad at the Federal Government”– (and his hedged, more polite, back-off in a press release), the sound from the most prominent Republican candidates in Maine has been “crickets.”

Neither Senate candidate Charlie Summers nor congressional candidate Kevin Raye has said a word.

Now, what does that tell you?

Amy Fried

About Amy Fried

Amy Fried loves Maine's sense of community and the wonderful mix of culture and outdoor recreation. She loves politics in three ways: as an analytical political scientist, a devoted political junkie and a citizen who believes politics matters for people's lives. Fried is Professor of Political Science at the University of Maine. Her views do not reflect those of her employer or any group to which she belongs.