Harry Truman’s Defense of Liberal Principles

Yesterday, I discovered this remarkable campaign speech, delivered by Harry S. Truman in 1948. What fascinates me is that what Truman said nearly seventy years ago could be said today without changing a word.

To whit:

Today the forces of liberalism face a crisis. The people of the United States must make a choice between two ways of living, a decision which will affect us the rest of our lives and our children and our grandchildren after us.

On the other side, there is the Wall Street way of life and politics. Trust the leader! Let big business take care of prices and profits! Measure all things by money! That is the philosophy of the masters of the Republican Party.

Well, I have been studying the Republican Party for over 12 years at close hand in the Capital of the United States. And by this time, I have discovered where the Republicans stand on most of the major issues.

Since they won’t tell you themselves, I am going to tell you.

They approve of the American farmer, but they are willing to help him go broke.

They stand four-square for the American home, but not for housing.

They are strong for labor, but they are stronger for restricting labor’s rights.

They favor a minimum wage, the smaller the minimum the better.

They endorse educational opportunity for all, but they won’t spend money for teachers or for schools.

They think modern medical care and hospitals are fine, for people who can afford them.

They approve of social security benefits, so much so that they took them away from almost a million people.

They believe in international trade, so much so that they crippled our reciprocal trade program, and killed our International Wheat Agreement.

They favor the admission of displaced persons, but only within shameful racial and religious limitations.

They consider electric power a great blessing, but only when the private power companies get their rake-off.

They say TVA is wonderful, but we ought never to try it again.

They condemn “cruelly high prices,” but fight to the death every effort to bring them down.

They think the American standard of living is a fine thing, so long as it doesn’t spread to all the people.

And they admire the Government of the United States so much that they would like to buy it.

Now, my friends, that is the Wall Street Republican way of life. But there is another way — there is another way — the Democratic way, the way of the Democratic Party.

Of course, the Democratic Party is not perfect. Nobody ever said it was. But the Democratic Party believes in the people. It believes in freedom and progress, and it is fighting for its beliefs right now.

Okay, I exaggerate. There are a few edits, for things that don’t apply today. The Tennessee Valley Authority isn’t an issue today. And, it’s arguable that the Democratic Party is fighting for any of those things today; if they were, I don’t recall hearing about them in the recent midterms.

What brought this to mind was an interview on NPR yesterday morning during Morning Edition with Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders. It was a fascinating interview; Sanders argued that the economy was failing many and liberal ideas weren’t being aired and liberal causes weren’t being championed, NPR host Steve Inskeep tried to make Sanders’ argument fit into the standard media narrative about how Democrats have lost “working class white voters,” and Sanders was having none of that.

Will today’s Democratic Party listen? What of today’s Republican Party? Who will embrace these ideas? Who will champion them?

Sanders could be that champion. Maryland governor Martin O’Malley could be that champion. Perhaps even Hillary Clinton.

I don’t see a Republican championing any of these ideas. Teddy Roosevelt would be disappointed; he’d support all of these, and his ghost is liable to punch the 2016 Republican nominee for President in the mouth.

Harry Truman, he knew what he was talking about.

Why I Didn’t Stand for “God Bless America”

Yesterday morning, I attended the Cubs/Nationals game at Nationals Park. It was a lovely day for baseball — not too hot, not especially humid, sunny and bright, a stiff breeze blowing in from the direction of centerfield toward the Anacostia.

The Cubs won, 7-2.

Being July 4th, the game had a particular patriotic flavor, with a special display of the American flag on field before the game, a salute to the men and women of the armed forces after the fourth inning, the teams in patriotic hats (and, for the Nationals, in their alternate patriotic blue jerseys), and, during the seventh inning stretch, a performance of “God Bless America.”

People throughtout the stadium stood and removed their caps.

I stayed in my seat.

That was, I admit, a risky move on my part. There are documented cases of fans being assaulted and ejected at other ballparks, like Yankee Stadium, for failing to show “proper respect” to “God Bless America.” Yet there is no such thing as “proper respect” for the song. It’s not the national anthem.

Then, when the last notes faded away, the stadium (or, at least the second deck in the outfield where I was) erupted in a chant — “USA! USA! USA!”

Moments later, Dan Kolko of MASN tweeted out this:

The Marine Corps singer, whose name escapes me, performed the song well indeed. But I won’t say the song was “done right.” As far as I’m concerned, the song shouldn’t have been done at all.

I have a real problem with “God Bless America.” Like “Battle Hymn of the Republic,” “God Bless America” is inappropriate for a country with a sizeable non-Christian population. And like “Battle Hymn of the Republic,” “God Bless America” expresses an unfortunate sense of Christian triumphalism that crosses the line into the jingoistic, especially with the way that “God Bless America” become omnipresent and co-opted for political reasons after 9-11. The song is exclusionary and nationalistic. That’s my problem.

The exclusion problem is obvious from the song’s title. Listen to the lyrics of the song. The song is a prayer to god from Americans, imploring him to bestow blessings upon the nation. But not all Americans are religious, and the song doesn’t convey any sentiment whatsoever that the non-religious, like myself, an atheist, would express.

Just as importantly, the song expresses a sentiment of American exceptionalism. It says that American is exceptional because of god’s blessing.

The United States is not an exceptional country. We are, at best, a fortunate country in that we in a very defensible geographic position and, thus, wars we engage in are things that happen over there and not here.

In terms of quality of life, the United States is a middle-of-the-pack country. Other countries have better eduction systems and better health systems. Other countries have better infrastructure. Other countries have better measures of social mobility and income equality.

The place where the United States is exceptional? We spend more per annum on our military than the rest of the world combined.

Given a choice between making our country exceptional at home and making our country exceptional at bombing the ever-living-fuck out of some Third World hellhole, our society, from the grassroots to our leaders, made the choice to bomb the ever-living-fuck out of those Third World hellholes.

Really?

If there were a god, and if this god really did bless America, I imagine he would be sitting on his heavenly throne saying, “Really, America? What the fuck. I gave you this great country, I gave you these resources, I gave you all of these opportunities. And rather than use these opportunities for good, you’ve decided to squander them by becoming the world’s biggest asshole.”

Don’t think god gets off the hook, either; at the very least, he’s an accessory, if not a co-conspirator, to America’s raging assholery.

When I hear “God Bless America,” that’s what I think. I think about George Bush saying that religion is the hallmark of civilization, by implication castigating the non-religious as uncivilized. I think of Dick Cheney and Ari Fleischer and Donald Rumsfeld attacking those who dissented during the Bush years as being unpatriotic and un-American. “God Bless America” became a cudgel, one that was used to make me and others feel unwelcome in their own country and one that, frankly, came very close to driving me back into the atheist closet.

And when people use “God Bless America” to say, “We’re godly and we’re the best,” like they have post-9-11, I get pissed off because first, you’re telling me and every other atheist that we don’t belong in our own country; and second, you don’t understand how, in the grand scheme of things, the United States isn’t really anything special.

That’s why I didn’t stand for “God Bless America.” Standing for the song would have been tacit approval for things that I disagree with fundamentally and that I believe are wrong. Once, I liked the song. I would gladly sing it, despite my atheism, the same way I gladly sing Christmas carols today. But now all I hear in “God Bless America” is the nationalism and the triumphalism, and in multicultural 21st-century America, I don’t think that’s appropriate.

On Gun Manufacturers and Criminal Prosecution

The story of the 2 year-old girl in Kentucky, who was shot and killed by her 5 year-old brother with a rifle he was given as a present, has been preying on my mind much of the week.  I think about the little girl, I imagine that just a few days ago she was a giggling, happy child who liked flowers and dresses and dolls and ice cream and now she’s dead, and I get teary and I get angry and I get teary again and I cannot imagine how we can live in a world that thinks a five year-old boy, who probably still needs his mom to tie his shoes before he goes to kindergarten, is old enough and mature enough and responsible enough to have a gun.

Gun manufacturers are immune from negligence and wrongful death lawsuits.  In 2005, the NRA, sensing that the gun industry would be the next Big Tobacco, prodded Congress to pass a law giving gun manufacturers immunity from lawsuits arising from the use and misuse of their products.

The two year-old girl’s parents could be prosecuted, I suppose, for child endangerment.  I don’t know what value would come from that, to be honest.  They had a two year-old daughter in their lives.  She laughed at things.  She doesn’t laugh any more.

Mitt Romney said “Corporations are people, my friend.”  The Supreme Court said over a century ago that corporations are also people.

If corporations are people, then perhaps it’s time we start to criminally prosecute the gun manufacturers for reckless endangerment, depraved indifference, accessory to murder, and so forth, when their products are used to make little girls not laugh any more.  A gun manufacturer recklessly endangered a little girl’s life.  A gun manufacturer was indifferent to how their product would end a little girl’s life.  A gun manufacturer was an accessory to ending that little girl’s life.

I don’t know that it would make a difference.  If these felony laws didn’t codify that they referred to living, breathing human beings and not conceptual people as corporations are, they would be quickly changed if there were any chance, any chance at all, that a prosecution of a gun manufacturer for reckless endangerment would come close to succeeding.

A two year-old girl laughed at things.  She doesn’t laugh any more.

For her sake, I hope someone tries.

(Note: Originally posted on Facebook and DailyKos with slight variations. The Facebook post linked to this article from The American Prospect.)

On Student Loan Relief and the Potential for the American Economy

This morning, while checking some of the news and pundit websites I follow, I found a link to a chart at Mother Jones on student loan debt.

To describe the charts in words, over the last decade, student loan debt in the United States has quintupled. Americans now owe more in student loans than they do in credit card debt.

This wasn’t new to me. The Atlantic ran a similar chart a month ago. Student loan debt has exploded over the last decade, while in the past three years, excluding student loan debt, total household debt has declined.

This got me to thinking.

The American economy is stagnant. For all that the Republicans say that the economy is stagnant and jobs aren’t being created because of regulation (or because, according to Speaker of the House John Boehner, “job creators in America are essentially on strike,” whatever that means), the problem is that there’s no demand. Consumer spending has declined over the past three years, which means that people are putting less money into the economy, and in that environment business won’t invest or hire. The problem with the economy isn’t government regulation, the problem with the economy is insufficient demand.

The Republican solution is to cut the corporate income tax and taxes on the wealthy. Their idea is that by pumping more money into the top of the economy, then money will flow down to the bottom.

But it occurs to me that student loans are taking money out of the bottom of the economy. Jeffrey Williams argues that student loans are a modern form of indentured servitude, to a faceless corporation rather than an individual, and the payment terms on student loans can last for most of a person’s working lifetime depending on payment terms and deferrments.

America’s youth, because they’ve been conditioned to believe that the way to a job is through college, take out onerous loans that sap their financial power for fifteen years or more after graduation.

Think about that. How can those young Americans become the entrepreneurs of the 21st century and create the jobs of the future if they’re burdened with student loans? Daniel Indiviglio wrote in his piece for The Atlantic:

All this college debt could put the U.S. on a slower growth path in the years to come. As Americans grapple with high student loan payments for the first few decades of their adult lives, they’ll have less money to spend and invest. All that money flowing into colleges and universities is being funneled away from other industries where it would have been spent in future years. Of course, this would be a rather unfortunate irony: higher education is supposed to enhance a nation’s growth, but with such an enormous debt burden, graduates might not be able to spend and invest enough to allow that growth to occur.

Perhaps the solution to getting our economy growing again isn’t tax cuts for the wealthy or gutting social programs but student loan relief. Or we need to create middle class jobs that don’t require a college education and the burdens of student loans to acquire.

If we relieve the financial chains on America’s youth, what might happen? We could actually have the small businesses that Republicans say they’re defending when they call for regulatory reform because young Americans would be able to better create and invest in those businesses.

Student loan relief. It’s such a simple idea.

On Why Slate Gets Atheism Wrong

Slate today asks a provocative question — Which is worse for evangelicals like Rick Perry — being an atheist or a Muslim?

Writer Brian Palmer answers “atheism.” And while I agree with his answer, I disagree with his reasoning.

Writes Palmer: “The ancient and medieval Christians wouldn’t have had much to say about pure atheism, which is an 18th-century concept. Their closest analog would have been Epicureanism — the belief that worldly pleasure matters above all. In Christian-themed literature, at least, Epicureans were held in special contempt.”

Even if Palmer is correct, which I doubt as there’s little in common between atheism (a non-belief in deities) and epicureanism (an elevation of human pleasure as the highest moral principle), he misses the bigger picture. There’s a far more basic, a much simpler reason why an evangelical Christian would be more accepting of a Muslim than an atheist.

Atheists, contrary to Palmer, are not hedonists. Nor are atheists nihilists (believers in nothing). Atheists lack a god. That’s it and that’s all.

Muslims worship the same Abrahamic god that Jews and Christians worship.

Atheists think that the Abrahamic god is bunk.

A Muslim is in the same spiritual neighborhood as a Christian. An atheist isn’t even on the same continent.

To a Christian, a Muslim is mistaken in a lot of the theological differences, but at the end of the day they accept the same deity at the center of their spiritual life. An atheist, however, represents a complete and total rejection of that spiritual core. It’s not a mistaken theological difference like a Muslim or, even further out, a Buddhist or Hindu. For an evangelical Christian like Rick Perry, an atheist is something worse — an atheist is an outright denial of something absolutely fundamental to a Christian’s identity. An atheist is simply wrong in ways that godly non-Christians are not.

I agree with Palmer — an evangelical Christian would be more accepting of a Muslim than an atheist. I simply disagree with Palmer’s reasoning; not only does Palmer’s reasoning not make sense (and is beside the point, to boot), but he misses the critical reason why a Christian would be bothered by an atheist.

Of course, now I’m bound to go home and reread Sam Kieth’s Epicurus the Sage. Brilliant, brilliant stuff. :)

On Civ-Builders and Authoritarianism

Yesterday, Andrew Sullivan‘s blog at The Atlantic linked to an essay at The American Prospect by Monica Potts on how civ-building computer games don’t really allow for liberal-progressive solutions to life’s problems. Games like The Sims and Civilization model a rightward ideology, if not by design then certainly by practice.

There are many ways to out-compete other civilizations and win [Civilization], but the surest is to become a war hawk: I devote all of my resources, early on, to building a massive army — of warriors, then knights, then musketeers, then tanks, and then guided missiles — and destroy weaker cities, one by one, until they all belong to me. Building a society on diplomacy and technological development sounds great in theory but takes thousands of years before I can reap rewards. Again and again, I choose war.

I’ve mentioned this tendency myself; in practice, when playing Age of Empires III, I commit heinous war crimes and atrocities on a regular basis. When building a civilization on New World shores, while competing with Napoleon and Frederick the Great, I don’t find a diplomatic solution. I can’t find a diplomatic solution. The game doesn’t allow it.

Civilization offered a number of different routes to victory, besides the military solution. There’s a cultural victory — your culture is so superior that it takes over the world. There’s the Alpha Centauri solution — your technological prowess is so great you send a colonization mission to the next nearest star.

Age of Empires III, which I love and still play, five years after its release, doesn’t offer, in its original version, a non-military victory. (The expansion pack, The War Chiefs, does offer a non-military victory — if you hold all the trading posts along the trading route, you can start a timer to claim victory.) I did discover once, quite by accident, a largely non-military victory in Age of Empires III — build a wall around an opponent’s colony and starve the colony of resources, whereupon the computer gives up. It was a time-consuming victory and, honestly, it wasn’t especially satisfying.

Age of Empires II offered the “Wonder victory.” Once you had amassed a certain amount of resources, you could build a Wonder. And if you completed the wonder and it stood for two hundred years (in-game time), then the game was yours. Or you could collect all five holy relics and gather them in a monastery. Again, if you held these for two hundred years, victory was yours.

I found, though, that I only turned to the Wonder victory when my military ambitions didn’t match the reality of the battlefield, my military options were all exhausted, or, more likely, I simply tired of the game.

More often, I turned to the relic victory because it was the more challenging victory to achieve. I would often have to attack my enemies (and, occasionally, my allies) in force to gain the relics. Once, I laid siege to an enemy’s town, just to capture two relics from his monastery. He had an extensive fortification of walls and guard towers, and a quickly as I could demolish his walls and towers with my massed trebuchet attack he would rebuild them. Only when his resources dwindled was I able to make much headway in my siege. That was an epic victory, and songs were sung long into the Viking night that told of the deeds of that day.

A relic victory was satisfying to me in ways that a wonder victory never was.

In a way, a wonder victory always felt like a cheat. I always felt that I didn’t win because I’d proven myself superior at building and managing a civilization, because I’d spread my domination across the worldmap. No, I felt like I won because I took the easy way out. That I won because I didn’t need to engage with my enemies.

There’s some truth to that. If one build walls sufficiently far away from one’s town center and they fully wall off the town from anyone crossing his “territory,” it’s possible to build a civilization in peace, amass the resources, and build the wonder without ever having to fight more than one or two skirmishes.

Which doesn’t model any sort of medieval period I’m familiar with… ;)

Diplomatic solutions, though, simply aren’t possible in the Age of Empires games. You can’t build a community and live in peace. It’s not an option.

And this brings me back to Monica Potts’ essay.

It seems to me that the reason why conservative solutions to civ-building games are so easy — and so satisfying — is because of the authoritarian nature of these games. You, as the gamer, are the only person responsible for making the decisions. For the most part, you aren’t held accountable by anyone. Yes, there can be dissatisfied workers in SimCity and your cities may break out in riots in Civilization, but these are easily handled — and they don’t deprive you of any real power. (Democracy makes it more difficult to wage war in Civ, and for that reason most players never go to that political system.) You don’t need to compromise with your people. You don’t need to build political consensus. You don’t need allies. You don’t need communities.

I don’t know how one would go about creating a civ-builder that encourages, or at least allows, a liberal, community-building mindset.

This won’t alter how I play Age of Empires, though. It really is a satisfying to grind an enemy civilization to dust. :)

On Metrifying the United States

I had an interesting thought this morning — and it’s probably because I haven’t yet had my first cup of coffee.

The metric system.

We don’t use it here in the United States. There was some effort in the 1970s to metricify the United States and join the rest of the world in solidarity, but those efforts went nowhere; they were voluntary and there was no political will behind them. (See Wikipedia’s article for more.)

It occurred to me, not more than ten minutes ago, that if Congress wanted to create a jobs program to help kickstart the American economy, legislating a transition to metric would be the way to do. There would be a massive investment in making new road signs and installing them, making new grocery scales and the like. making new industrial tools. With 9 percent unemployment, a government works project on the scale of a nationwide metric conversion would be perfect. It would be like one of FDR’s New Deal programs. We built dams in the 1930s, we can make America metric!

But then, I realize, after witnessing the past two years, there would be many on the Teahadist right who would see the metric system as yet another federal government overreach. They would claim that the Constitution doesn’t permit the federal government to legislate on the issue. They would argue that the Imperial system was what the Founding Fathers used. They would claim that imposition of the metric system infringes upon the rights of the states to set their measures and upon the rights of the citizens to measure however they see fit.

The massive investment required and the public outcry have been the two things that have flummoxed the metric system in the past. Try and do it now? It’d be a political nightmare. It would need leadership, someone to appeal to the history of America’s willingness to do the hard things. Metrification would have a great benefit — metrification would put people to work — but at a great cost to the body politic.

And that’s why it won’t happen, unfortunately. :(

On Writing Political Tracts

Recently, I’ve been thinking of writing a book on politics.

I go in the bookstores, and I see lots of books in the politics/current affairs section on being a libertarian or being a conservative, and how the future is with the Republican Party and its conservative/libertarianism. I see fewer books from the other side of the aisle, but they’re there, too.

I don’t see any books for me.

I want to see a book about how the Republican Party, if it is to forge a Republican future, must embrace its socialist and progressive roots, must carry forward its tradition of social justice and civil rights.

In others words, a book about how to be a Teddy Roosevelt Republican in the 21st century. :)

I look at today’s Republican leadership, and I don’t see a man fit to lick Roosevelt’s boot. None are of his intellectual caliber. Roosevelt was a man of boundless energy and limitless ideas.

I don’t see energy or ideas from Mitch McConnell or John Boehner. Repealing health care reform is a priority, but the Republicans have no ideas with which to replace it. Putting the American financial house in order is vital, but Republican plans would send the economy over the cliff.

I don’t know that I’ll actually write it, but I’m thinking about it… ;)

On Republican Policies and their Impacts

Like millions of Americans, I paid some attention last night to the State of the Union address and the two Republican responses, one from Paul Ryan of Wisconsin (who, much to my chagrin, did not mention the Fantastic Four at all), the other from Michele Bachmann of Minnesota.

Abler commentators than I have parsed and re-parsed the President’s speech. I see no reason to add my thoughts to the legion, except to say that I thought it was a good speech, though not one of Obama’s very-good/near-great speeches, like his Tuscon speech of two weeks ago.

No, what concerns me is the Republican responses.

Bachmann’s speech was bizarre, to say the least, and the word “trainwreck” has been casually thrown about, though I’m not sure if “trainwreck” refers to the content of Bachmann’s speech (which, I thought, was fairly standard Republican fare these days) or the context of Bachmann’s speech, with her overly made-up look and her inability to look at the camera. I’m not sure why her speech was necessary, honestly.

Paul Ryan’s response was unsurprising. It was a call for smaller government and lower taxes. The country is on a collision course with bankruptcy due to the President’s policies, like health care reform. A “day of reckoning,” like Ireland and Greece face, is coming for the United States. In short, the solution to America’s problems is to “reclaim our American system of limited government, low taxes, reasonable regulations, and sound money, which has blessed us with unprecedented prosperity.”

That sounds good. No, really, it does.

The great struggle in American history has been about what role the federal government should play, what is the relationship between the government and its people. It’s a struggle that goes back to the Continental Congress, and it’s a struggle that has shaped American history through the generations. Obama represents one side of the divide, Ryan represents another. Contrasting visions for the United States, its government, and its people.

The problem I have with the the proposals coming from the right these days, like Rand Paul’s plan (released yesterday) to cut half a trillion dollars from the federal budget before September, is that these plans are reckless and dangerous, not just to the American economy and way of life, but to the world economy as well. It’s obvious to me what would happen if a half billion dollars was suddenly taken from the American economy. It’s obvious to others. Why isn’t it obvious to the right?

It’s the thing I don’t understand about the “smaller government” crowd. To accomplish what they say they really want, unemployment would shoot up immediately (as hundreds of thousands of federal employees are suddenly fired) and daily life would become more dangerous (Paul, for instance, wants to shutter several consumer protection organizations, like the Consumer Product Safety Commission and the National Institutes of Health).

Paul isn’t the only Republican floating ideas for drastic budget cuts. During the autumn campaign, Republicans promised to cut just 100 billion from the federal budget this fiscal year, and though Republican leadership has been backing away from that pledge, Tea Party organizations are pressing Speaker of the House John Boehner to keep his word. The debt ceiling vote is also coming up in the next month, and there’s talk of using this vote to force a government shutdown; if Congress votes not to raise the government’s cap on debt, the federal government will run out of money and be unable to spend, forcing the government to shutdown. Republicans have been flirting with the idea of a government shutdown for months, and Paul’s plan, because it isn’t a temporary austerity measure, would be the equivalent of a shutdown on steroids.

The economy is already on edge; why pursue policies that are only going to shove it off the cliff? And given the size and importance of the American economy to the global economy, if the United States goes off a cliff, the world can’t help but follow. I can’t see how or why the Republican Party, which has hitched its wagon to the smaller government crowd, would ever be elected again, if they got their way.

(At the very least, the Republican Party would write off the Old Dominion for at least a generation; even though Northern Virginia is largely — though not solidly — Democratic, the rest of the state is not, and the sudden unemployment by vast swathes of NoVa would put an enormous strain on the commonwealth’s coffers. The state would take a financial hit, all because of the Republicans’ fiscal policies at a federal level. Maryland would see the same thing happen, but it’s already firmly in the Democratic column, so it’s not really there for the Republicans to lose.)

Severe austerity measures, no matter how well intentioned, will have repercussions far beyond the federal government’s taxation and spending policies. Shuttering entire federal departments will affect more than just the individuals who worked in those buildings in Washington. It will affect their families, their neighbors. Shuttering some of the watchdog agencies will affect people in small towns across the country. Shuttering the Department of Education will affect college students far beyond the DC metro area who need grants and loans. Conservative and libertarian Republican policies, to the extent that they’ve been articulated, strike me as cruel and inhuman.

Republicans can’t pass a Voight-Kampff test. Philip K. Dick would call Republicans “inauthentic human beings”; they lack empathy (or, in Dick’s terminology, caritas), or even the ability to think of the consequences of their actions on anyone but themselves. I don’t understand how Republicans can claim to have the best interests of the country at heart, when enacting their policies would cause so much damage and so much pain to the social fabric. The anarcho-libertarian utopia that so many on the right are yearning for would, in truth, be anything but.

On the Repeal of Health Care Reform

Today, the House of Representatives will be voting on the “Repeal the Job Killing Health Care Law Act.” This bill, written by House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, would repeal the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act that was passed by the last Congress, and, despite some requests that, in the wake of the Tuscon shootings that severely injured Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and killed six others, the bill be renamed to take the word “killing” out of its name, Cantor has chosen to keep the name, even though the bill does not, in fact, “kill jobs.”

The vote on the bill is seen as a symbolic act; Alex Wagner of Politics Daily writes that “It stands little chance of coming before the Senate for a vote — where a Democratic majority is firmly in place — and it faces the threat of a presidential veto should it actually pass both houses,” and her analysis matches that of NPR, ABC, MSNBC, and many other outlets. The bill, as the news presenters and pundits tell us, will die in the Senate.

Republicans ran in the summer and autumn on a platform of “Repeal and Replace,” thanks to the Tea Party movement, which was so energized by the health care debate in late 2009 and early 2010. Today marks a step along the road to the Republicans’ “Repeal,” but as for “Replace,” the Republicans have nothing on the horizon. Indeed, the Republicans have no plan, consensus or otherwise, for what “replace” even means.

The Republican Party has chosen to repeal a bill that, fifteen years ago, even five years ago, its rank-and-file would have supported. The Patient Protection Act is similar to the bill that Bob Dole and John Chafee offered as an alternative to Bill Clinton’s plan in 1993, it’s similar to the bill passed in Massachusetts by Mitt Romney. Indeed, the idea in the bill that most offends Republicans — the individual mandate — is a Republican idea, originally formulated by the very conservative Heritage Foundation. To oppose the Patient Protection Act, the Republican Party has had to essentially oppose its own positions — and suggest that health care, and the access to it, is a privilege, not a right.

The Patient Protection Act isn’t perfect by any means. It’s too supportive of the for-profit health care industry, and it doesn’t do enough to restrain runaway costs and to bend the cost curve. It is a start, though, but that doesn’t mean that it’s finished. And treating the House vote today as a symbolic act that will simply languish in the Senate strikes me as the wrong move.

President Obama should take the opportunity to revisit the health care debate. Senator Charles Schumer said earlier this week that the House vote gives health care reform a second chance to make a first impression. And, because the Republicans campaigned — and won — the House on a mantra of “Repeal and Replace,” the ball is in their court. If they want to repeal the Patient Protection Act, let’s see what they want to replace it with.

And President Obama should make that very public and very clear.

The Patient Protection Act, as a whole, is not popular. But its individual provisions, such as no lifetime caps on benefits, no denial of coverage due to pre-existing conditions, really everything except the individual mandate, are popular with and supported by the American public.

President Obama should say something along these lines:

“I want to congratulate Speaker John Boehner and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor on the passage of a bill that will repeal the Patient Protection Act. I have spoken with Senator Reid about the need for the Senate to take up this bill when, and only when, the House of Representatives passes a bill that will replace the Patient Protection Act with a bill that achieves the same goals as Patient Protection Act — universal, affordable health care for every American. When the House of Representatives passes a bill that guarantees that by 2014 no American will go without health coverage, that no American can be denied health coverage due to pre-existing conditions, that the “donut hole” in Medicare will not bankrupt our seniors, and that all Americans can afford health coverage through subsidies and/or tax breaks, I look forward to working with the Senate to pass both the bill that repeals the Patient Protection Act and the bill that replaces it.”

Put the ball in the Republicans’ court, Mr. President.

If the Republicans truly have no ideas on health care reform nor any inclination to take up the issue, that will be made abundantly clear as they flail and wail.

If, however, they truly want to replace the Patient Protection Act, as they claimed in their campaign rhetoric, make them live up to that rhetoric. Give them a mark to reach and challenge them to reach it. The Patient Protection Act’s goals set the standard; can their “replace” bill reach those goals?

Also, if President Obama states that he will sign into law the repeal act, he boxes the Republican Party in between their Tea Party base and the health care lobby, especially the insurance companies. While the insurance companies, who cut the big corporate donor checks, like the Patient Protection Act because it compels millions of Americans to purchase health insurance from them, the Tea Party movement is opposed to the Patient Protection Act for precisely the same reason. Trapped between their donors and their foot soldiers, the Republicans would find themselves in a Faustian bind if the repeal bill had any chance of becoming law.

Letting the House have its symbolic vote to appease the Tea Party movement and then letting the bill languish and die is a waste of political optics and opportunity. Use the optics to paint a true difference between the two parties, and use the opportunity to demonstrate to the American people that health care reform is in the long-term interests of the country.

And, while I don’t expect it to happen, a “replace” bill could turn out to be better for the country than the Patient Protection Act. We could get the public option or the Medicare buy-in out of it.