When “collaboration” feels against the grain
March 26, 2017
OPINION by STEW JENKINS
My dad and granddad showed me early in life how to pet a strange dog. In first grade this just seemed like a way to have more fun making friends with other folks’ pets and herding animals. But as I grew, and saw others without that basic knowledge be rushed and snapped at, I realized my rural folks had been teaching me an important survival skill.
A skill that came in handy precinct walking and registering voters from Shandon to Nipomo when I got into Democratic Party activism. It is primal. Make friends with a person’s dog and you take the first step to a relationship of trust that allows talk about policy and the merits of your candidate.
But pet that dog against the grain at that first meeting, and you’ve got an enemy of both the dog and its owner. There’s a saying in the south that you don’t try to get a neighbor’s attentions by shooting his dog.
Paul Ryan and Donald Trump did just this when they decided as their first measure to shoot the Affordable Care Act. Even though last Friday they widely missed killing that giant step we’d taken toward our most cherished goal of universal health care, Democrats have a right to collective outrage.
In response, Democratic Party leadership has vowed to oppose every Republican measure on the state or federal levels, and to filibuster appointments.
But two factors make it impossible to rebuild or make progress toward Democratic values by sitting in the corner, pouting, and saying that no Democrat should work with Republicans at any level, on any appointment, or on any policy measure.
First, Donald Trump won by promising middle class, poor, and retired Democrats, Republicans and Independents hard hit by 40 years of economic stagnation that he was going to provide everyone with health care and that he “wouldn’t touch” Medicare or Social Security. He promised a “big beautiful” health care replacement that would take care of everyone.
The Ryan plan did anything but take care of everyone.
It was, in fact not our Democratic Party that derailed the Ryan plan. It was the outrage of voters, be they Republicans, Independents or Democrats, at town halls, on phone calls, through emails and in letters that stopped the Ryan plan. There was nothing big or beautiful about throwing 24 million to 28 million people off health care, removing the subsidies that made health insurance affordable, or returning to the bad old days when insurance companies could impose life time limits or refuse coverage for pre-existing conditions.
The wisdom of Barak Obama, Joe Biden, Joe Manchin and Nancy Pelosi setting up the Affordable Care Act was that people in even the reddest states finally had affordable and effective health care. This saved our beloved ACA by splintering the Republican supermajority in the House of Representatives.
The second factor is that even those who drafted the ACA knew it needed improvements and had internal flaws that would eventually need fixing. President Obama, Joe Biden, Joe Manchin and Nancy Pelosi said so over and over; and criticized Republicans for not working with Democrats to fix flaws and make improvements.
Right now, if we work with Donald Trump or Republicans in Congress on anything, it feels like we are letting them rub us the wrong way. As Democrats, we know our people need good jobs again. We know that if everyone has work, and if the corner store or tire shop has plenty of business, incomes go up for everyone and fixing health care gets easier.
Our challenge is to look at Donald Trump and Republican members of Congress to see if they have a dog we can make friends with that will help us get our people back to work. Real work so folks can buy a home, get their kids through college, and retire with dignity. Two pets of Trump and some congressional Republicans are right outside our door, already playing with our union brothers and sisters.
Trump promised protectionist trade policies that would keep jobs here. We know if trade policy is reformed to favor manufacturing and jobs in America, full employment will be spurred and rising incomes will result. Early and often Democrats should be leading and offering to work with Republicans to enact trade policies that will protect and bring back jobs here.
Trump promised a two trillion dollar infrastructure program to rebuild our nations crumbling roads, bridges, rail lines, dams, broadband, and transportation systems. The mystery is that, building things, the one thing President Trump knows the most about, was not his first measure. If he’s got a favorite dog that Democrats can make friends with, it is infrastructure revitalization. Infrastructure construction? It really will put Americans back to work “bigly.”
Trump and Ryan have flamed out on the ACA. In their shock, this is the opportunity to do something positive. Democratic leaders should make their primary focus perfection and passage of a two trillion dollar infrastructure program. Even if “collaboration” with Republicans feels against the grain, we need to remember our former standard bearer’s own motto. American’s are stronger together.
On the issues of trade policy and infrastructure, we have the opportunity to demonstrate the truth of the slogan.
And, just maybe, the relationship of trust can be re-established enough to improve, expand and fix the Affordable Care Act to achieve universal health care.
Stew Jenkins is a San Luis Obispo County Liberal Democrat who supports the rights of working people to organize unions, growing the local economy through project labor agreements, the right of all people to health care and equal dignity.
He is an attorney practicing in San Luis Obispo since 1978. Jenkins’ handles tax payer suits, municipal law, estate planning and family law.