Karma strikes Republican town halls

Some of the right-wing lawmakers who rode into office on the tea party wave of anger over Obamacare are feeling the cruel bite of karma this spring.

Remember when Democratic legislators were assailed at town hall meetings by constituents whipped into a frenzy by malicious lies about President Barack Obama’s signature health care legislation? Remember Sarah Palin’s dire warnings about “death panels”?

Those raucous town-hall meltdowns augured poorly for the Democratic Party, which proceeded to incur political losses of historic proportions.

So maybe progressives can be forgiven if they’re glowing with schadenfreude now that the proverbial shoe is on the other party’s foot. It’s the Republicans who are straining to be heard over their constituents’ heckling — and this time the ire is over the Obamacare “repeal and replace” debacle. As GOP legislators are discovering, the powerless are feeling empowered. Donald Trump lured them out of hiding and into the political marketplace by waking them up to the fact they’re getting shafted at every turn. He promised to change all that by eliminating “politics as usual” and focusing on their interests — especially by ensuring them affordable, quality health care for everyone.

Indeed, in September 2015, Trump promised on 60 Minutes, “I am going to take care of everybody. I don’t care if it costs me votes or not. Everybody’s going to be taken care of much better than they’re taken care of now.”

The Republican bill that died in March did no such thing.

A random, unscientifically selected collection of anecdotes by the AP suggested Trump voters could overlook many of his policy reversals, but not his pledge to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act with something better. Trump’s campaign promises to dial back U.S. engagement overseas and put “America First” may have roused the crowds, but the issues with direct impact on voters’ lives are the ones by which they’re judging him.

At the bottom of this issue for Republicans, there’s a fundamental disconnect between the position of House Speaker Paul Ryan and the thinking of working-class Americans who voted for Trump.

The problem Ryan and his wealthy backers have with Obamacare is philosophical: It’s a government-run entitlement that reeks — to them — of federal overreach. They claim to oppose any facet of American life that isn’t totally dependent on their free-market principles. They’d go to the mat for the market’s sovereign right to let poor people die from lack of health care before they’d corrupt the purity of the free market by letting the government intervene to save lives.

That’s probably not quite what Trump’s voters had in mind when they heard him promise universal, affordable, quality health care.

The ultimate irony in the Republican charade on this issue is that what Ryan and his gang consider the free market is anything but.

The prices of pharmaceuticals, medical devices and diagnostic tests are not determined by the law of supply and demand, but rather by the elected officials who bow to the demands of industry lobbyists. A corrupt cabal of the entitled is responsible for maintaining the insanely high costs of health care in the United States. The proof can be seen in countries where the same drugs and other medical expenses that cost a fortune here are sold for a fraction of the cost there.

Gigantic corporations that enact laws giving advantage to their products and services while crushing competition are not the backbone of a truly free market.

It is largely the result of Trump drawing back the curtain on this ruse that working-class Republicans now understand the party’s leaders are putting the interests of their corporate backers over the health and well-being of their voters’ well-being. And that’s why GOP lawmakers are facing such fury from their constituents back home.

The combative town halls that led Republicans to oversized midterm victories in 2010 and 2012 should bear the same result for Democrats beginning in 2018.

Let’s work to ensure that’s the case.