I’m not banging the drum for endless referendums

PUBLISHED: 16:40 08 August 2017 | UPDATED: 16:40 08 August 2017

Sen. John McCain 
(Photo by Oliver Contreras)

Sen. John McCain (Photo by Oliver Contreras)

SIPA USA/PA Images

I’m banging the drum for the people being allowed to make an informed choice

One can scarcely even begin to wonder at the thoughts which passed through the mind of young Lieutenant Commander John McCain during his long years of imprisonment and torture in Vietnam, but I’m going to go out on a limb here and suggest that one thought which never occurred to him was “If I can survive this... if I can endure... then maybe, just maybe, one day, a man running for President of the United States will call me a loser for getting myself shot down and captured. And then win.”

One can make a slightly more educated guess at the thoughts and feelings experienced over 40 years later by the then Senator McCain (still suffering from constant pain and limited mobility from his years of captivity) when this precise scenario came to pass during the recent Presidential primary season. And I’m fairly sure I know more or less exactly how the now 80-year-old Senator McCain felt last week when he hauled himself from his sick bed (having undergone surgery for brain cancer just two weeks earlier) to deliver what may turn out to be the final blow to that President’s attempt to repeal the Affordable Care Act, better known as “Obamacare” (thereby, incidentally, preserving the legacy of his own erstwhile arch-nemesis – honestly, there are currently enough levels of hubris and irony at play in American politics to make Homer hit the ouzo).

I do know that had anyone treated me like Trump treated McCain, I’d make it my own life’s work to undermine his. Perhaps the wily old maverick (we can call him that this week) has been feigning reluctant fealty to Trump’s regime these last six months, just awaiting an opening. Or maybe, he knows this may be his last chance to do the right thing.

One of the many American political commentators I follow on Twitter (and I can’t remember who, nor has my hashtag search helped me find out his/her name – many apologies if it’s you and sorry for using your thoughts uncredited) pointed out that the Republicans’ attempts to destroy Obamacare have been complicated from the beginning by the fact that their case against it is based on lies. Two big lies in particular: firstly, that it’s not helping anyone. It is; it’s helping lots of people (in many cases keeping them alive) and as such can’t be removed without withdrawing that help (and, in many cases, leaving people to die).

Secondly; that Obamacare is socialism run rampant and the thin end of the communist wedge. It is anything but; it was the most conservative measure possible which actually improved healthcare for ordinary people (and was of course modelled on the system instituted by Obama’s other arch-nemesis Mitt Romney during his tenure as Governor of Massachusetts). To replace it with anything even less socialist-ish will inevitably restrict the availability of healthcare to the less well-off. The idea that Obamacare can be replaced by something at once more conservative and more beneficial is a myth; it can’t be delivered.

Because that’s the trouble with peddling myths to the public; it’s all fun and games until you win an election – or a referendum – and have to come up with the (impossible) goods.

The Brexit lobby’s current best estimate is that our economy can recover from exiting the EU “within decades”. Oh great. I’m now 47 years old (and feeling every damn minute of it); if I’m REALLY lucky I’ve got 25-30 years left. I’m now told that I will be spending the whole of my remaining years in a failing, struggling country, because of democracy. Or Belgians. Or straight vegetables. Or blue passports. Or something.

It’s not so much a case of wrestling with the (problematic) idea that “the people got it wrong” back in June 2016, as we discussed last week; I can understand how that’s an unacceptably patrician concept and how it COULD be regarded as the kind of thinking which ends up with a smug elite proposing a “benign” dictatorship (of which history has recorded precisely none). But can we at least agree that the people were misled?

There’s no dishonour in this; we’ve all been sold the old lemon in our time. If we were all smart enough to see through hucksters and con artists they’d have died out years ago, rather than thriving as they do as the world’s second oldest profession.

The people were sold a myth last year, they were promised the impossible and (some of them) are now demanding that the impossible be delivered. And the politicians who made that promise (or at least those who have been left to clean up after them) are still pretending that the promise can be fulfilled. It can’t. The promise that we could exit the EU and be happier, richer and more secure as a consequence was a lie. The reality is that we can exit the EU, but only at the expense of beggaring the economy, reducing our global status to somewhere between irrelevance and an outright laughing stock, and splintering our society beyond hope of (foreseeable) repair. Nobody but the most spittle-flecked xenophobe would have voted for that, and indeed it wasn’t on the ballot.

And I’m not banging the drum for “endless referendums until you get a result you like”; I’m banging the drum for the people being allowed to make an INFORMED choice. The referendum was not only not an informed choice, it was a MISinformed choice.

Meanwhile, it may have been McCain who delivered the death blow to “Trumpcare”, but he was only able to do so because the Republicans’ resolve had been weakened by months of constant, battering protest and dissent.

There’s still time for sanity – and reality – to prevail here too.

Keep moaning. Keep resisting.

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