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Everything is Like the Gulag, Except Sending People To Remote Locations To Be Tortured

[ 369 ] April 7, 2014 |

Since the resignation of Brendan Eich has already been compared to McCarthyism, fascism, and Jacobinism, I suppose calling it the new Gulag was inevitable. This article was tabbed by Reynolds, which will be particularly amusing to those of you who remember the intense outrage at Instapundit over an Amnesty International report describing the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay as “the gulag of our times, entrenching the practice of arbitrary and indefinite detention in violation of international law.” Whether the term “gulag” is more plausibly applied to CEO who resigns in the wake of a very mild campaign of opposition to his discriminatory political actions or to a site where people are sent to be arbitrarily detained and sometimes tortured, I leave to the reader’s judgment.

Leaving aside the world-class levels of hypocrisy, Williamson’s argument is expectedly awful, constructing a fantasy of liberal CommieNazism out of a variety of random anecdotes, many of  fail to even bear relevance to the Eich case, which itself bears no resemblance to McCartyhism (let alone fascism or Stalinism.) In addition to the Eich case’s violation of ad hoc norms nobody really believes in, you have a legitimately dumb “provocative” argument about imprisoning climate change troofers, which would be relevant if Gawker bloggers spoke for anyone else. You have someone not permitted to attend a private meeting, assertions that anyone who interprets the First Amendment the way the Supreme Court did until last week with respect to aggregate political donations is opposed to the concept of free speech and therefore a fascist, and assertions that anyone who thinks that neutral rules should be applied uniformly rather than be subject to exemptions based on trivial burdens on religious practice is a fascist. (It’s not clear what disagreement with the Republican platform circa 2012 isn’t fascism.) But this is my favorite:

Charles Murray, one of the most important social scientists of his generation, was denounced as a “known white supremacist” by Texas Democrats for holding heterodox views about education policy…

First of all, note the classic Sarah Palin definition of free speech — free speech, apparently, means that it’s illegitimate to even criticize the political views of conservatives. (Oddly, calling liberals Stalinists and fascists for the crime of disagreeing with recent Republican innovations in campaign finance law and the freedom of secular, for-profit corporations to deny statutory rights to their employees based on trivial burdens on religious practices of extremely dubious sincerity is entirely consistent with free speech. You might say that Williamson’s thought process is muddled and self-refuting even by NRO standards.) And in addition, I’m going to guess that Murray was called a “white supremacist” not because of his “heterodox views about education policy” but because he wrote a whole book about how African-Americans are genetically inferior. I can’t wait to find out whether accurately describing Murray’s political views makes me more like Hitler, Robespierre, or Pol Pot.

UPDATE: I would have to agree that Williamson has pretty much achieved peak hack.

Again, On What Free Speech Means And What It Doesn’t

[ 239 ] April 7, 2014 |

We seem to have to go through this every year or two, and based on some of the commentary surrounding Brendan Eich apparently we have to again. (Incidentally, what I said about Althouse back then applies to Glenn Reynolds as well — he thought that Shirley Sherrod being fired based on an unquestionably inaccurate presentation of her views was awesome, ending the question of whether he’s arguing in bad faith here. And he’s still calling her a “racist” and “asshole” years later.) Anyway, to reiterate what should be obvious:

  • Free speech rights go beyond what is protected by the First Amendment. The free speech rights of employees should ideally be accorded more respect than the law requires.
  • It is equally clear that these rights cannot be absolute, starting with speech that is relevant to someone’s ability to do their job.
  • Power, supervisory authority, and the extent to which one’s views represent an organization to the public all matter. It would obviously be unreasonable to fire someone charged with cleaning the restrooms solely because they gave financial support to Prop 8. It would be perfectly reasonable to fire someone for such support if they want a job writing for The Advocate. Between the obvious cases there’s a grey area, but not every case of someone being fired for expressing particular views is exhuming McCarthy.
  • Eich is obviously much more comparable here to the Advocate writer than to the custodian. A CEO views inherently represent the organization he’s
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    working for, and he has supervisory authority that makes him having bigoted views legitimately worrisome.

  • To state the obvious, if Eich had donated to an initiative campaign dedicated to the re-criminalization of interracial marriage, or to an anti-Semitic group, we wouldn’t even be having this conversation, because virtually nobody would be defending him. Nobody really thinks that CEOs have some kind of unlimited right to free political speech, and the arguments being made in defense of Eich generally tend to minimize the importance of gay and lesbian rights.
  • There is a reasonable response to the previous point, which is that in 2008 opposition to same-sex marriage was regrettably a majority position; not everyone who held a bigoted position then can have it held it against them permanently. Fair enough, but also irrelevant to Eich, who has never repudiated his donation to the odious Prop 8 campaign (which, as djw says, goes way beyond just nominal opposition to same-sex marriage.) Eich still holds these views in 2014; had he simply said he was wrong you’d almost certainly still have no idea who he is.
  • And, finally, once again Eich wasn’t fired. He resigned. If he doesn’t feel that he can stay on and continue to defend his bigoted views without reflecting badly on Mozilla, who am I to disagree? And the questions being asked of him were perfectly fair, not some kind of McCarthyite smear campaign.

…First link fixed! Thanks to Roy in comments. He has the usual excellent discussion of the wingnut meltdown over this at the Voice.

The Case of Brendan Eich

[ 237 ] April 6, 2014 |

James Taranto believes that the briefly tenured CEO of Firefox has an unspecified right to continue to be a CEO, and that political donations should remain private:

But California’s disclosure law turns out to have been a grievous violation of Eich’s rights and the rights of others.

Prominent intarwebs hack Glenn Reynolds, whose interest in gay and lesbian rights begins and ends with opportunities to play various forms of poetic-justice-as-fairness with liberals, inevitably invokes fascism:

GLEICHSCHALTUNG! Mozilla CEO Brendan Eich forced to resign for supporting traditional marriage laws. To be clear, for holding, in 2009, the view of gay marriage that Barack Obama held, instead of the view that Dick Cheney held.

As someone who was publicly supporting gay marriage even before Dick Cheney, I find this degree of bullying and blacklisting repellent. I’m beginning to think that the only thing the left found wrong with the 1950s blacklists was that they were aimed at . . . the left.

Let’s try apply some actual thought to this question:

  • As an aside, Eich didn’t hold the “same view” of gay marriage that Barack Obama did in 2009.  Obama opposed Prop 8 at the time, and also supported constitutional efforts to have it overturned.  Dick Cheney, conversely, refused to oppose the George W. Bush-supported Federal Marriage Amendment, although he was willing to be open about his Miss America conservatism when it was no longer politically consequential.
  • The rather obvious difference between Eich resigning and the blacklist of the 50s is that the blacklist was generally directed at ordinary employees, not top-decision makers.  If an ordinary employee was fired for supporting Prop 8, I would actually be inclined to agree with Taranto and Reynolds.   But a CEO, or anyone else who publicly represents an organization and has discretion over employment decisions — that’s a different question.  A single past donation to an anti-LBGT cause is not necessarily disqualifying in itself, but it’s fair to ask questions about whether someone’s bias on these questions might affect their decisions or reflect badly on the company.
  • The fact that has was CEO is relevant for another reason as well: he wasn’t fired, he resigned.  Nobody was in the position to “demand”  that he do anything.   He decided that he didn’t want to say and defend his various odious reactionary political views as head of a progressive non-profit rather than make his commitment to equality clear.   This isn’t much of a “blacklist.”
  • I must have missed Reynolds, Taranto et al. foaming at the mouth over, say World Vision pledging to maintain a refusal to hire employees in same-sex relationships after facing pressure from evangelical groups far more intense than anything Mozilla faced.  Again, if you actually cared about outside pressure restricting the free speech rights of employees, this is a much more pressing concern.  But obviously Reynolds and Taranto don’t care in the slightest about the pressure faced by ordinary employees; they care about saying nyah-nyah to liberals.

…As runsinbackground (following up on ChrisTS) notes in comments about the specious comparison to the 50s blacklist: “in this retelling there’s no McCarthy, and no HUAC either, unless you want to count a popular free dating website.”  Another commenter notes this from Josh Marshall, which is indeed excellent on the crucial difference between a CEO and an ordinary employee.


The Republican Offer On Health Care Remains Worse Than Nothing

[ 142 ] April 4, 2014 |

Paul Ryan would repeal the ACA and not even replace its most popular provisions, using logic that makes clear that he opposes doing anything for the many millions of uninsured this would create:

Democrats are jumping all over Paul Ryan for telling Bloomberg TV that if Republicans repeal the Affordable Care Act, they won’t reimplement Obamacare’s popular requirement that children can stay on their parents’ health insurance plans until they’re 26.

I don’t have a full transcript, but the quote in this Washington Post story actually reveals a great deal more about Republicans’ post-Obamacare health policy than their possible opposition to insuring young adults.

“If you look at these kinds of reforms, where they’ve been tried before — say the state of Kentucky, for example — you basically make it impossible to underwrite insurance. You dramatically crank up the cost. And

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you make it hard for people to get affordable health care.”

People who follow health care reform closely will correctly note that there’s nothing new here. But for those who don’t, Ryan’s focus on underwriting, not an allusion to so-called “young invincibles” is the key tell. Because underwriting is the main mechanism insurers used to practice price and coverage discrimination against people with pre-existing conditions.

Bobby Jindal makes no pretense of caring about the millions of people he would deny insurance to:

To be sure, there is more to Jindal’s plan than to repeal Obamacare and then drink cocktails made from the tears of the uninsured. But there isn’t much more. Jindal proposes to tinker with the tax treatment of health benefits, but without going far enough to either provide real funds to purchase insurance to individuals or to disrupt employer-based insurance. There’s the usual bit about letting insurers sell plans across state lines, which means letting the state most willing to allow insurers to cherry-pick healthy customers set national regulatory standards. He urges a focus on cost containment, which was a mantra of Republican opposition to the bill in 2009 and 2010, and had faded since

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health-care inflation has fallen to a 50-year low. Citing cost containment as the rationale to repeal a law that has at best created, and at worst coincided with, the most positive cost containment news in modern history is more than a bit perverse.

Having said that, I’m not sure that we should consider the most recent Republican candidate for vice-president and a current Republican governor looking to run for president to be representative of Republican positions on health care reform. Perhaps more relevant are dead senators from Rhode Island, governors in states with huge Democratic supermajorities, stuff like that there.

New Frontiers In My Cable Package

[ 53 ] April 4, 2014 |

Let it never be said that I never make sacrifices for you, the reader. I took the bullet — a metaphor I

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do not choose at random — and watched Sarah Palin’s new show last night. It’s not good, but it’s also probably the most harmless thing a prominentish former Republican office-seeker could be doing to make a buck.

One thing I neglected to mention: the theme song is performed by these guys, mentioned in Beth’s thread yesterday. The…muted applause would tend to suggest that, whatever else divides us, this is one thing most southern NASCAR fans and northern liberals can agree on.

I think they should have gone with the “Cold Dead Hands” guy instead. Or surely the Right Brothers could have used the work?

The All-Too-Successful Republican War On Medicaid

[ 82 ] April 3, 2014 |

This useful report about the effect of the ACA on

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the uninsured contains this particularly important fact:

States that implemented the ACA’s Medicaid expansion saw a larger decline: their uninsurance rates for adults dropped 4.0 percentage points since

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September, compared with a drop of 1.5 percentage points for the nonexpanding states. The average uninsurance rate for adults in the 24 nonexpanding states was 18.1 percent in March 2014, well above the 12.4 percent average in the expansion states.

Thank you again John Roberts!

The Vote Fraud Fraud, Exposed

[ 102 ] April 3, 2014 |

Bouie has been killing it at his new gig, and this is no exception:

Voting rights advocates have attacked these laws as blatant attempts to suppress the votes of low-income and minority voters, but Republicans defend their actions as justified to protect “voter integrity” and ensure “fairness” and “uniformity” in the system. Here’s Wisconsin state Sen. Glenn Grothman on a bill—signed last week by Gov. Scott Walker—to end early voting on weekends. “Every city on election day has voting from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. The idea that some communities should have weekend or night voting is obviously unfair,” he said. “It’s a matter of uniformity. I don’t know what all the hoopla is over,” he told Reuters.

The fact that some communities have a greater demand for voting than others reduces Grothman’s logic to obvious nonsense. To wit, under the constraints established by the new law, voters in the cities and large suburbs of Wisconsin are at a disadvantage compared to their rural counterparts. For example, Republicans have limited total early voting time to 45 hours during the week. In order to accommodate the number of early voters in 2012 under that time limit, explained Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, you’d have to have a voter cast a ballot every nine seconds. Areas with fewer voters, of course, would have an easier time.

The “uniformity” argument doesn’t make sense, either—but then, neither does the focus on in-person voter fraud, which doesn’t exist. Nonetheless, North Carolina Republicans cited fraud last year when—empowered by the Supreme Court’s ruling on the Voting Rights Act, which struck down the “pre-clearence” requirement—they passed a sweeping package of restrictions that cut early voting, ended same-day registration, introduced a strict photo identification requirement, and empowered independent “election integrity” groups to monitor polling stations and challenge voter credentials.

La majestueuse égalité des lois, qui assure le même nombre de cabines voitng dans quartiers urbaines denses et dans petites villes rurales!

The other thing to note about the transparently bad faith “uniformity” argument is that the American voting system is strikingly non-uniform, not only between states but generally within states, with pernicious consequences. But as we know, the Republicans who generally support this state of affairs are perfectly willing to pretend to care about uniformity to get results they like, so long as we understand that the question of uniformity presents many complexities and will not apply to any case where it doesn’t benefit Republicans.

No, Minor Reform Would Not Have Been Better Than the ACA

[ 188 ] April 2, 2014 |

Given how embarrassing attempts to create plausible counterfactual scenarios under which a significantly better health care bill was possible in 2010 tend to be (“threaten to primary senators who aren’t running for anything!”) people who start with the premise that the ACA was an unconscionable sellout and figure out the accompanying argument later have a new line of argument. Rather than trying to explain how Bayh, Nelson, Lieberman et al could have been compelled to vote for single-payer or a robust public option, this argument re-defines penny-ante reforms as superior to the ACA. Our own Dilan Esper has now adopted this argument:

Just because people repeat so often that this was the most liberal thing that could pass doesn’t mean it is true. We don’t know what else could have passed because the Democratic Party decided to try to pass THIS.

My best guess– but it is just a guess– is that much more anti-corporate (and thus superior) forms of healthcare reform plans could have passed, but they would not have been “universal”. (Obamacare isn’t universal either, but it is quasi-universal.) In other words, expanding S-CHIP, expanding Medicare, building public health clinics, etc., are all things that have passed in the past and could plausibly have continued to progress had that been the Democrats’ agenda. But it would have been incremental, not universal. I tend to think THAT course is more “liberal”, because I think expanding the reach of private insurance is a conservative outcome. But if you believe that the liberal goal is providing everyone with a product called “insurance”, rather than incrementally increasing the reach of public sector health care, then Obamacare is more “liberal”.

The idea that a series of fairly small-bore reforms would be preferable to the ACA is implausible in the extreme. Let me cite as my first witness Dilan Esper:

The point is, if the left is a necessary part of a coalition that Gore needs to win an election, he shouldn’t be picking right-wingers to be Vice President, and should generally be proposing more left wing POLICY (again, making “populist” speeches is not the same thing). An example: Gore was the first Democratic candidate since FDR to NOT campaign on national health insurance. Instead, he proposed only an expansion of S-CHIP. If you were an adult, and you were uninsured, you were screwed.

You can make all sorts of political arguments about how after Hillarycare, that’s a move that he needs to make to reassure centrist voters. Fine. But it’s also a fine reason for a leftist who thinks health insurance is a right not to vote for him.

OK, so it’s not surprising that Esper has only one principle for evaluating health care reform: if it’s proposed by a Democratic president or candidate for president it sucks.  But this still doesn’t tell is which of these rationalizations was right. Obviously, he was right the first time (about whether an S-CHIP expansion is preferable to comprehensive health care reform, I mean; the idea that you should want Bush to be president because Gore didn’t propose legislation that would be DOA in any case is nutty):

  • The burden on proof on someone advocating penny-ante reform instead of the ACA is huge.  You’re giving up a massive, historic expansion of Medicaid and reforms that not only make private insurance significantly more accessible but transform the individual insurance market into something but a complete fraud.  If you’re going to give up all that for reforms that will affect a vastly smaller number of people — and, in the case of a Medicare buy-in, affect people generally much better-off than the millions of people benefiting from the Medicaid expansion — there had better be an extremely compelling reason for why the massive short-term negative is worth it.
  • And, of course, the counterfactual makes no sense whatsoever.  To reiterate what I said last time, the idea that giving public insurance to a class of generally unprofitable customers is a path towards complete nationalization of the American health insurance industry (let alone a nationalization of American health care) makes absolutely no sense in theory and has proven utterly wrong in practice.  Not only are we no close to single-payer or an American NHS than we were 50 years ago, but Medicare recipients were among the people most hostile to the ACA (and why not, since they have nothing to gain and can be persuaded that they have something to lose even if they aren’t Republicans who will hate any Democratic-proposed reform immediately.)
  • The idea that an S-CHIP expansion could lead to an American NHS in any kind of reasonable time frame also betrays a massive ignorance of American political history (and, for that matter, comparative politics.)  With the exception-that-proves the rule of abolishing slavery, American reform has always involved buying off entrenched interests.  Lyndon Johnson, in extraordinarily favorable political circumstances, had to settle for cherry-picking unprofitable customers rather than doing comprehensive reform.  Other high-veto-point systems otherwise more favorable to progressive politics don’t have nationalized health care either.  If you extend the time horizon long enough it’s impossible to rule anything out entirely, but 1)trading a policy achievement that represents a major improvement for tens of millions of people for the magic beans of an unprecedented mode of reform is insane, and 2)in some hypothetical circumstance long after we’re all dead where nationalizing the American health industry would be viable, there’s no plausible reason why it wouldn’t be equally possible under the status quo established by the ACA.
  • All of this assumes that these penny-ante reforms would have passed.  If you try to do much less than the ACA and don’t even get that, the fail becomes truly epic.
  • And, finally, the fact that S-CHIP expansions have passed before is self-refuting.  If you can pass them in much less favorable circumstances than existed in 2009, why on earth would you squander a once-in-a-generation-or-two legislative context on trying to pass it?  A Medicare or S-CHIP expansion can be added on to the ACA at least as easily as they can be added on to the status quo ante.

So, yeah, the idea that substituting an S-CHIP expansion or a few public health clinics for the ACA would be a good tradeoff for progressives is so far from defensible the world’s most powerful telescopes can’t even see it.


Finally, Someone Sticks Up For The Political Influence of the Extremely Weathly!

[ 121 ] April 2, 2014 |

I have further thoughts about McCutcheon:

As Ari Berman of The Nation points out, there is a particularly cruel irony about the Roberts Court’s attack on campaign finance reform in cases like McCutcheon and Citizens United. On the one hand, the Court is making it nearly impossible for Congress or state legislatures to reduce the influence of money in politics, holding restrictions unconstitutional even in cases where they don’t suppress speech at all. On the other hand, the Court has been extremely hostile to the voting rights. On the one hand, they’ve upheld vote suppression at the state level even when these restrictions are directed at concededly non-existent problems. On the other hand, they’ve eviscerated the Voting Rights Act with an opinion that finds no discernible basis in the text of the Constitution or the Court’s precedents. To the Roberts Court, money should talk as loudly as possible while ordinary voters can take a walk.

Since I’ve often been a critic, I should note that Breyer’s dissent here is his best work since Parents Involved. (Today’s quiz: guess the alignment of today’s decision. If you’re a particular kind of brogressive, you might find this difficult!) Rick Hasen has more.

…More from Lithwick.

Please, Let’s Not Pretend That American Conservatives Support Any Decent Health Care Reform

[ 159 ] April 2, 2014 |

Paul Krugman, in the course of responding to Ross Douthat, makes what I still consider to be a bad rhetorical move:

But Ross Douthat, in the course of realistically warning his fellow conservatives that Obamacare doesn’t seem to be collapsing, goes on to tell them that they’re going to have to come up with a serious alternative.

But Obamacare IS the conservative alternative, and not just because it was originally devised at the Heritage Foundation. It’s what a health-care system that does what even conservatives say they want, like making sure that people with preexisting conditions can get coverage, has to look like if it isn’t single-payer.

As I’ve said before when noting how radically dissimilar the ACA is from the Heritage Plan, the comparison is often made by liberals with good intentions. Krugman is definitely not using the comparison to undermine the ACA because he’s incapable of strategic thought or clueless about the institutional constraints on progressive change.  His position has always been, and still is, that the ACA is inferior to European models of health care but is nonetheless a major progressive achievement that substantially improves the status quo. (Correct on both counts.) When he says that the ACA is “conservative,” he means it in this comparative sense, and fair enough, as long as we keep in mind that in the universe of American politics it’s not remotely conservative.

But I think to say that the ACA was “devised at the Heritage Foundation” just takes this argument too far. First of all, it’s simply not true — the Heritage Plan shows, in fact, that it’s perfectly possible to design something that could be vaguely called “comprehensive health care reform” that would be far more conservative than the ACA. And I particularly don’t like it because it’s far too kind to the Republican Party.

In particular, conflating the ACA with Heritage papers over what should be a central issue for the Democrats now: Medicaid. Huge numbers of people are being denied Medicaid coverage because of Republican statehouses, who are then cynically using their own obstructionism as an argument against the ACA. As the Heritage Plan — which would have, rather than expanding coverage, further devolved Medicaid (in multiple senses) to these very states — makes clear, this is not some new feature of Republican politics. And while the Supreme Court is a major villain here, the responsibility for denying mostly federally-funded Medicaid to millions of people now lies with Republican public officials. Bad as the Roberts/Kagan/Breyer compromise was, it left states with the option of taking the expansion; those that don’t need to take the blame. And Democrats need to be making these distinctions as clear as possible, not blurring them.

The reason there will never be a serious Republican alternative to the ACA isn’t because it’s impossible to propose reform that’s significantly to its right. From the Heritage Plan to this very year, there are plenty of alternatives to the ACA that are much more conservative. The real issue is the “welfare-state embedding” cited by Douthat. One of the many reasons that these Republican plans are terrible is that they would all result in huge numbers of people getting much worse insurance than they would under the ACA or none at all, and as more people sign up on the exchanges and as the less lunatic Republican states bow to the pressure of various interests and take the Medicaid expansion, this is going to become a bigger issue over time. (Republicans were perfectly rational on their own terms in trying to sabotage or kill the ACA before it could become established.) We shouldn’t let Republicans off the hook by pretending that the Heritage Plan was remotely similar to the ACA.  Their callous indifference to the interests of the uninsured is longstanding, even if we leave aside the fact that the de facto Republican alternative to the ACA isn’t Heritage but “nothing.”

The Deep Religious Principles Of Hobby Lobby

[ 115 ] April 2, 2014 |

It sure is amazing how the ones that involve opposing contraception (as of 2012) are sliced carpaccio-thin so that they match up exactly with the Republican war on the Affordable Care Act and never interfere with the company making a buck.

What a happy coincidence! Maybe they learned this trick by studying Robert George on natural law…

Unskew the ACA!

[ 242 ] April 1, 2014 |

It’s obviously not surprising that Republicans are making up various reasons to ignore the relatively positive news on health insurance enrollments. Ted Cruz actually used the phrase “fuzzy math.” (As a reminder, “fuzzy math” was the phrase George W. Bush famously used to dissemble his way past Al Gore’s wholly accurate claims about his upper-class tax cut plan.)

But here’s what’s really appalling about this — Republican politicians insulting our intelligence by pretending to care about whether the non-wealthy have health insurance. The Republican Party, from the Supreme Court to many statehouses, is engaged in a so-far successful struggle to deny Medicaid to millions of people. The de jure offers made by Republicans to the uninsured are various shades of horrible, and the de facto Republican offer to the uninsured is “nothing.” These are, in short, desperate and dishonest arguments being made by people strongly committed to restoring an awful status quo ante.

…via Shakezula , I see a perennial favorite of left critics of the ACA has logically enough made its way to Republican politicians, as Tennessee’s Marsha Blackburn argues that the ACA didn’t really expand coverage…because Tennessee Republicans have refused the Medicaid expansion, and hence there hasn’t been an increase in the number of people on Medicaid. There are no words sufficient to convey my contempt for these people.