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Mark Kirk, Come Out of Your Neutral Corner

Dennis Byrne 9 April 2010 No Comment

Democrats apparently figure that they have Republican Senate candidate Mark Kirk cornered.

“Do you,” they demand to know, “favor the repeal of our wonderful comprehensive health reform or do you not?”

They have a point. Thanks to Kirk’ lack of clarity, Republicans also have been asking the same question. Kirk, the moderate North Shore congressman, earlier let it be known that he would “lead” the fight to repeal the entire recently enacted health care monstrosity. Later, he seemed to amend that sweeping promise, suggesting that some things in the new law were bad (e.g. new taxes) and some things worth considering.

From the Right comes scathing criticism that Kirk is not an ideological purist. The conservative Club for Growth has issued a public reminder to Kirk that he signed the group’s pledge to “repeal any federal health care takeover passed in 2010, and replace it with real reforms that lower health care costs without growing government.”

From the Left comes a curiously triumphant note, as if Democrats have discovered Kirk’s Achilles’ heel. From Progress Illinois: “It wouldn’t be surprising if Kirk ultimately backs off his original declaration, given that repealing the bill is virtually impossible. But it shows once more his apparent desperation to energize the GOP’s conservative base keeps getting him in trouble.”
Kirk is facing an Illinois electorate that, according to an April 6 Public Policy Polling survey, opposes Republicans efforts to repeal the health care law, 47 percent to 42 percent, about the same margin that it approves of the plan.
That it’s not a majority nor is it a comfortable margin for a “blue state” in which 42 percent consider themselves Democrats, 30 percent Republicans and 28 percent independents, according to the same poll. Strikingly, only 20 percent said they were liberal, compared with 36 percent conservative. Forty-five percent said there were moderates.

Kirk does, indeed, have a choice to make. And if he has backed off the decision to lead a flat-out repeal of the health care law, I think he has made the right one, at least for political purposes. And in this case, political purposes could align with the common good.

I’d love to see the law repealed or declared unconstitutional. Five more states, including Indiana, now have joined 13 others in a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the law, based, in part, on its violation of the Tenth Amendment. (The powers the Constitution does not directly give to Congress are retained by the states and the people.)

Kirk could do his part by demanding a revisiting of the unconstitutional parts of the law (including the mandated purchase by Americans of health insurance). That would align him with the conservatives and, presumably, some moderates who have legitimate concerns about the stretching of the Constitution, and its delegation of interstate commerce powers, to the breaking point. Kirk could properly ask his Democratic opponent, Alexi Giannoulias, if he has ever heard of the Tenth Amendment and whether he thinks it should be repealed.

But, junking the entire law is politically unlikely. If Kirk wants to take the “moderate” road by suggesting that some parts of the law should be retained, he has to be more specific. That’s not an easy task in the face of a 2,000-page law that few people comprehend, even fewer have read, especially in its entirety.

Kirk, and Republicans, will have to do a better job of taking the law apart, piece-by-piece, explaining what’s in it and why it’s bad. Democrats were dishonest when they said Republicans had no plans of their own—a fabrication that can be dispensed with by spending just a few minutes on the Internet. But Republicans need to dissect the law in more detail, explaining the number of new boards, agencies, committees and bureaucracies necessary to do the new law’s bidding. They need to illustrate the law’s failings with real-life situations of how the law will negatively affect individual Americans—young and old, poor and middle class.
They need to say exactly what they would keep in the law. They can’t forget the immense popularity of some provisions, such as banning pre-existing conditions as a reason for denying someone health insurance. (By the way, Giannoulias’ campaign has asked Kirk how he would “tell parents that their children’s pre-existing conditions actually can’t be covered.” Well, actually, the law, because of its complexity and its passage without proper congressional and public vetting, failed to make sure that all children’s pre-existing conditions would be covered. That’s only one of the law’s failings that has to be fixed that Kirk could use to his advantage.)
Some commentary asserts that Kirk’s strategy is quite the opposite, that he’s planning to keep a low profile in the campaign, dodging media questions. I can understand the “invisible candidate” strategy, considering GOP distrust of media objectivity. But, in this state, Republicans can blow what appears to be a promising year by looking like they are going into hiding, as if they have, well, something to hide.

An energetic Kirk and Republican state ticket could return Illinois to its historic “swing state” if it doesn’t treat the large non-liberal majority in this state like a bunch of emotional dunces who don’t truly understand why they are angry. Kirk, if he handles it right, could turn himself into a national Republican spokesman for how the law should be fixed.
Conducting an intelligent campaign also might well serve the commonweal.

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