Coddling copperheads never has been my thing. On the other hand, I don't expect vipers to morph into poodles, which is why I'm bewildered by the outrage expressed by local scribblers over the Goldwater Institute's suing Governor Jan Brewer on the subject of Medicaid expansion.
The lawsuit argues that the governor's Medicaid plan, passed earlier this year via a bipartisan coalition of moderate Republicans and Democrats in the Arizona Legislature, violates the Arizona Constitution because it relies on a tax of local hospitals, which Brewer and the pro-Medicaid folks insist is, in reality, a simple fee.
The state constitution, as modified by voters in 1992, requires a two-thirds majority in both the state House and Senate to pass new taxes. And because the state's Medicaid expansion passed with mere majorities in both houses, all "monies collected pursuant to or spent from that assessment are illegal," according to the institute's complaint in Maricopa County Superior Court.
The sneers and jeers of the local punditocracy to news of this lawsuit have been loud and scabrous. Our paper of record — which has hailed Brewer and her moderate GOP allies in the Legislature (known derisively as RiNOs, "Republicans in Name Only") as heroes and heroines in passing Medicaid expansion — so far has published three editorials berating G.I. attorneys as ideological hacks, defenders of the rich, and persecutors of the poor.
Such venom suggests that said attorneys may have a successful argument going for them, one that might upset an infusion of federal cash into the local economy.
Because, to Brewer and her tribe, Medicaid expansion never has been about making sure the working poor in this state have access to healthcare.
I mean, do you really think Brewer or the Arizona Chamber of Commerce (a big supporter of the plan) gives a flip about putting 350,000 people in this state on the Medicaid rolls for humanitarian reasons?
Oh, hell no. Medicaid expansion is about federal dollars — an estimated $1.6 billion in the first full year of implementation — flowing into Arizona. The hospitals don't want to miss out on that bounty, which is why most are eager to pay any fee authorized, per the new law, by the head of the Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System.
Why did Brewer, heretofore an ardent foe of all things Obama, do a 180, push the expansion, and cause a Grand Canyon-size rift in the local GOP, with many Republicans denouncing her as a traitor and re-dubbing Obamacare as "Obrewercare"?
Was it her concern over her "legacy," which one generally can sum up by saying, "Senate Bill 1070"?
Did she suddenly grow a heart? The same woman who cut more than 140,000 people from the Medicaid rolls just two years ago?
I can't say I've ever crawled inside Brewer's skull, beating back the bats and cobwebs in the process. But the influence of Arizona "shadow governor" Chuck Coughlin, of the powerful HighGround consulting firm, had to be the preeminent force at work in turning Brewer.
In mid-2012, Coughlin (a.k.a. "Brewer's brain") and his fellow lobbyists already were assembling the coalition of hospitals and other interests that would work for Medicaid expansion.
In 2013, Coughlin was telling the media — while representing the Arizona Health Care Coalition — that "elections have consequences" (a line Brewer parroted) and that because of Obama's re-election, the people had spoken on the issue of Medicaid and Obamacare.
I would suggest there was more than a little self-interest involved in this.
Remember the aphorism "a rising tide lifts all boats"? In the case of Coughlin and Medicaid, this may be the case, though Coughlin's yacht doesn't quite compare to the dinghies clung to by Medicaid users.
One tantalizing prospect of a Goldwater Institute lawsuit is that all the players might be deposed, revealing the mostly crass motives at work behind the scenes of the Medicaid-expansion campaign.
That's not to say I want to see G.I. succeed in nullifying Medicaid expansion, but I don't fault it for bringing the suit.
After all, the 501c(3) nonprofit is called the Goldwater Institute. Not the Harry Truman Institute or the Lyndon Baines Johnson Institute.
And make no mistake: Goldwater himself was opposed to Medicare and Medicaid, as he was in principle to Social Security.
Quite famously, while running for the Republican presidential nomination in 1964, Goldwater suggested that Social Security be made voluntary.
"If a person can provide better for himself," he said of the program at his campaign's start, "let him do it."
Goldwater later tried to walk this back, contending that he really wanted to strengthen Social Security and that such suggestions were a means to that end. His campaign touted that he had voted in support of Social Security several times during his career in the U.S. Senate.
But there was no masking the disdain of a rich man — which Goldwater was — toward LBJ's Great Society and its War on Poverty.
Robert Alan Goldberg, Barry's best biographer by far, offers this impolitic Goldwater quote from the 1964 campaign trail:
"We are told that many people lack skills and cannot find jobs because they do not have an education . . .The fact is that most people who have no skill, have no education for the same reason — low intelligence or low ambition."
That was the real Barry Goldwater, the one who argued in his groundbreaking tome, The Conscience of a Conservative, that the welfare state was far more dangerous than full-bore communism.
"Welfarism," as Goldwater called it, reduced generosity to "a mechanical operation of the federal government."
Worse still, it robbed those on the receiving end of their self-worth.
State charity, Goldwater wrote, "transforms the individual from a dignified, industrious, self-reliant, spiritual being into a dependent animal creature."
There was "no avoiding this damage to character in the welfare state," Goldwater insisted, which is a fairly easy argument to make when you're the scion of a department-store fortune.
Or, for that matter, when you make big bucks working for the organization that bears Goldwater's name.
Medicaid and Medicare did not come about till 1965, after Johnson walloped Goldwater in the presidential race. But during the general election campaign, Goldwater once made a point of hopping on a plane in Arizona and flying into D.C. to vote "no" on the Senate version of what would become Medicare.
Actually, Goldwater's opposition to Social Security persisted throughout his career. In Goldberg's 1995 biography, titled simply Barry Goldwater, the author tells how Goldwater in his final term wanted to "advocate the repeal of Social Security," only to be talked out of it by his advisers.
When I contacted him for this column, Goldberg, a professor of history at the University of Utah, told me that despite Goldwater's outspoken, liberal-sounding pronouncements on gays in the military and on the Moral Majority during his retirement, Mr. Conservative would have stuck to his six-shooters on the issue now at hand.
"[Goldwater] would be against Obamacare, and he would be against any expansion of Social Security or Medicare or Medicaid," he said.
Goldwater was, of course, wrong. Government programs like these are the glue that keeps our society intact and social Darwinism at bay.
But the idea that the rich should rule and that government assistance is some inherent evil (unless it's bailing out wealthy Wall Street-ers, natch) are pillars of conservative thought. That the Goldwater Institute would protect these pillars seems as obvious as the ACLU's fighting for the Bill of Rights or Chuck Coughlin's making sure his bagel is well-buttered.