If you’ve been wondering lately who’s been writing the Republican playbook, I think I’ve found him. It’s none other than Lenny Dykstra.
Back in his baseball playing days, Dykstra was a tough as nails leadoff hitter famous for filling his cheeks with huge wads of tobacco and crashing into outfield walls. After his playing days were over, he wowed the world with his stock-picking acumen. Made millions. Drove fancy cars. Owned an $18 million mansion. He even had a sink that cost $50,000. (It’s true.)
And then, it all came tumbling down. He went bankrupt. His house was seized. He was indicted. And what did he do? He broke back into his old house … and stole his prized sink.
Back in November, a new breed of Republican governor was enjoying its own “wow” moment. Rick Snyder was the “one tough nerd” to get Michigan’s financial house in order. Scott Walker was about to take a blow torch to Wisconsin unions. Florida’s Rick Scott won perhaps the most coveted prize on the presidential election map. They were supposed to be the leading edge of the Republican revolution, finally doing what conservatives have long held Americans want their leaders to do: fundamentally recalibrate the way government operates in the public square, and disentangling it from the everyday lives of ordinary people.
But in Sunday’s Washington Post, Norman Ornstein of the right-leaning American Enterprise Institute took a moment to detail the woes these boy wonders have since encountered. Rick Snyder’s approval rating is at 33 percent. Scott Walker’s is 43 percent. Rick Scott: 29 percent. [Read the U.S. News Debate: Should Congress Raise the Debt Ceiling?]
Seven months ago they were the toast of the town. Now, milquetoast. What happened?
Well, as Ornstein describes it, the governors launched initiatives aimed at “cutting benefits for the poor and middle class while adding tax breaks for the rich” while also trying to get rid of collective bargaining. As you might imagine, that wasn’t very popular with a lot of people (for instance: the poor and middle class). And, shockingly, it hasn’t done much to balance their state budgets either. So now, according to Ornstein, “the only areas left for meaningful budget reductions are education, Medicaid, and prisons.”
Let’s see: Your approval numbers are in the tank, and all you’ve got left are gutting schools, letting out convicts, and taking healthcare away from disadvantaged kids. I’m guessing, as a re-election strategy, that leaves something to be desired.
In other words: fellas, it ain’t working. And what’s so surprising about all of this is that for some, it’s so surprising. Is it really so hard to figure out that one of the reasons government is its current size and shape is that people have needs that they want their government to try and meet? It doesn’t always work, of course. But frustration over government spending on programs that aren’t working isn’t the same thing as saying people no longer want good public schools. Understanding that distinction is the difference between doing the hard, more complicated work of reforming something that isn’t working as well as we would like, and becoming fixated on an ideological goal that doesn’t end up fixing anything at all.
Which brings me back to Mr. Dykstra and his beloved sink. Now, in fairness, those of us who have been consigned to using standard-issue sinks can only dream about the hydrological wonders of the $50k variety. Perhaps it dispensed nothing but delicious milkshakes. More likely: Even as his world was crashing down, Dykstra couldn’t take his eyes off the one thing he coveted the most. Now it looks like he’s going to prison.
Republicans may be in for a similar electoral fate. Instead of helping the people they were elected to serve, they’ve gone about ruthlessly pursuing an elusive conservative holy grail. Dismantling government—it’s the GOPs $50,000 sink. And they can’t take their eyes off of it even as their house burns down around them.
By: Anson Kaye, U. S. News and World Report, June 13, 2011
Florida Gov. Rick Scott is one of the most entertainingly shameless figures in American political life. In the 1990s, Scott headed Columbia/HCA Healthcare, the largest for-profit hospital in America. While Scott was running Columbia/HCA Healthcare, it got involved in a bit — okay, a lot — of fraud. As Forbes reported, the company “increased Medicare billings by exaggerating the seriousness of the illnesses they were treating. It also granted doctors partnerships in company hospitals as a kickback for the doctors referring patients to HCA. In addition, it gave doctors ‘loans’ that were never expected to be paid back, free rent, free office furniture, and free drugs from hospital pharmacies.”
The scale of the fraud was so immense that Columbia/HCA Healthcare ended up paying more than $2 billion (PDF) back to the federal government in the single largest fraud case in history. (The previous record holder? Drexel Burnham.) Scott resigned shortly before the judgment came down.
Today, Scott is enjoying a second act as governor of Florida. And, as Suzy Khimm reports, he doesn’t seem all that chastened. Before running for office, he turned his $62 million stake in Solantic, the urgent-care clinic chain he founded after resigning from Columbia/HCA Healthcare, over to a trust in his wife’s name. Solantic doesn’t take traditional Medicaid, but it does work with the private HMOs that, under a 2005 pilot program, were allowed to contract with Medicaid. And Scott is now pushing a bill that would expand that program across the state making those HMOs — the ones Solantic works with — the norm for Medicaid.
Asked about the apparent conflict of interest, Scott said, “If you look at everything that I want to accomplish in health care in Florida is basically what I’ve believed all my life. I believe in the principle that if you have more competition it will drive down the prices.” And I believe him. But he could have sold his stake in Solantic when he got into government. Since he didn’t, the fact remains that Scott is pushing a policy his family stands to profit from immensely . Which is, for Scott, real progress. In the 1990s, he made his money off single-payer health-care programs by cheating them. Today, he’s making his money off single-payer health-care programs by running them. No matter how you look at it, it’s a step up.
By: Ezra Klein, The Washington Post, March 25, 2011