You bet all our lives

Nobody remembers Leonard, Arthur, Julius, Milton and Herbert, but most of us recall Chico, Harpo, Groucho, Gummo and Zeppo — the first three at least. On this day in 1890, Julius “Groucho” Marx was born. The Marx Brothers left a comedic legacy perhaps unparalleled by any other family of funnymen.

Interestingly, Groucho also left a considerable political legacy. While much of that legacy consists of sardonic quips and witty repartee, the third surviving son of Sam and Minnie Marx made a very serious impression on the notoriously paranoid director of the FBI, J. Edgar Hoover.

A confidential FBI report dated Dec. 1, 1953, states, “Rank and file member of Communist Party (CP) recently remarked to confidential informant that (sic) Graucho Marx contributes heavily to CP…”

The first thing that stands out is the fact that the author of the report had prepared it so carefully as to repeatedly misspell “Groucho.” Given that the target of this research had been a major film star for more than 20 years when the report was written, virtually all other contents lack any gravity that they might have otherwise had.

While clarifying that the allegation could not be independently substantiated, the 10-page document goes on to outline several instances where Groucho made remarks or was present at meetings that might be considered subversive or betraying communist sympathies. It also contains several excerpts from communist publications like this one from the May 23, 1934 edition of The Daily Worker: “Groucho never forgot his (working class) origin — and his nonsense contains, as many have felt, considerable satire and passionate thrusts at contemporary society.”

Apparently, to be the witty, politically liberal son of a Jewish New York City tailor equated to “Marxism” of an entirely different sort. And heaven help you if someone you don’t know prints a third-hand characterization about you in an underground newspaper.

Even so, Groucho (and the characters he played) remained a source of incisive social and political commentary. Decades after his 1977 death, many of his more famous quips seem as fresh as the morning headlines.

In watching Congressional wacko Rep. Ted Cruz’s near celebratory mood at having led the nation into federal government shutdown, we recall Groucho’s line: “Why should I care about posterity? What’s posterity ever done for me?”

The sad fact is that Cruz and the others on the extremes of the American political spectrum are clearly detached from the magnitude of their actions and the long-term consequences that will unfold, should they not be interdicted.

In their blind obsession to thwart implementation of the Affordable Health Care Act, Congressional Republicans have completely ignored the most obvious position of future strength: If Obamacare is the death knell for American medical coverage, there’s really only one way to prove it — let it happen.

If this calamity were to take place, it wouldn’t be without predictable boundaries. Under the current “system,” somewhere between 20 and 30 million Americans don’t have health insurance. The vast majority of Americans have insurance through their workplace or are covered by another government program. That won’t change. In the worst case, something under 17 million Americans would not have coverage — still a net gain. Under the same doomsday scenario, costs for the rest of us could rise — markedly by a few radical estimates — although now that the rates are being published, we see that they are more attractive than first anticipated.

In short, if Obamacare opponents really want to make their help, they could take what was passed by both houses of Congress, upheld by the Supreme Court and confirmed in a presidential election and fix the problem areas. But it is apparently easier to continue hating the whole thing at the expense of the entire country.

Which leads us to another of Groucho’s prescient witticisms, “Politics is the art of looking for trouble, finding it everywhere, diagnosing it incorrectly, and applying the wrong remedies.”