Healthcare Reform Is a Victory for Conservatives, Not 'Progressives'

Assuming that the House progressives fold, and the healthcare reform legislation resembles the Senate's (and why wouldn't one assumes this), let's not mistake what this is: a victory for conservatives. As I've argued before, this legislation is better than no legislation (probably), and, at this point, we should take what's possible.

But we never should have reached this point. While I agree with Amanda Marcotte about the legislation (pass what you can), I'm far less sanguine about what this means. Amanda (italics mine):

If we want better legislation, we need better politicians. And if you think health care is a daunting task, then fighting for better politicians is going to defeat your patience at every turn. The netroots has only been around for like 6 or 7 years, and only really been a player for 4. Taking over a party takes longer than that, and that's all there is to it. I think there's a tendency to fight for scorched earth tactics designed to get a lot of results in a very short period of time, and a defeatism when that doesn't work.

The belief that rank-and-file activism never existed before 2004 is one reason why I don't identify as a 'netrooter', but as a rank-and-file Democrat who happens to blog. The problem is that this latest failure doesn't represent four years of defeat, but twenty-five. For several decades, the middle-class has been strangled slowly, and Democrats have either aided and abetted this strangulation, or been ineffectual to stop it. During this entire process, I watched, along with Digby (she's chronicled this the best), as a very similar progression of events played out to 1992-1993, with the additional frustration of knowing pretty much how this would turn out (again): history may not repeat itself, but it does rhyme.

Yes, healthcare is not a victory for the batshit lunatic misanthropes known as the Republican Party--and after so many of their victories, we should be thankful for that, I suppose. But, as Glenn Greenwald points out, this is a conservative victory:

I came across this amazingly revealing post from Ezra Klein, written on June 8, 2009, about the public option:

Most observers now think that some form of public plan will survive in the final bill. The question is what form of [public] plan? . . . . For most of you, this is the big one. The inclusion of a strong public insurance option has become, for most observers I know, the single most recognizable marker for victory. If the public plan exists, liberals have won. If it's eliminated, or neutered, then conservatives have triumphed.

Back in June -- when most people, according to Klein, believed the final bill would have a public option -- the progressive consensus was that the existence of the public option would single-handedly determine whether progressives won or lost (Klein himself wasn't necessarily adopting that view, only saying that "most of you" have done so). Yet now that the bill will have not merely a "neutered" public option, but no public option at all, the exact opposite decree is issued by the progressive establishment: this public-option-free health care bill is the single greatest achievement since LBJ or, perhaps, even FDR, rendering all progressive opposition to it immoral and insane (see here for a perfect example of this shift). What accounts for that reversal?

Answer: Nothing--it's not a victory, it's a defeat.

For those of us with a slightly longer political memory than the 'netroots', this, not the berserk Know-Nothingism* of the Palinist right, is the conservative playbook:

1) A problem is identified, such as healthcare.

2) Conservatives (in this case, Baucus, Bayh, Nelson, Snowe, and Grassley) propose a 'solution.'

3) The solution is very minimalist.

4) The solution also functions as a wealth transfer from the middle class to wealthy individuals and/or corporations.

5) The poor are helped--which is fine with conservatives, as this reinforces the the perception** that the Democrats are a party that helps the poor and the wealthy, but mostly ignores the middle class.

This is how conservatives did things, until Democrats completely collapsed, and were unable to stand against even the utter lunacy promulgated by the Uruk-Hai wing of the Republican Party (which has now completely taken over the party).

So, is this legislation an improvement? Sure. But this is no victory. Which brings me to another point of disagreement with Amanda: I am far less sanguine about supporting Congressional*** Democrats in 2010 than she is. Since I, along with the 'netroots' don't have a lot of money (although we are able to influence a few races), all I have (as is the case with most Democrats) is my vote. I'm not going to vote for the Uruk-Hai, so that leaves either supporting current Democratic office holders (I'm not including those trying to unseat the Uruk-Hai), or not voting (and letting Democrats know this). As I've laid out elsewhere, I don't see how anything changes until Democrats, including the 'good ones', know fear, until they can go to their leadership and say, "I don't fucking care what Ben Nelson and the rest of the conservatives want, I need this, or I'm dead." Wanting to do the right thing isn't enough of an incentive.

We've been trying the 'vote in good Democrats in primaries' strategy for a long time, and, even when it does work, too often they turn into not-so-good Democrats--and many, if not most, of the Blue Dogs are too entrenched to face serious primary opposition. Hope isn't a strategy.

I suppose this makes me the only person (I haven't found any others), who believes in reluctantly supporting this bill, but seriously considering not supporting congressional Democrats in 2010.

*Palinism is an insult to Know-Nothings who knew more than Palinists do (even if they were appalling).

**I typically dislike the misuse of the word perception, which connotes clarity and accuracy, as a synonym for 'belief.' In this case, though, I think it applies.

***As I've noted elsewhere, there's no reason to not vote at all--surely, there are offices or referenda that matter (I'm sure somewhere there's a theopolitical conservative trying to outlaw TEH GAY!).

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What prevents the huge number of people who would like a public option (or even a single-payer plan) from going the co-op route and creating a plan that offers the kind of health insurance envisioned for the public option? Alterantively, what's the perceived advantage of a public option?

By bob koepp (not verified) on 26 Dec 2009 #permalink

This wasn't really a "fight" in any realistic sense. Progressives made themselves irrelevant to the whole process by making it clear they weren't going to use the one trump card they had, which was there ability to kill the bill if their demands weren't complied with. They made themselves powerless by making an essentially unconditional commitment to vote for whatever was served up. Whatever their intentions in doing so, in doing so they completely undermined whatever negotiating power they had.

Then again, I really question whether any of these people are actually "progressives". Many of them are, despite their public ostentations, completely okay with "reform" that reinforces existing patterns of power and wealth. They were probably never motivated to "fight" very much in the first place.

By Tyler DiPietro (not verified) on 26 Dec 2009 #permalink

Incidentally, this whole debacle gives one more reason that I'm no longer a "progressive". I've become a defeatist with left-wing opinions. Any agenda of reforming the American corporatocracy is basically hopeless.

By Tyler DiPietro (not verified) on 26 Dec 2009 #permalink

these little fools use science to destroy every mystery in the universeâ¦but not this one!!!,40909.0.html

By deadlyskeptic (not verified) on 26 Dec 2009 #permalink

I reluctantly agree with Tyler. What did it for me was Obama selling us out to the insurance parasites *last Feb. through June* in his not so secret meetings with the parasites. Why didn't Obama fight for the public option? Why was he so removed from the entire debate? Because he traded the public option -- and, thus, the entire point of reform -- from the get go. The deal was done long before the tea-baggers got all frothy on us. Everything since June has just been a macabre side show, in which Obama of course had little interest. Obama is a shrewd low-life liar, a deceitful putz, a traitor to the people who got him elected. The thing about the scorned, different from people angered in other ways, is that they do not forget, *ever*. I suppose Obama, being rather smart, has already taken that into account in his cold, sociopathic calculations. Too bad we of sound mind and at least minimal rational capacity are not a lot more numerous. Sigh.

murison -President Obama is exactly who he ran as. He ran as an American centrist. The few on the Left in America did not support him. Liberals did out of fear,rationalizing their choice by pointing to Obama's rhetoric of change. They support this health care reform legislation for the same reason, fear. Progressives should be screaming to kill this bill. Force President Obama to come to them. Force the Senate to kill the Tyranny of the Few that the filibuster has become. You know call for real change. Alas, they are too full of fear to do such things.

By ponderingfool (not verified) on 28 Dec 2009 #permalink

This bill is hardly a 'victory' for conservatives. It is more a matter of it not being as much of a defeat as it could have been, given the results of the 2008 election. Both bills (House and Senate versions) still involve a tremendous amount of new government spending in the form of greatly expanded Medicaid enrollment and subsidies to lower and middle income people that don't qualify for Medicaid. These are things that will be all but impossible to undo once they kick in and people start receiving those benefits.

It won't matter what happens to the budgets of states that already have a hard time paying for Medicaid as it is. (Well, except for those few states with Senators that were wavering on whether they would vote for it.) It won't matter how much in new federal taxes are required to pay for these programs when the projections of 'deficit neutrality' inevitably fail. It won't matter how many jobs are lost or fail to be created by the mandates on smaller businesses. It won't matter how much innovation is limited by the taxes on medical device manufacturers. It won't matter that medical costs will continue to rise. The only thing that will matter is that some people are getting something they need from the government that they weren't getting before. The cynic in me thinks that this is what the Democratic leadership is counting on. More people dependent on the government that will vote to keep receiving those benefits.

So, there is one thing in progressives are saying about this legislation that I tend to agree with. That the Democratic leadership doesn't particularly care if the bill is 'progressive' as long as it passes.

Nixon made a rather far-reaching attempt at comprehensive health-care reform around 1971. It was defeated by the left, of course, for not being progressive enough.

By william e emba (not verified) on 28 Dec 2009 #permalink