(This is going to be the first part of a long series that I’m gonna post on my personal ideas on how The Left can get through this current crisis of leadership and strategic vision. It’s long, and will be a series, but have patience…it’s more than worth the read..at least, I hope so.)
A football analogy to begin this:
Enjoying the most recent success of the New Orleans Saints (only temporarily derailed last Saturday night by the Cowboys, who finally decided to show up and play for a change in December…was it something Lisa Ann dropped in Tony Romo’s….Gatorade??) reminded me of some of the bad not-so-old days during the Jim Mora (Sr.) era, when the team would basically play a solid game only to lose in the end due to Mora’s tight-assed playcalling. He called it “playing not to lose”…as in, not taking shots to bury opposing teams, relying on the old standard of defense and running between the tackles…and generally being the ultraconservative Mora was. It worked pretty well…until big game/playoff time, when team after team would take advantage of such constricted playcalling to rally and break the Whodats’ hearts time and time again. And every single time after such a loss,. Mora would defend his actions with the same tired approach of “When you are playing not to lose, you are playing to win.” Ahhh, right, Coach…which is why you are celebrating the victory…not.
It also remnds me of a local sports journalist in my neck of the woods named Kevin Foote, who writes for the Lafayette Daily Advertiser ; he used to be for a time the assigned beat reporter for the Saints. He, being mostly your typical South Louisiana right-winger, just loved Mora and his “run-first” philosophy; and it carried even into the early years of the Sean Payton era: during the 2006 NFC Championship game against the ultimate champions Chicago Bears, Foote, while live blogging the game for the Advertiser , was going nearly apoplexic over the fact that Payton wasn’t running the football enough for his (Foote’s) pleasure. Never mind the fact that Payton had led the Saints to the freakin’ championship game, further than any other coach had lead the damn team, through the reliance on Drew Brees’ arm and Reggie Bush’s (then healthy) fleet feet; for all that Foote cared, they should have hired Lou Holtz and ran the Wishbone or the Veer. After diehard Whodats raised serious hell about Foote’s…ummm..biases, he was reassigned to cover high school sports…now, they use AP and Gannet reporters to cover the Saints.
The point of all this?? The mentality of “runthefootballrunthefootballrunthefootbalRUNTHEFOOTBALL!!!!!” is so deeply hotwired into the mentality of certain journalists and “analysts” that it tends to cloud their analysis of what is really going on…namely that while having a nice power running game certainly helps your team in certain situations (killing the clock, resting your defense, getting around bad weather/sloppy fields), it sometimes tends to ignore the basic fact that most games are ultimately won not on the ground, but through the air…and that the ability to throw the football might be as, if not even more, important to winning as the run (and special team play). Remember, it was Ben Rostlesburger chunking it to Santonio Holmes and Hines Ward that ultimately got the Steelers home this last Super Bowl (all the notions of “running team” aside); and it was the passing game (including David Tyree’s acrobatic catch on 4th-and-whatever) that ultimately enabled the New York Football Giants to pull the upset of New England’s “Perfect Team” two years before.
So…what in all hell does this have to do with the byline of this post, you say?? Patience, Grasshopper…work with me here.
Right now, the port side of the political spectrum here in the United States of America is essentially in total chaos and stunned horrific aghast over what should have been one of their proudest moments: the first ever President of color getting a key plank of his administration through a massive stumbling block of resistance by a recalicant and isolated and increasingly despised minority bent on revenge.
It would have been so, too…if the health care reform package hadn’t been hijacked by the usual corporate interests and their sycophants in Congress and Pnesident Barack Hussein Obama”s own party (the Democratic Party) and transformed from a nominally progressive package (the version that passed the House) to the Big Insura/Big Pharma Forced Individual Mandate equivalent of the Great Wall Street Swindle…..errrrr….Bailout (the one that just cleared “cloture” by the skin of its 60 vote teeth, with NO Republican support), only slightly sweetened with the NutraSweet of “subsidies” ..
And it would be even more of success had it not been the President himself who, after promising during his campaign that he would absolutely shake up the system and drive the moneychangers from the Temple; has seemed to have done perfect 180-degree spin and is now happly endorsing the very policies he pretended to oppose before he won the Presidency.
Now, the Prez will say that he was simply pushed to where he is now by the gangstas of the “ConservaDems” in the US Senate (namely, folk like Senate Banking Committee Chair Max Baucus (D-MT), Homeland Security Committee Chair Joe Lieberman (I-CT), and other prominent “centrist” CorporoDems like Mary Landrieu (LA) and Ben Nelson (NE), who insisted that given united and universal Republican opposition to the bill as so much “soicialism” and invitation to empower “death panels” to “kill Grandma” (and their own plans to pad their pockets with Big Insura/Big Pharma largeese..and, in Nelson’s own case, to placate the National Right-to-Life Committee and the Catholic Bishops’ assault on the Roe vs. Wade landmark Supreme Court ruling allowing women the right to choose abortion as a means of terminating pregnancy), that the bill just had to be watered down to make it past the 60 vote firewall to avoid a GOP filibuster.
Yeah, he will say that…but considering the smack that is being run by his own chief of staff, Rahm Emmanuel (who used to be a Democratic congressman who wielded the hammer in favor of such “centrists” against “progressives” who attempted to oppose such legislation on grounds of principle) about how only “the left of the left” would put “the perfect” ahead of passing a “good bill”, it would be more than acceptable to question that analysis and say that this monstrosity was what Obama wanted all along. And if you add the basic fact that Obama has been enabling the likes of Lieberman even after Holy Joe got run out of the Democratic Party by Connecticut Dems (he won his reelection by switching to his own party (Connecticut for Lieberman) and openly courting Republican votes)…and even after he openly campaigned for Obama’s OPPONENT (John McCain) last presidential election and was even on the cusp of being JohnnyMac’s running mate, only to be repealed by the Rep base, who ultimately imposed Sister Sarah of Wasilla)…well, your suspicions about Prez O siding with the Neoliberal Soft Right and playing the Left for fools would be even more substaniated. (The secret deals with Billy Tauzin and the Big Pharma lobbyists to derail attempts to control costs don’t help, either.)
All of this has split what is known and loved as “Liberal Blogistan” (aka, the Netroots) wide-ass open, the way a nutcracker whacks pecans. On one side, are the likes of Ezra Klein of Talking Points Memo, Matt Yglesias, and Nate Silver of the stat site Fivethirtyeight.com who insist that the glass is half full and that even with the forced mandate without controls and the Big Insura raid, the increased coverage for health care and the subsidies make this bill better than passing notheng…and besides, we can’t attack our Fearless Leader since he’s simply making the best out of a bad situation brought upon by 8 years of George W. Bush. (No relation to Reggie, of course.).
On the other side, are the Fighting Liberal Brigade, featuring Jane Hamsher of firedoglake.com, MoveOn.org, John Amato of CrooksandLiars.com, Digby over at Hullaballoo, John Avarosis of AmericaBlog.com, and Susie Madrak of both C&R and her own blog Surburban Guerilla, who insist that “progressives” should NOT take this rejection sitting down, and should fight like hell in the House to restore progressivity to the bill…mostly meaning either a retention of the vaunted “public option” government plan that would compete with the private plans to offer affordable health care and extend covereage to those without it, or a repeal of the hated “forced individual mandate”. The latter is also a big fan of having the Senate rewrite the bill through “reconciliation”, which would require only a simple majority vote of 50 plus Vice President Biden, to restore the more progressive aspects of the bill.
Problem for them is that on the outsides looking in are the majority of grass roots liberals (now joined by reproductive rights-backing feminists jolted by the Stupak/Nelson Amendments directly affecting abortion rights and reproductive health coverate for women) are so fed up with the whole process and Obama’s complicity, if not total collusion, in this mass swindle that they would just prefer that the whole process be yanked and started afresh next year. “Kill the Bill!!” may have started as a gimmich sloagan for the Hard Right Teabaggers, but for not a few dissenters of the Left, it’s become their rallying cry, too. More than likely, though, there is simply too much institutional backing behind this bill for it to fail; and House “progressives” have shown that they simply don’t have either the votes or the power to offer any substitutes…and Rahm could simply either buy them off with promises of pork and earmarks or threaten their reelection coffers if they raised a peep of protest.
So…now we come to Stage 2 of The Great Progressive/Liberal Reaction: past the shock of betrayal and deceit, now comes the Blame Game.
For the Loyalists, the focus for the anger would go right to the ConservaDems (Lieberman, Baucus, Nelson, Kent Conrad (SD), Landrieu, et. al.) for allowing themselves to be prostituted by Big Insura and tank meaningful reform to their beck and call; as well as the recalicant Republicans powered by the massive Astroturfing of Teabagger protests by the same health insurance companies. Primarying those traitors and replacing them with “more and better Democrats” is the default position for them.
There is a current of thought, though, that is rapidly taking over the netroots (especially in the non-A-listers) that perhaps the fire should be leveled much more at Obama himself for breaking his promises and deceiving everyone into thinking he was a true “progressive” rather than the DLC shill he was all along. Leading that charge would be, of course, the Hillary Clinton groupies who originally rallied around the “PUMA” (Party Unity, My ASS) label, and who are now crowing how they were the only ones who saw this coming from the very beginning, and that this proves that the “Obamabots” were just lemmings who allowed their banner wearer to “steal” away the 2008 nomination from the “rightful” progressive candidate. (Here’s an example of “Hillary was robbed” conspiracy theory connected to the HCRFail that is making the rounds of the blogosphere currently.) Of course, all this ignores that Hillary was as much a DLC candidate as Obama was, that more than likely, she would have travelled the same path as her husband Bill in the art of “triangulation” and punking the Left (though, as a woman, she probably would have done it with a bit different style), and that she gave as much vitrol as she got from “misogynistic” Obamabots (see Larry Johnston and “No Quarters”‘s incancessant personal smears on both Obama and his wife, and Geraldine Ferraro’s historic outburst that Obama was simply playing “the race card” in using his Blackness to assault Hillary and working-class White women). But, anger and rage can cloud a lot of folk.
A more thoughtful and less partisan variant of the above, however, does exist…it comes mostly from people of the disaffected Left whom either have, like the PUMA’s, rejected Obama as a charlatan masquerading as a “progressive”…but engender a far more radical and far more institutional critique of not only Obama, but the Democratic Party’s role as part of the institution of corporate power in general. One of the better analysis comes from Bruce Dixon of the Black Leftist journal Black Agenda Report, which leaves no doubt on how they see Obama regarding his playing of Black America, but, unlike the PUMA’s and the Loyalists, are willing to take the next level and endorse far more fundamental change.
Like the Obama campaign itself, the public option was never more than a brand. It was a container designed to fit our hopes and dreams just well enough and just long enough to close the deal, an empty wrapper, with little or no candy inside. Our so-called “progressives” in Congress knew all along it was a fraud, but they played along. When “progressive” Democrats were drawing lines in the sand and “fighting for the public option” all spring and summer and fall, they told us it was this humungous public entity that would be open to hundreds of millions, to anybody wanting an alternative to private insurance, and that it would compete with and force the price of private insurance downward. Howard Dean said we should think of the public option as Medicare, only for everybody.
This kind of “public option” was a transparent hoax, as the wonderful blog of PNHP, Physicians for a National Health Plan pointed out last spring. A great candy wrapper.
When the House bill finally passed, and when the outlines of the Senate bill began to emerge, the same progressive congresspeople and commentators told us the public option they had lost was such an itty bitty thing that it didn’t matter much, and anyhow they were going to expand Medicare, so wasn’t that a “public option,” only better? Of course their version of expanding Medicare was not free medical care with dignity. It would allow only those with very low incomes, no other insurance and no other choices to “buy into” a means-tested, ghettoized version of Medicare. Essentially, since they had cheapened their own brand, the “public option,” beyond redemption they sought to confuse it in the public mind with Medicare, which had more credibility.
Extending Medicare would be a great idea. But it’s not Medicare if you have to buy into it, or if you are only qualified by your income being low enough. Adding that group to the Medicare pool, a group that tends to be sicker and poorer, would unbalance and destabilize Medicare, while leaving the healthiest and best and most profitable people to the private insurers. Furthermore, as Dr. Steffie Woolhandler of PNHP points out, this is a place where incrementalism makes it harder to get results, not easier. Disrupting the Medicare and private markets to admit people 55 and over this year, 50 and under five years or some time later, are all separate disruptions. It would be cheaper and easier to do it once. But Medicare, absent the Bush-era partial privatizations, really IS single payer, and therefore was never on the table. That would be too much like real candy, when our betters never intended to serve us more than the wrapper. The brand. (excerpted from here )
Then, you have the professional health care radicals, such as Kip Sullivan of Physicans for a National Health Program, who simply gawked at the way in which the “public option” (later reduced to the “Medicare buy-in”) was methodically throttled down and sliced and diced into pieces in spite of White House and “progressive” Democratic claims of support, while programs like universal single payer and “Medicare for All” which would have far more directly met the challenge (but would have directly threatened the Holy Grail of private profits and privatized health care) were simply ignored with the wringing of hands. Sullivan’s seminal essay for PNHP on the “bait and switch” tactics of how the “public option” was originally concieved, how it morphed into the complex clusterfuck as it moved through the House, and how it ultimately was sliced to death in the Senate appears here . Sullivan’s warnings back in June that the House plan — the one that was originally introduced, which ultimately was shredded to its core before it even passed the House by both the Blue Dog conservatives (aka, House “centrists”) and the Obama Adminstation’s crooked and cooked back door deals with Big Pharma — would even then be woefully inadequate for the task at hand seem like a decade ago in context [bracket portions added by me for emphasis] :
The first mistake was to think that a “public option” that merely took over a large chunk of the non-elderly market (as opposed to one that took over the entire market) could substantially reduce health care costs and thereby make universal coverage politically feasible. Any proposal that leaves in place a multiple-payer system — even a multiple-payer system with a large government-run program in the middle of it — is going to save very little money. Even if Hacker’s original Health Care for America Plan had taken over half the non-elderly market and then reached homeostasis (something Hacker swore up and down it would do), the savings would have been relatively small. The reason for that is twofold. First, any insurance program, public or private, that has to compete with other insurers is going to have overhead costs substantially higher than Medicare’s. (It is precisely because Medicare is a single-payer program that its overhead costs are low.) Second, the multiple-payer system Hacker would leave in place would continue to impose unnecessarily large overhead costs on providers.
The second mistake the “public option” movement made was to think the insurance industry and the right wing would treat a “public option” more gently than a single-payer. Conservatives have a long history of treating small incremental proposals such as “comparative effectiveness research” as the equivalent of “a government takeover of the health care system.” It should have been no surprise to anyone that conservatives would shriek “socialism!” at the sight of the “public option,” even the mouse model proposed by the [liberal/"progressive"] Democrats.
The bait-and-switch strategy adopted by the “public option” movement has put the [liberal/"progressive"] Democrats in a terrible quandary. Seduced by the false advertising about the potency of the “public option” to lower costs, [liberal/"progressive"] Democrats have raised public expectations for reform to unprecedented levels. Failing to meet those expectations during the 2009 session of Congress, which is inevitable if the [liberal/"progressive"] Democrats continue to promote legislation like the bills released in June, is going to have unpleasant consequences. Is there no way out of this quandary?
In short, from a political standpoint, the strategy of appeasing the “center” to sell a liberal/”progressive” policy in the face of right-wing hysteria turned out as it always has and always will: a collosal failure, since there simply weren’t enough committed progressives or liberals in power to counterbalance the monolith of corporate “centrists”, let alone the Teabagger-dominated GOP Right…and no moral lectures, no fire-breathing “Special Comments” of Keith Olbermann or painstaking analysis/Schoolhouse Rock skits of Rachel Maddow would be nearly enough to budge the gravy train of corporate Dems dependent on Big Insura contributions for their political survival. Especially if they had the full support of the White House for political cover.
Indeed, the result of such horrendous duplicity and collusion (and the complimentary strategy of the Repubs of washing their hands of the process and faking opposition to the “forced mandate” on ideological grounds to please the Teabagger/Birther crowd) is that the “progressive” Democrats are now forced to basically own the resulting monstrosity of a bill all to themselves, only to be scapegoated either for creating the whole thing or voting against “the best chance for reforn in a generation”. Meanwhile, the GOP can simply sit back and wait for the inevitable backlash once the actual impact kicks in of using Big Guviment to force middle- and working-class consumers to buy private health insurance that doesn’t even come close to affordability under threat of fine, jail, or garnishment by the hated IRS, supplemented by “subsidies” that don’t even come close to bridging the affordability gap and probably will be greatly truncated if not removed entirely in the name of defecit reduction or “entitlement reform” (meaning the continuing privatization of Social Security and Medicare through Health Savings Accounts and Medicare Advantage, which is the next great “centrist” campaign).
And remember, all this is from Obama and the Dem “establishment”, not the Newt Gingrich/Sarah Palin/Michelle Bachmann Republicans, who will more than likely exploit the breach to revive old Reaganisms about “unleahing the free market” and restoring “freedom” and “choice” from the evil eyes of “socialized government” and the undeserving, nonproductive, “shiftless” lazy deadbeats represented in their minds and attack ads and FOX News/Glenn Beck/Rush Limbaugh-led jeremiads by poor Blacks, (“gangsta thugs”), Latin@s (“illegal aliens”), poor women (“baby killing sluts/whores led by radical ‘feminazis’)…all empowered by the Great ACORN Leftist/Muslim/Homosexual Conspiracy to destroy (White) Christian America by demography.
The main hope for Obama and the “centrists” is that either the threat of a Sarah Palin/Dick Cheney/Glenn Beck/Orly Taitz Presidency/Congress in 2010 /2012 having The Button in their hands and making even the extremism and right-wing lunacy of the Dubya-Tom DeLay-David Vitter years sound moderate in comparison keeps enough of the liberal/progressive “base” of the Dem party in line to settle for DLC “moderation” as a safety valve…or that the more whacked out wing of the Teabaggers and Brithers and Nativists so overwhelm the GOP (or split it wide open through a third party effort) so that enough “moderate” Repubs run to the Dems in total disgust to make up for the loss of the liberals. Considering that most polls don’t take the Repubs too kindly, with ratings sliding into the low 20′s favorables (and Palin’s unfavorable ratings remaining in the upper 50′s), they might be right…but the game of the GOP has always been to ignore the ratings and the “liberal” media and use Fixed Noise, Limbaugh, and Beck (and the Teabagger and Christian Right local networks that has served the Right well during the Reagan years) to bypass the polls and make their own reality. With the threatened retraction of the Dem popular base, it does give them much more of a chance.
And, it just might be that the Dem leadership (especially the ConservaDems and Rahm Emanuel and the DLC 2.0 political jocks) and their financial pimps really don’t care if the Repubs do take over for a while…all the better to punk the liberals and regain the hegemony they have enjoyed in the party since Biubba Clinton took over and remake the Dems in their own corporatist image. The notion of a sweet lobbyist job awaiting them when they leave isn’t hurting their hearts, either…Republicans were able to take over in 1994 in large part because of a round of conservative Democratic retirements in “swing districts”.
What does all this mean for those of us on the Left who wish to fight all this??? That’ll be my subject for Part 2. To come soon….
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