Gerry Canavan

the smartest kid on earth

Health Care Watch (Vermont Is Angry and So Am I)

with 12 comments

Potentially seismic news tonight as Bernie Sanders (backing me up on reconciliation) now says he currently can’t support the health care bill. This comes amidst his fellow Vermonter, Howard Dean, continuing to argue that the bill in its current form is worse than nothing and Joe Lieberman, history’s most absurd villain, actually threatening to join the GOP.

Kevin Drum, Steve Benen, Scott Lemieux, Think Progress, and Nate Silver all say Dean is wrong, and on the policy merits he probably is—I don’t think the bill is actually worse than nothing and if I were in the Senate I’d have to swallow my rage and vote for it. But politically I just don’t know; continuing to be “responsible” and “realistic” when even our allies habitually betray us is starting to look like a mug’s game. (I think the official term for the progressive caucus is “useful idiots.”) Why shouldn’t Obama and Reid have to beg for Bernie’s support? Why should only centrist tantrums count?

Robert Gibbs says Howard Dean is being irrational, and Jane is absolutely right: he didn’t say anything like that about Holy Joe, even when it was actually true. Why not? Russ Feingold says it’s because the Liebermanized bill is what the White House has really wanted all along. If that’s so, they’re the only ones; without a public option support for health care tanks, with good reason to think (as Kos does) that the individual mandate (however necessary) will prove politically toxic without a public option on the table.

Chris Bowers says there are no more happy endings. Probably not.

12 Responses

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  1. […] a comment » Nate Silver wants to convince you that in spite of everything the health care bill really is a good idea. A slightly longer version of the elevator pitch. So, […]

  2. Kevin Drum, Steve Benen, Scott Lemieux, Think Progress, and Nate Silver all say Dean is wrong, and on the policy merits he probably is

    Should’ve stopped there. Nothing else matters, and this statement alone answers most of the rest of your questions. At this point, every day of additional delay threatens the prospects of the entire bill.

    Maybe Gibbs didn’t say that Lieberman is irrational because he actually needs Lieberman’s vote, and not Dean’s.

    Reading various comments around the internet, the “kill the bill” arguments are full of anti-intellectual gibberish and reflect extreme levels of policy ignorance.

    A key feature of capitalism in America is the complete insulation of elites from the violence the system inflicts against the poor. This is illustrated well in today’s health care debate; the actual human suffering and death caused by our broken health care system is invisible to people like Joe Lieberman, who is therefore free to consider health care reform as a purely abstract game centered around revenge against his enemies. To bring up the fact that people are actually dying over this is considered unspeakably rude—a total breach of decorum.

    This is exactly what’s going on with the netroots. Killing this bill meant killing Americans when it was Lieberman who was poised to do it, and it means the same thing when it’s Dean and others who encourage it. This isn’t a game.

    Shankar D

    December 17, 2009 at 1:19 am

  3. Which is why everybody knows Bernie Sanders will vote for it (at least for cloture) in the end. Which is why we can’t win this fight: they have the tactical advantage of sociopathic indifference.

    gerrycanavan

    December 17, 2009 at 1:23 am

  4. Yes, I had that in mind, but the jury is out on Bernie.

    Incidentally, re: Kos’ argument that this will be politically untenable, Massachusetts has an individual mandate and no public option, and only 11% of the population wants to repeal health care reform.

    Shankar D

    December 17, 2009 at 1:55 am

  5. democrats are being forced to make this stupid choice between political and moral failure or letting the center-right win not because liberals ‘care’ more, but because the democratic party as a whole jumped at the chance to fail from the very beginning of this game. and that’s because, as everyone knows but few are willing to act as if true, enough of the democrats are bought and paid for that the conservative wing has the initiative (a group that, based on available evidence, includes the white house).

    so now everyone gets to play their assigned roles: the right-wing democrats can pretend not to gloat, the liberals can make a big show of swallowing their pride with the consolation of ‘doing the right thing,’ and the progressives can be angry suckers.

    i think what progressives have learned from this is

    a) they/we need to fight tooth and nail for everything all the time. single payer, for example, should not have been conceded until the last possible moment.

    and following from that

    b) the democratic party is not an ally, but the target of progressive activity — progressives should not think of themselves as on the left side of the democratic party against the republicans, but as a kind of para-party — the people’s representative acting as a check on the democratic party.

    it’s only because of actions taken according to those 2 principles that the hope of structural reform lasted as long as it did. right now looks like an inevitable loss and losing looks like a noble moral act of martyrdom because the democratic party leadership planned on ‘losing’ 6 moves ago. the progressives just lost, and in my opinion can’t afford to console ourselves with inevitability narratives.

    Vu

    December 17, 2009 at 2:03 am

  6. Wow, that Massachusetts number is very low. And isn’t the penalty for not having insurance is much steeper there than in the national bill?

    Kos’s been talking about Massachusetts a lot tonight on Twitter, actually, mostly drawing stats from this study:

    http://www.pnhp.org/news/2009/february/massachusetts_plan_.php

    (PNHP wants single payer.) There’s some pretty striking claims in there, including that the Mass. mandate system hasn’t done all that much to cut costs. (Premiums have still jumped up 9.4%.)

    On the other hand, it looks like they went up by double digits in Oregon over the same period. So maybe that’s a successful result in context.

    This is very much in-the-weeds policy stuff on which I just don’t have expertise and have to defer to the experts — and they seem by and large to against people like Jane Hamsher and Markos regarding the acceptability and efficacy of this bill in its current form. Like I said, I’d vote for it. I don’t see how you couldn’t.

    PS: If Bernie singlehandedly brings down health care reform I owe you a Coke.

    gerrycanavan

    December 17, 2009 at 2:20 am

  7. b) the democratic party is not an ally, but the target of progressive activity — progressives should not think of themselves as on the left side of the democratic party against the republicans, but as a kind of para-party — the people’s representative acting as a check on the democratic party.

    I don’t see how this gets us any distance from the “stupid choice between political and moral failure or letting the center-right win.” There are only two parties in America and there will only ever be two parties in America as long as we have our current Constitution. And we know the Republicans are wholly opposed to everything we want.

    Given those realities, won’t the political-moral impetus for the non-sociopathic Left *always* be to give in to the centrist Democrats in the end? It’s the same double bind. How exactly does adopting a more oppositional self-understanding save us from having, in the end, to compromise “the good” in the name of “slightly better than what we have now”?

    Or is the idea to just get enough of our representatives voted out of Congress so the burden of responsibility no longer falls on our shoulders?

    gerrycanavan

    December 17, 2009 at 2:29 am

  8. “Given those realities, won’t the political-moral impetus for the non-sociopathic Left *always* be to give in to the centrist Democrats in the end?”

    if you believe this there is no point in being a progressive at all. you have to accept the role of court jester. “adopting a more oppositional self-understanding” is only useful if it’s put in practice, i.e. not caving to democrat BS about how they’re destined to lose so why bother trying. remember this defeatist ‘realism’ was argued consistently from the very beginning of the debate. but a few (like pelosi, reid, sanders) listened to their base because that base was noisy and organized enough.

    this bill isn’t just ‘slightly better than we have now’ — it is, as many progressives have been arguing, a successful power grab by the insurance companies. it concentrates their power even further and will make future structural reforms more painful. something similar to the current bill would have appeared even if there were no progressive movement at all (i.e. just establishment democrats and republicans). health reform was and is an economic necessity, not just someone’s pet project.

    the ‘burden of responsibility’ is always on everyone’s shoulders. but do we trust our elected representatives enough to let them determine strategy (knowing everything history has taught us about how they are absolutely not a people’s party) or do we demand they base their platform on the public interest, and be willing to make them suffer if they don’t? why should we feel responsible for what they do if they don’t listen to us? i think the fact that “there are only two parties in America and there will only ever be two parties in America” should invalidate their authority over how progressives conduct their business, not strengthen it. disidentification is an important first step.

    as i said above, the fact that this is now a moral ultimatum is the result of prior failures and concessions, which were not inevitable. maybe now at this late date it really is too risky to follow dean or sanders. but fighting for the future — especially when asymmetric — means risk, and risks are not ‘sociopathic.’

    Vu

    December 17, 2009 at 11:45 am

  9. should add – i’m not decided yet on whether it is too risky now just for the democrats or for the possibility of future health care reform. if the former then i mostly don’t care, if the latter then i would have to endorse concession.

    Vu

    December 17, 2009 at 12:10 pm

  10. if you believe this there is no point in being a progressive at all. you have to accept the role of court jester.

    I think I prefer “court jester” over my original term from the post, “useful idiot.”

    Taking all your points, including the need for a willingness to sometimes accept short-term losses for longer-term gains, there are serious structural and institutional deficiencies in American government that make enacting progressive policies about much more than just a matter of having the right amount of determination. The Senate alone (in its current form) dooms progressive policy-making out of the gate through malapportionment, not to mention endless obstructionist procedures. The difference between “compromise” and “compromised” is important, but at some basic level we need (eventual) compromise or we’ll never enact any policy at all.

    [The term progressive itself is a problem as well, as the label obscures an internal divide between leftists and liberals in a way that only makes sense when progressives are completely locked out of power (as they were during the Bush years).]

    I’m just not sure how to take up your call of opposition on, say, climate change, the next big fight. What can we really do there, now, to avoid, in the end, exactly this sort of moral blackmail?

    gerrycanavan

    December 17, 2009 at 12:11 pm

  11. but the procedural limits you cite aren’t the horizon of politics. accepting them as such is no different from how a C.E.O. accepts profit maximization as the horizon of his activity. they’re the necessary conditions for forms of activity that are, when taken together systematically (as global capitalism), criminally negligent in the short-to-medium term, and suicidal in the long term. the total acceptance of these structural limits are the reasons why actors (especially powerful ones) in a capitalist system appear incapable of long-term planning. progressives already know all of this. the only internal limit they may not recognize as such yet is utilitarian moralism (greatest good for the greatest number).

    i think the term progressive actually allows for the divide between leftists and liberals to be redrawn without all the old baggage. maybe more fundamentally it permits a line to be drawn between populists and elitists. i think progressives are already acting as if the stuff i ‘called for’ in the last comment is true, i just think they need to be more conscious of the implications of what they’re already doing. that means making these oppositions more visible. in both health care and climate change, the things progressives have been fighting for are what much if not always most of the public has wanted for the past several decades. we have an opportunity to organize the public into a force for actual democracy, and identifying ourselves with the democratic party or seeing them as our representative undermines that long-term goal. they’re properly our targets. we don’t make policy, they do. it’s childish to act otherwise, given that what i’m saying is basic common sense. the health care industry and the oil industry influence the democratic party because they have entrenched power, not because they’re democrats. the public interest needs to figure out how to be that powerful. otherwise its apathy is justified.

    so — of course compromise is necessary but it should have to be beaten out of us — it’s not ‘mature’ or ‘realistic’ to give it away up front (like single-payer and a strong public option), it’s just being intimidated. like i said earlier, progressives should have been more dogmatic out of the gate so they could afford to be less so now. but all in all they did as well as could be expected for a young movement. what i’m arguing for here is an ideological reform that has strategic and tactical consequences, not an overhaul of progressive activism.

    Vu

    December 18, 2009 at 10:27 am

  12. […] as Vocation” as a potential intervention in the argument Vu and I have been having over the last few comment threads. But upon reflection I don’t think “compromise vs. compromised” […]


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