Proudly Presenting Yourself As A Tool - Not Quite The Way To Win
In the past week, several progressive advocacy groups have come out against Tennessee Governor Phil Bredesen for Secretary of Health and Human Services, including MoveOn.org just today.
How can you tell who's a real health care champion? We need someone who's going to support visionary progressive health care reform; someone with a track record of standing up to the insurance and pharmaceutical giants at the heart of our health care crisis; someone who is 100 percent committed to giving every single American the choice of a public health insurance plan so we're not at the mercy of the private insurance companies (just as Obama promised).
Obama is reportedly considering several governors and a few senators. Many of these folks would be great, but at least one would be a bad choice for health care reform: Tennessee Governor Phil Bredesen made his fortune acquiring and running HMOs. As governor, he gutted Tennessee's public health insurance program, causing more than 320,000 people to lose their health insurance. And Bredesen let the private insurance industry pay for his multi-million dollar redecoration of the governor's mansion.
You would think that, faced with this opposition, Bredesen would defend his record, show his independence from special interests and his commitment to reform. Even if it was only rhetorical, this would be the standard move. Yeah, you would think:
“Anybody who’s got some real scars and experience is going to have their detractors,” the governor said Monday in an interview with The Wall Street Journal. “People at the White House are smart enough to be able to assess that.” And he took a swipe at his opponents, saying that “advocacy groups don’t matter nearly as much as the pharmaceutical groups, the hospitals, the doctors’ groups. There’s a lot of very powerful interest groups that will play in this thing.”
The charitable reading of that is that Bredesen thinks the important groups to do combat with are those special interests, but that would be completely at odds with his history:
This quote by Bredesen — dismissing advocacy groups and embracing industry interests — is typical of his tenure in office. In 2005, Bredesen’s wife, Andrea Conte, embarked on a $9.4 million renovation of the governor’s mansion. The largest donor to the project? BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee, which gave $150,000.
While in making cuts to TennCare, Bredesen largely “cast aside” the “cost saving ideas of advocates” that would have increase health care coverage while also addressing the state’s budget crisis. But as TNR’s Jonathan Cohn notes, advocates will be necessary in pushing health care reform through Congress; a lack of coordinated support amongst liberal allies was part of the reason that President Clinton’s health care plan failed to conservative attacks.
Ezra Klein thinks that the advocacy groups are working too hard opposing Bredesen when they could be coalescing around one of the other candidates. But recent history with the Obama Administration shows that advocacy groups have been much more successful helping to disqualify than to qualify - see John Brennan. What's more, most of the other names mentioned (Rosa DeLauro, Kathleen Sebelius, John Podesta) don't have much to distinguish them from one another. Howard Dean IS attracting grassroots support, and I personally would like to see Judy Feder of Georgetown University because I think she knows her shit more than anyone. But this is not a weakness of the advocacy groups, it's a strength. If they knock out Bredesen, they know HHS will be in relatively good hands.