"Now, I Hate The Left, Believe Me. But..."
I just listened to a good bit of Barack Obama's OFA session, and I think I can now pinpoint what has been irking me lately. He got up there and tried to rebut all the misinformation about what the bill would do. In fact, he said exactly what Matt Yglesias pre-butted this morning:
I think that if someone gets sick in the United States, that person ought to be treated without being subject to a citizenship test. I think that abortion is a legitimate medical procedure. And ultimately I think health insurance should be directly provided by the government. Interestingly, the one thing that doesn’t get a majority is the thing that’s actually a bad idea—killing grandma.
This reminds me of something that’s bothered me throughout the health care debate. The president’s only real allies and advocates are, you know, serious liberals. People who think that people born in Mexico are human beings but fetuses are not. And most of all, people who believe in government-provided health insurance. But when we man the barricades for the president’s plan, we’re in a weird situation. Obama gets accused of wanting a single-payer system. Then I have to say “no! no! he doesn’t! that’s a slander . . . not there’s anything wrong with single-payer.” It’s a damn dirty lie to say that the government will fund abortion services, but really the government should fund abortion services.
This just deflates a lot of people, the same people who could be counted on to rally for a policy they support. We knew all along that the right would fearmonger and scare people and make up whatever lies served their purpose regardless of the reality. Pre-compromising bills to shield oneself from those charges makes absolutely no sense.
There's this inherent, reflexive self-loathing among establishment "liberals" that turns off people who unabashedly call themselves liberal. Take a look at this article by Joe Klein, an article whose subject is that Republicans have become a nihilist party, and how long he takes punching hippies before getting to his point:
Given the heinous dust that's been raised, it seems likely that end-of-life counseling will be dropped from the health-reform legislation. But that's a small point, compared with the larger issue that has clouded this summer: How can you sustain a democracy if one of the two major political parties has been overrun by nihilists? And another question: How can you maintain the illusion of journalistic impartiality when one of the political parties has jumped the shark?
I'm not going to try. I've written countless "Democrats in Disarray" stories over the years and been critical of the left on numerous issues in the past. This year, the liberal insistence on a marginally relevant public option has been a tactical mistake that has enabled the right's "government takeover" disinformation jihad. There have been times when Democrats have run demagogic scare campaigns on issues like Social Security and Medicare. There are more than a few Democrats who believe, in practice, that government should be run for the benefit of government employees' unions. There are Democrats who are so solicitous of civil liberties that they would undermine legitimate covert intelligence collection. There are others who mistrust the use of military power under almost any circumstances. But these are policy differences, matters of substance. The most liberal members of the Democratic caucus — Senator Russ Feingold in the Senate, Representative Dennis Kucinich in the House, to name two — are honorable public servants who make their arguments based on facts. They don't retail outright lies. Hyperbole and distortion certainly exist on the left, but they are a minor chord in the Democratic Party.
It is a very different story among Republicans.
He goes on, of course, but Klein clearly felt he could not get away with a strident article about Republican insanity without saying "Hey, look, I think liberals are the scum of the earth too, don't get me wrong, but..." It's like a facial tic.
I saw the President today call those who believe government should not be involved in anything at all "reasonable people" with whom we could have a principled argument. Unless we're arguing about whether or not they should use roads, police, fire departments, libraries, and the judicial system, then no, that is not a reasonable line of argument. Here's a reasonable line of argument, from Jesse Jackson Jr., and it's so bitterly partisan, I know, but in the absence of this argument you have the President of the United States giving anti-government cranks a legitimacy they simply don't deserve.
Reverend Jackson and I were talking this morning about health insurance reform. He said ‘“Jesse, sum up this public option thing for me.’ I heard the President give an analysis that I think appropriate: Federal Express, UPS, DHL, the private option. The public option: email, the post office. If you want to pay your bill, sending it overnight for $30, choose the private option. But if you want to mail your mail like most of us do, WITH A STAMP (applause and laughter) use the public option…. The post office offers competitive overnight mail options. And those of us who are not interested in overnight mail can go the slow route, 2-3 days. That’s just fine for me. The post office is universal. It reaches the rural areas. It reaches the urban areas. It reaches where DHL, and UPS, and Fedex will not go. And so in the barrios and the ghettos and the trailor parks of our nation, for the uninsured in our nation, in order for us to save our health care system, we need a legitimate, real public option! (Cheering and applause.)
Instead of this message, we have a President talking about working constructively with people who have said out loud they want to deny any health care bill.
Now some would say that the nation as a whole is not all that liberal, and we have to find common ground because legislation is the art of the compromise, etc., etc. ad nauseum. What never gets discussed is the role of long-term messaging. People are falling for right-wing lies about government-run health care because they're been told for decades that government is evil, with no countervailing message from the other side. Those who resist these lies, the most strident supporters of a health care overhaul in the abstract, are being told to accept half a loaf, that doing reasonable things, like allowing a public option to provide the same medical services that 90% of all private insurance companies provide, is a damn dirty lie, are told to compromise and compromise, are actually told that we cannot have a government insurance option because it would be too popular. You really don't have to get very far from that to a statement like "You don't matter, go away, we don't want you." It's happened before.
And don't you dare, ever, add anything like morality into the individual actions of lawmakers.
It would be, for instance, very uncouth to say that a coal-state senator who opposed climate change legislation was literally consigning thousands of people to death in order to protect hometown interests. That's a very mean thing to say. Senator so-and-so doesn't want to kill people, he just wants to be reelected. But that's what he's doing. He has constituents and polls and pressures. Similarly, a lot of the congressmen who are opposing health-care reform are, again, ensuring that tens of thousands of people will die from inadequate access to health care. But you're not supposed to say that [...]
...no one ever has to make those arguments directly because these debates take place at a high level of abstraction. That's how you get weird situations wherein a congressman who has spent two decades enriching industry and voting to cut Medicaid and welfare can be run out of office because he crossed an ethical line and had an affair or took a kickback. The moral dimension is entirely absent in discussions of policy, as if we've all signed some agreement admitting that the cost to civility would be too great if we took the implications of each vote seriously.
Apparently Obama made something of a moral argument yesterday, calling health care "a a core ethical and moral obligation," saying that “These struggles always boil down to a contest between hope and fear,” and likening back to when FDR was called a socialist, and JFK and LBJ the same for trying to pass Medicare. But that's coming a bit late, and little of that was on display today.
The bottom line is that, until progressives rallied behind the public option this week, the air was out of the balloon. The base of supporters are energizing this debate, and they will reward any lawmaker that reflects their values and actually seeks to follow through on their promises. They now represent the last, best hope for real health care reform. And they won't cotton to being kicked around, dragged through the mud, or played as pawns any longer. 2012 lies in the balance.