Friday, August 14, 2009

News of the Week: Health Care Reform and Democratic Failure

Tidbits from articles that have caught my eye this week, re: the health care debacle. If the selections below share a common theme beyond commenting on the health care issue, it’s, in my view, the colossal mistake the current administration made when it decided to continue with the cynical, morally vacuous, politically suicidal 1990s-style Clintonian appeasement of the right and slapping down of progressives.

Those of us following the administration’s track record on gay issues saw this happening from the outset. What has happened to the health care debate has not taken us by surprise. When the president refused to lead, to stand unambiguously by the progressive promises he made during his campaign (and the moral imperatives on which those promises were made), we knew trouble was coming.

You don’t appease ravenous mobs howling for blood, who will never be satisfied, even as you cut one sweet deal after another for those pulling the strings of such mobs. And you don’t win the battle with these powerfully connected and highly funded groups by turning your back on your most ardent supporters, those who caught the passion of the message about progressive change and were foolish enough to believe it.

And so to the week’s commentary: here’s Paul Krugman commenting today on Mr. Obama’s inability to continue engaging the passions and energies of those who elected him with high hopes, and his consequent failure in the area of health care reform:

So much, then, for Mr. Obama’s dream of moving beyond divisive politics. The truth is that the factors that made politics so ugly in the Clinton years — the paranoia of a significant minority of Americans and the cynical willingness of leading Republicans to cater to that paranoia — are as strong as ever. In fact, the situation may be even worse than it was in the 1990s because the collapse of the Bush administration has left the G.O.P. with no real leaders other than Rush Limbaugh.
The question now is how Mr. Obama will deal with the death of his postpartisan dream.
So far, at least, the Obama administration’s response to the outpouring of hate on the right has had a deer-in-the-headlights quality. It’s as if officials still can’t wrap their minds around the fact that things like this can happen to people who aren’t named Clinton, as if they keep expecting the nonsense to just go away.
What, then, should Mr. Obama do? It would certainly help if he gave clearer and more concise explanations of his health care plan. To be fair, he’s gotten much better at that over the past couple of weeks.
What’s still missing, however, is a sense of passion and outrage — passion for the goal of ensuring that every American gets the health care he or she needs, outrage at the lies and fear-mongering that are being used to block that goal.

And Peter Daou writing several days ago at Huffington Post about the failure of the administration to enter health care reform with a clear, unambiguous progressive message, and how that failure has allowed the fringe right once again to frame the discussion:

…[T]he debate over health reform is playing out on the right's terms. The national discourse (if you can call it that) could very well have been about the benefits of a single-payer system, but aside from a sham vote to appease progressives, single-payer is considered anathema in the media and political establishment and instead Democrats are scrambling to respond to a barrage of rightwing talking points.
How to deal with the problem? On health care, the countervailing approach would have been to start from a solid progressive position and negotiate from there. It's still likely that the White House will manage to push through a health care bill - and the media will cheer it as a victory. But because the terms of the debate were ceded early on by Democrats, we will end up with something far weaker than we could and should have.

And Drew Westen at Huffington Post, writing about the waning hopes of Mr. Obama’s supporters in the middle of the Democratic party, who joined progressives in the last election in giving the administration a mandate for change we could believe in:

The American people did not vote for "bipartisan" solutions that split the difference between the failed ideology of the last eight years, which continues to cost thousands of people their jobs and homes every day, and the change the President and the super-majorities they elected in both houses of Congress promised.

And Michael Brenner at Huffington Post, putting the blame for the failure of the administration to push health care reform through squarely on Mr. Obama’s shoulders, because he has ignored the popular mandate for progressive change given to him, while he kowtows to the high and mighty:

It is Barack Obama who is to blame for this. For months, he stayed aloof from the out-of-control Congressional maneuvering based on a strange belief in some kind of bipartisan collective will emerging by osmosis. He never leaned the weight of his person and his office to elements of reform that has been touting as candidate and then President. He deceived the country by pursuing secret talks with the very lobbies who are the heart of disgraceful national health care situation. He entered into deals that were weighted heavily in their selfish interest rather than the national interest. In short, we have gotten from him the antithesis of what we were promised and expected -- in the substance and process of policy both. We have instead a conventionally minded politician overly respectful of the status quo and deferential to those who control and profit from it, A man with no apparent fixed convictions.
Serious health care reform is gone with the wind. It cannot be retrieved. All other domestic issues pale in importance by comparison -- except for the financial crisis. On that front, Obama has behaved exactly as he now has done on the health care front. That is to say, viewing the world from the prejudicial perspective of the high and mighty while neglecting his duty to the citizenry and those who put their trust in him. The question: 'who really is Barack Obama?' is more compelling than ever. The answer looks to be more and more disheartening.

I am appalled, by the way, at the statements of former President Clinton last night that his DADT and DOMA policies are due to the failure of the progressive wing of the Democratic party to support him. This is not how I remember the Clinton administration and the implementation of those policies.

What I remember clearly is a centrist Democrat who played a decisive role in moving the Democratic party to the right when he was president, as he cut one deal after another with corporate interest groups. I remember a man who talked about family values when his own house was not in order in that respect, and who willingly threw gay and lesbian supporters under the bus from the outset of his administration while he spouted rhetoric about family values. I remember his using us as pawns in cynical games designed to appease his Republican detractors and the fringe right.

Mr. Clinton is re-writing history. The problem is not and never has been the unwillingness of progressives to fight for the policies Democratic administrations seek to implement. The problem has been the unwillingness of Democratic leaders, once they are in power, to carry through on their promises to the majority of Americans who lean to the left of what is now the center on one issue after another. The problem is that the Democratic party only woos us when it has made such a mess of things, by its spineless appeasement of the far right, that it wants us to try to clean up its mess.