Health Care Reform Perspective
I remember when I was a kid my older brothers and some neighborhood kids were always wishing for more than they got. My oldest brother, for example, wished for a surfboard and got less expensive gifts instead. He grumbled but other kids in the neighborhood would have been delighted with what he got.
We need a better health care bill than the one that was passed in the Senate but at least we got one and that is more than we could have said a year ago. It's amazing that a combination of Republicans and a handful of Democrats can't see their way into the future. Too much emotion in politics I guess. That applies to both sides at times and I worry that Obama is focused more on the tensions than he is on explaining where we are and what needs to be done. One thing for sure is that shrillness from the left doesn't always help.
Over at Americablog, John Aravois and his blogging partners always seem to believe that more emotion is better than no emotion and a little spinning is acceptable since the other guys does it even more (or something like that).
Joe Sudbay on Thursday got sarcastic when he wrote about the health care bill:
Sounds good, some of those "special interest lobbyists" earned their money on this bill -- and they were aided and abetted by Obama's staff (e.g. that multi-billion dollar sweetheart deal for drug makers. And, insurance company lobbyists aren't unhappy these days either. But, apparently, we're supposed to overlook that now.)
I agree Obama should have helped more but the House and Senate are fully capable of passing a first-rate health care bill. The problem is that while Republicans have been drifting to the far right over the last thirty years, Democrats have drifted a little to the right themselves.
During the Nixon and Ford era Democrats passed some first-rate legislation despite the threat of veto. But then they sometimes had the help of a few moderate Republicans. The real problem, though, is twofold: First, Americans still do not understand how much big business pushes our government around these days and they do not understand how much Republicans give them everything they want. Second, Democrats have gone so long without dominating Washington they have lost some of their skills and some of their best legislators.
After all is said and done, we still have a health care bill that hopefully will reach Obama's desk.
Anyone who thinks Obama and a Democratic majority can turn Washington around in two years hasn't really been paying attention to how much our society has changed and how much work it now takes to bring about change.
I don't want to defend Obama too much on the health care bill. On the other hand, any number of bloggers have let their emotions override their judgment. John Aravois, the main blogger at Americablog, quoted a Washington Post article:
Obama said the public option "has become a source of ideological contention between the left and right." But, he added, "I didn't campaign on the public option."
Aravois then tried to give examples that aren't particularly convincing:
Sure you didn't. That's why there's video, and countless news stories with you talking about it over and over again.
Obama to the Washington Post in 2008:Every American has the right to affordable, comprehensive and portable health coverage. My plan will ensure that all Americans have health care coverage through their employers, private health plans, the federal government, or the states. My plan builds on and improves our current insurance system, which most Americans continue to rely upon, and creates a new public health plan for those currently without coverage. Under my plan, Americans will be able to choose to maintain their current coverage if they choose to. For those without health insurance I will establish a new public insurance program, and provide subsides to afford care for those who need them.
Aravois would be more convincing if there were better examples. The word "public" is not the same thing as the public option that has been discussed for eight months. What I remember is that Obama's health plan was always less ambitious than the one put forward by John Edwards and Hillary Clinton. There are times when Obama said he would accept the public option plan being discussed in the House but I never had the impression he was initiating such discussions or pushing hard for it. Fine. Shame on Obama for not working harder for healthcare reform. But the real shame falls on the Senate for not getting the job done.
Aravois has gotten shrill at times and emotional to the point of being off-putting. Yeah, fight for what you believe. But leave the spinning to the politicians.
The real fight is not whether Obama is progressive enough. The real fight is expanding the progressive movement and doing it in a smart way that pulls people in rather than expressing strong anger, resentment and outrage.
Researchers have now taught us a few things about emotion. We know it's part of politics. But Aravois needs to understand how it works. Strong emotion always appeals to the base, whether on the left or right. Well, strong emotions are important but they don't win arguments and in this age they don't necessarily win people over.
Aravois and others need a strategy that helps people see what's going on without all the emotional tripe that shuts down the ability of people to listen. Obviously the Republicans in Congress aren't interested in listening or accomplishing anything beyond obstructing Obama and progressives in Congress. Who will listen, however, are people who feel something is wrong but they aren't sure what. Screaming at them and telling half-truths is not the way to go.
People are turning away from politics. It's exhausting and Republicans are gleeful because their strategy works for their style of politics which ultimately is destructive rather than constructive as these guys continue to join big business lobbying firms after a few years in Congress.
Democrats need a more patient and intelligent tack that includes a passionate rhetorical style that draws people in rather than putting them off. In this season of fellowship and good will, it's something to think about.