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Hullabaloo


Saturday, December 26, 2009

 
Promises and Paradigms

by digby

Amidst the fallout of the Senate vote, Politico put out a handy primer on just what industry got out of HCR:

A POLITICO look at the deals shows the liberals have it right, at least in regard to key reform proposals. Several cherished Democratic goals — including a government-run insurance plan, bringing in cheaper drugs from other countries and expanding Medicare — faced steeper, and ultimately insurmountable, odds of passage after the hospitals and drug companies said they would oppose any bill that included them.

This was no idle threat, but instead a serious challenge to Obama’s goal of winning reform — and pocketing a major achievement in his presidency’s first year.

But the liberal attacks glide past a hard reality. By bringing industry players inside the room, Obama and Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) holstered some of the very guns that defeated reform in 1994. PhRMA, for instance, will spend nearly $200 million on reform this year — and clearly it could spend it endorsing or opposing the bill.

Cutting deals to neutralize would-be antagonists was one of the Democrats’ key takeaways from the failed “Hillarycare” effort. And the Obama White House followed a basic tenet of negotiating: first in, best deal. PhRMA agreed to give up $80 billion over 10 years to pay for reform — a figure that infuriated some House members who thought it was too light and who tried to negate the agreement.

Conversely, tardy negotiators risked getting clobbered. Exhibit A: the medical device lobby, which misplayed its early hand and nearly got slammed with a big tax.

Ken Thorpe, a former Clinton administration health care adviser who has participated in this year’s drive, said Obama’s critics are missing a larger truth: With so many powerful interests poised to attack to protect the plan, some deal making was inevitable.

“It’s a balancing act,” Thorpe said. “Could we have gotten more out of the drug industry? Perhaps. On the other hand, keeping them positively engaged allowed momentum to continue. Had they not engaged them early on, and didn’t bring them to the table, who knows how this would have turned out?”



Always fighting the last war. Clinton ran as a DLC New Democrat and probably could have made deals with industry and it would have been politically consistent to do so. (Whether or not it would have made a difference is debatable.) But the fact is that Obama isn't Clinton, this isn't 1994 and the lesson was the wrong one.

As I wrote earlier, aside from the political and moral question of making such "deals" in the first place, what this really reveals is the source of liberals' frustrations at the moment. The president may not have campaigned on the public option or even been much of a crusader for health care reform. But what he did campaign on explicitly and without reservation was clean government and the end of business as usual. Indeed, the word "change" was predicated on that simple promise alone. This is where the problem lies with the left and a fair number in the middle. The technocrats in Washington see health care reform as a triumph of pragmatic manipulation of the various levers of power. The media is celebrating that Obama Plays by Washington’s Rules. But for a good many people, that very fact violates the central rationale for his presidency. That's what's causing this cognitive dissonance and giving life to a new right wing anti-liberal argument.

Jeffrey Feldman approaches this issue from another direction today, citing Glenn Greenwald's recent post about a possible new left right alliance against corporatism and asking what sort of government one might want from such an alliance. It's a good question and one that I expect people will be asking for some time to come. But keep in mind that this is not exactly new on the left and it has been answered in some detail. Perhaps the best leftwing anti-corporate screed is summed up in a speech that filled Madison Square Garden ten years ago:




That speech has five more parts if you want to hear the whole thing.


There has long been a strong left libertarian anti-corporate critique. (Noam Chomsky was there long before anybody.) But while there has been a sporadic history of making common cause with liberals on civil liberties, this alleged conversion of certain conservative movement luminaries to the anti-corporate cause is less than believable considering that just a few short years ago, these very people were orchestrating the greatest strategic alliance between government and corporate America in its history. Let's say I'm a bit skeptical about what "principle" they have recently unearthed in this regard. After all, they invented corporatism --- the Democrats have just learned to stop worrying and love the money.

Right wing "populism" is of a completely different form than that of the left, although it's fed by similar feelings of disenfranchisement and suspicion of elites. At the very least, lefties are not in the pockets of corporate America while they rail against the system that benefits it. I can't say the same for the right. I realize that this new populist alliance relies on the belief that left and right are now an outdated political paradigm. I just don't believe it. You can call it whatever you like, but the lines will divide up pretty much as they always have in America and liberals will have to decide who they're going to sacrifice to the cause if they want to change that. Believe me, sacrificing corporate donations won't get the job done.

The left is already philosophically consistent on the issue of big money in politics, and if they made the case straightforwardly and gained popular support, it could change the way politics are done. The populist right is incoherent. They operate on a whole other set of impulses, which almost always involve scapegoating of the other. I don't see a meaningful alliance there, although I do see how right wing populism will be very useful to the wealthy. It always has been in the past.


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