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Wednesday, August 19, 2009

They Should Be Thrilled

by dday

Anonymous wankers in the White House expressed surprise in the WaPo this morning about the intensity of feeling about the public option in the health care debate.

President Obama's advisers acknowledged Tuesday that they were unprepared for the intraparty rift that occurred over the fate of a proposed public health insurance program, a firestorm that has left the White House searching for a way to reclaim the initiative on the president's top legislative priority [...]

"I don't understand why the left of the left has decided that this is their Waterloo," said a senior White House adviser, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. "We've gotten to this point where health care on the left is determined by the breadth of the public option. I don't understand how that has become the measure of whether what we achieve is health-care reform."

"It's a mystifying thing," he added. "We're forgetting why we are in this."

If the public option gravitated to the center of the debate and the White House never wanted it there, it's their own damn fault for talking like CPAs about "cost curves" and "risk adjustment" and arguments that could be plotted on a graph for six months without being specific about the moral case of covering millions of people who have no choice and no hope, and beating back the unrivaled greed of the insurance industry. The only element of health care reform as set out by the White House with a beating pulse has been the public option, and humans being emotional creatures as well as rational ones, that's where progressives gathered.

But I want to focus in on this element of "surprise," which is silly, since the public option was the compromise down from the policy with the most intensity on the left in the health care debate, single payer. Beyond this anonymous staffer being clueless for his surprise, he's not even understanding that the revolt on the left is the only thing saving health care reform at this point.

When town hall crazies and conservative misinformation dominated the debate, health care was on a losing trajectory, if not dead in the water. Since Kathleen Sebelius' statement on Sunday on CNN, the nature of the debate has shifted so much away from that and toward actual policy you'd think it was intentional on the part of the White House. Noam Scheiber captures this at TNR.

Around the conference table at TNR, we’ve been saying for weeks that what Obama really needed was a group of equally vocal, equally zealous critics on the left, pulling the debate’s center of gravity in the other direction. And, wouldn’t you know, that’s exactly what’s happened over the last 48 hours. We’ve now got a pole on the left to match the intensity of the pole on the right. (Don’t get me wrong: I’m not suggesting a moral equivalence between the two. As far as I’m concerned, the critics on the left are basically right and the critics on the right are either insane or deeply cynical.) From a sheer tactical perspective, I think the White House and the Democratic leadership in Congress have dramatically improved their position.

You now have 64 House Dems who have raised over $100,000 and counting from over 1,600 Democrats in 24 hours since they took the pledge of not voting for any bill without a public option. You have House Democrats strongly behind the public option in their weekly caucus meeting, with everyone in support of it because their constituents had pressed them on it. You have labor warning Democrats that they'll sit out specific elections if any members oppose a public plan. There's a vital energy to the debate now that was simply missing when Obama was offering vague principles and playing an inside game trying to frame health care reform as entitlement reform. And it's actually doing more to get a health care bill passed than anything the White House has done all year.

Elites who reflexively kick the left will retreat to the familiar ground of the Washington Post editorial page to demand that liberals "give up on the public option". And they can make their case for that on the policy - the currently administered public option on offer, by firewalling those who get insurance through employers, will struggle to survive because it cannot capture enough of the market to force competition on price and quality of care (though historically, governments build on what gets enshrined into law gradually over time, so the policy of the moment matters less than what can be done with it eventually, and having nothing, or weak co-ops that experts have shown cannot work at all, would be disastrous). On the politics, liberal elites are dead wrong. They will lose health care completely if they alienate the base. And the base wants competition against for-profit insurance CEOs with a public option, at the very least. Because they understand that a properly administered version of this competition would save people and the government money, with more savings the more popular it is. That's only something to fear if you want to protect insurance company profits.

As Chris Bowers says:

However, the current fight over the public option is a perfect demonstration of why such left-wing criticism is absolutely essential to any attempts to pass progressive legislation by the Democratic leadership and the Obama administration. If there had been no left-wing revolt to Sebelius's statements on Sunday, it would be far more difficult for the Democratic Congressional leadership and the Obama administration to justify not giving into right-wing demands. Lacking any Progressive Block demanding more progressive legislation, the Democratic leadership and administration would be practically forced to offer up even less progressive legislation than even the compromises they were floating over the weekend [...]

It is understandable that some progressives who worked very hard to elect President Obama get irked by left-wing criticism. Not all Democrats are on the left, not everyone buys into the same strategies as me, and criticism toward someone you personally identify with is irritating [...]

No matter these objections, in order to pass progressive legislation, both prominent left-wing criticism and powerful, Congressional Progressive opposition to a Democratic trifecta is absolutely necessary. In the current health care fight, the lack of such criticism and the lack of such a block would mean that the public option was dead in the water right now. Not everyone is going to like it, and some party higher ups like Rahm Emanuel may call it "f*ckng stupid," but any progressive ecosystem lacking such criticism and left-wing organizing is only a short time away from suffering a mass extinction.

I would go further, and say that without progressive organizing around the public option, there wouldn't be any health care reform legislation. Period. The band of hippies is saving the Democrats from themselves.

Please thank those who have stood up for their efforts. Let's get to $200,000 today.