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Sunday, November 08, 2009

The Lesson

by digby

I've received a couple of comments and emails wondering why I haven't weighed in on the health care vote. I did, it was just done before the vote was taken. Sadly, my predictions were correct.

One of the things that those of us who follow politics from afar tend to see that those who are involved in the minutia often understandably miss, is the over arching themes that guide the politicians and the villagers. I don't suppose that they are necessarily aware of it, although some of the influential strategists may be, but it's there nonetheless.

I knew that after all the sturm and drang over the past few months over the public option, the number one liberal priority in the health care debate, there would be a price for its success. The ruling elite could never allow an unambiguous liberal victory. It would endanger their narrative that says fealty to business, religion, military and other authoritarian structures is democratically inspired. They have to maintain the fiction that the people prefer to be subjects. If politicians aren't convinced that there will be a price for being liberals, they might get the idea that they can actually govern liberally.

This is why changing the media narratives and forcing Democrats to use liberal rhetoric and reject right wing framing is as important to the process as anything else. By perpetuating this default, conservative ideology, even as they are excoriated for being liberals (see: Obama campaign) they permanently tilt the playing field to the right, even in a liberal era or one in which the only pragmatic answers to difficult problems are liberal.

This problem isn't just a matter of good negotiating or putting pressure on politicians. Yes, these things are important. But in my opinion, unless we begin to change how this country defines itself, and how it projects its values, liberal policies are going to be impossible to implement to the extent that's necessary. Everything in our system is designed to prevent it.

Universal health care is something any decent, wealthy society shouldn't even have to think twice about. It's a global embarrassment that the United States, the chest thumping superpower, is even having this debate at this late date. It's equally embarrassing that we have put together a Frankenstein of a system because our democratic government is in league with wealthy interests which are exploiting its people. It's hard to believe that anyone would call that system liberal, much less socialist, but as you can see every day on Fox news, it's set off a tantrum among a vocal minority that would hardly be less hysterical if aliens from a foreign planet landed in Washington. (And that hysteria is also a tool of the permanent establishment, funded by big money, and used as a way of keeping the debate focused on the right, even if it's taking on an absurdist quality.)

Any legislation such as health care reform must therefore be tempered by a liberal sacrifice, something real, a principle that will make them hate themselves and loathe each other for having done it. It cannot be a clean victory, lest they come to believe they can do more. In the end, the "moral" must always be that you cannot go too far left.

The Stupak amendment was designed to do just that, a power move easily predicted by anyone who has watched the way policy victories are managed over the last couple of decades. The one consistent characteristic is that they are never unambiguously positive for the left. The arguments are always self-servingly pragmatic --- "blue dogs have to vote their district" --- but the real purpose is to drive home the absolute certainty that liberals are never really in charge. That is why there is never any desire among the ruling elite to sell the idea that liberalism itself -- its philosophy, its values, its ideology --- is something positive with which a majority of people, including Blue Dogs, can identify. If the public ever came to believe that, who knows what might happen?

Health care reform is extremely likely to pass in some form. But let's not kid ourselves that it's passing because the Democrats and the public have seen the light and understand that we need to be a more decent society. It's passing because medical industry has been greedy to the point where it's now unsustainable. That presented an opening for liberals to enact some policies they have believed in for a long time. But they didn't do it by making the liberal arguments straight up and have created some kind of strange hybrid system for which the best argument is that it might lead to opportunities for more reform. It's better than nothing. But it isn't liberal and it wasn't designed to be. And just in case, the powers-that-be stuck it to the pro-choicers to make sure nobody got the idea that it was.