Friday, December 18, 2009

The era after this week

The battle over health care isn't over yet, as Marigolds2 just noted. Both the two major labor groups, SEIU and the AFL-CIO are opposing the Lieberman bill but hoping to improve it before it passes. The best scenario along that line I think is possibly feasible right now would be to eliminate the individual mandates and keep some of the restrictions on insurance company conduct.

There is a flurry of commentary already over the reaction of liberals to Obama's and Harry Reid's capitulation to Joe Lieberman this past week on gutting the health care reform bill. In received Beltway Village wisdom, of course, slapping the hippies is always a sign of the highest statesmanship. I'll be curious to see how they handle it on the David Brooks and Mark Shields Clown Show segment of the PBS Newshour Friday. It should be entertaining in a midnight-movie kind of way.

David Dayen of FDL News Desk gives us a good overview of the intra-Democratic Party disputes of this past week over Obama and the Health Insurance Profit-Gouging Guarantee bill that Joe Lieberman succeeded in turning the Senate health care reform bill into in Absolutism And Constructiveness In The Health Care Debate 12/17/09. Joan McCarter has been following the health care reform debate closely for months, and she's currently wading through the murky details of the Lieberman plan. Banning the insurance companies from denying coverage for existing conditions? Well, kinda-sorta. Especially if you don't consider age a pre-existing condition. If your pre-existing condition requires you to work with, say, a kidney specialist, that could get tricky. Ending recissions, the practice of terminating coverage when someone gets sick? Depends on what you consider fraud and who gets to decide that.

But even if what limps through Congress hasn't had every single consumer-friendly feature stripped out by the time it requires everyone to pay tribute directly to the insurance companies - Marcy Wheeler calls the Lieberman mandate system "neo-feudalism" - this last week is likely to be remembered as a major turning point for the attitude of labor and progressives toward Obama. Because up until Obama finally came down hard on the side of the Lieberman bill, the Democratic base had been willing to cut him a lot of slack. Many of us were very unhappy about the escalation(s) in Afghanistan, but anyone who was surprised by them wasn't paying attention to what he was saying clearly in the 2008 campaign. There haven't been any breakthrough foreign policy successes, but his moving to a pragmatic approach to diplomacy on most fronts is a welcome change from the Cheney-Bush years. And most people probably figured that an economic recovery plan focused on bailing out failed financial wheeler-dealers with virtually no requirements for better behavior imposed was more constructive and effective than what that bold Maverick McCain would have done.

Those who have been following the torture story knew that Obama's aggressive defenses of government secrecy, the treatment of "enemy combatants" and of insulating torture perpetrators from prosecution were really, really bad signs. But even there, it's not a familiar issue, though Obama's inaction has insured that it will become so. And despite his own reluctance, the legal and diplomatic implications of letting the Cheney-Bush torturers just skate without being charged mean that it's very possible that he will be forced into prosecuting them. Because the torture issue isn't going away.

What's different about health care reform is that here Obama finally made a stand on a decades-long goal of the Democratic Party, one that the basics of which the voting base understands and regards as extremely important, and one that labor and progressive groups have been actively supporting what most of us thought was the Democratic approach, not the Joe Lieberman approach. I think it's fair to say that this was Obama's first clear stand as President on a major domestic policy issue.

And he came down hard on the side of Lieberman's corporate-coddling, consumer-hostile plan that will mean a profit bonanza to insurance monopolies but few actual protections for the consumer and one which will not solve the problems of covering the uninsured or controlling costs. It was the Democrats, not Joe Lieberman's best buds in the Republican Party, who were supporting what we thought was Obama's health care position against the Tea Party hysterics and total Republican obstructionism. It's been a months-long, difficult fight in Congress. And when the Senate is on the verge of passing a bill, Obama dumps the base and endorses the insurance lobbies' position.

Labor and progressives are very unlikely to give Obama the benefit of the doubt on any policy issue until he shows us he can stand by his own Party and take a strong, effective stand for some major issue that Joe Lieberman won't support.

I suppose the level of psychological shock varies, depending on how much personal faith one put in Obama. But on the practical level, what are labor and progressive groups going to think? That they should put time, money, energy and influence into fighting for months for a constructive legislative accomplishment and then watch Obama push hard for only what John McCain's biggest 2008 supporter Joe Lieberman wants done?

The next major domestic legislation set to be taken up is comprehensive immigration reform. If the pro-immigrant groups aren't looking closely at Obama's cynical performance on health care reform, then they might as well quit now. They will have to approach immigration reform on the assumption that they will have to place Obama in a position of accepting a practical reform without draconian anti-immigrant measures included and not place any reliance on any promises from Obama that aren't in the form of directly pressuring members of Congress to support the Democratic Party position. And they will have to look at getting the Senate to pass immigration reform through one of the majoritarian options available to them, like the legislative reconciliation procedure or by abolishing that reactionary filibuster/cloture rule once and for all.

What's clear from the health care reform battle is that Obama respects the opinions of insurance and pharmaceutical lobbyists. And that of Joe Lieberman and Ben Nelson. And even of his Christian Right pal Rick Warren. But not those of people with Obama stickers on their cars. He doesn't respect their opinions, he just assumes they will go along with whatever corporate surrenders he negotiates with industry lobbyists.

And the cold fact is that Joe Lieberman and Ben Nelson are willing to use their own clout to kill legislation that Obama wants. Until the Progressive Caucus in the House can show they are able and willing to do the same, he's going to ignore them, or worse. I don't even mention the Senate because so far, I haven't heard of a single Democratic Senator threaten that they would vote against cloture to oppose the Lieberman bill. Until liberals in Congress start actually denying Obama legislation he wants, he'll be happy to please the Village pundits by punching the hippies, i.e., striking rotten deals like the one with Lieberman this past week.

It's a new day. And now we know Obama isn't going to fight for any major progressive legislative initiative until the liberals and progressives in Congress organize to kill his favored bills unless he gives them what they need. When Obama has to worry more about Congressional liberals killing a bill than Joe Lieberman or Ben Nelson, then he'll start delivering on his Party's program. But it's not going to happen until then.

Also on these topics: Scarecrow, How Would a Moderate-Conservative Republican President Do Health Reform? FDL The Seminal 12/16/09

John MacArthur, More and more, Obama seems a faux liberal Providence Journal 12/16/09

And this interesting but also peculiar article by Max Blumenthal vaguely talking about Obama's followers "messianizing" him, Obama, The Fallen Messiah and The Problem With Secular Salvation Narratives TPM Cafe 12/17/09.

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"It is the logic of our times
No subject for immortal verse
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Defend the bad against the worse."

-- Cecil Day-Lewis from Where Are The War Poets?


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  • Lieberman Socks
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  • Future blogging from Febuary 1, 2013
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  • Joe Lieberman wins, the people lose
  • The death of health care reform yet again?
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  • Obama's Oslo speech: We're still fighting Hitler!
  • The Howler, white racism and the Radical Right



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