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Obama’s “Mission Accomplished”

March 25th, 2010 Leave a comment Go to comments

For those of you who get most of their information about the health care reform situation from my blog, I’ll start with a quick explanation of what’s going on right now.

In spite of all the celebrations, it’s not quite over yet. The Senate has to pass the portion of the bill that the House amended, and then it has to go to the president’s desk for a final signature. If anything that passed the House gets changed by the Senate, it has to go back to the House once again for another vote. But it’s unlikely that Senate democrats, who now just want this thing to be over, will allow any new amendments in. But if they do, it’s extremely unlikely that any House democrats would suddenly turn around and change their vote, thus killing health reform. At this point, it’s a political certainty that the thing is going to pass.

The most important thing going on right now is the reaction from the left. Much of the left is raving about what an amazing accomplishment this is, which only emboldens democrats to continue doing what they’ve been doing, which is ignoring the wishes of their progressive wing and catering to the wishes of their corporate donors instead. As long as they can count on progressives to put their disappointment behind them and continue to rally around them in spite of everything, they won’t have to bother satisfying any of their demands.

Every single democrat who held back on their support for the bill because it wasn’t progressive enough eventually folded. Even Dennis Kucinich changed his vote at the last minute, though I can’t be too angry with him because I also ultimately decided that something was better than nothing. It would just be nice if occasionally the democrats who draw lines in the sand would actually remain behind those lines. When republicans draw lines, that’s it. They’re not budging because they don’t give a damn if the whole thing fails. But when a democrat draws a line in the sand you can take it with a grain of salt because as we’ve seen time and time again, when all is said and done the advocates of reform would rather have something than nothing.

Once again it comes down to simple Game Theory. You don’t negotiate with someone you know will accept any offer you give them. If you know your opponent is going to fold no matter what you do, why give them anything? This is exactly why bills always move further and further to the right. Obama should have begun with a far-left bill, demanding single payer and then reluctantly capitulating until we were left with nothing more than a strong public option. Instead he started by offering a strong public option and then let it grow weaker and weaker until it disappeared altogether.

It’s a disastrous strategy for liberal supporters of the president to throw a victory party for him. Democrats look at that and say, “See, throw the plebs a few coins and they’ll be dancing in the streets. You don’t have to give them what they want, just give them some of what they need and they’ll reward you for it.” As for the corporations, just give them everything they want so they’ll keep giving you the money you need to pay for ads that continue to convince the people that you’re really on their side. For liberals, the proper strategic response to this bill is to say, “Fine, thanks for passing it. Congratulations. Now fix it. And don’t expect us to vote for you unless you do.”

How should they fix it? Very simple. Open up Medicare for anyone who wants to pay for it. You don’t have to give free health-care to everyone, just let people buy this government-run plan if they can afford it. The money won’t come out of taxpayer’s wallets, and the insurance companies will actually have real competition.

Anyone unfamiliar with Cenk Uygur of the web-based, totally independent news commentary show “The Young Turks” really ought to check him out. Cenk has been making the extremely good point that the celebration of democrats right now has a very unsettling “Mission Accomplished”-banner feel to it, in that they’re selling the American people on the idea that the problem is solved and we can all go home now, when in fact the problems are just beginning.

Here’s what’s going to happen unless they fix the cost-control problem: Without a non-profit, government-run competitor to the private insurance companies, they’re just going to keep raising the rates higher and higher, which will actually lead to more uninsured people. There’s really nothing in this bill to stop them from doing that. Rates will go up and people will wonder what the fuck is going on since they were told that everything was fixed.

Now that the bill has passed, republicans are very worried that all of the lies they told are going to be exposed as the utter bullshit they were. When people notice that the government has not in fact taken over the system, that they can keep their doctor, that no bureaucrat is knocking on grandma’s door to pressure her into committing suicide, they might start to realize that the republicans were full of shit.

BUT these people have incredibly short memories and as long as there’s something wrong, they’ll follow their leaders blindly. Insurance companies will raise their rates, and the republicans will blame it on reform. “The democrats told you they solved the problem, but it just forced the insurance companies to raise their rates and now the American people are suffering. Vote for us and we’ll repeal it!” And the Tea Party wingnuts will just fall into line. No government death panels necessary—you won’t hear the phrase “death panels” at all anymore, and everyone will act like that claim was never made. Whatever happens, the republicans will just say “We told you this would happen” and they’ll have an entire news network to back them up on it.

Everyone who thinks this is over is sadly mistaken. Health care will remain an issue going into the elections, and the democrats are at a major disadvantage as long as there are no real cost controls in the bill. Sure, a few kids with pre-existing conditions will get health care, a few college students will be able to remain on their parents’ plans, and a few people here and there will see benefits immediately. But there’s nothing to stop the insurance companies from raising their rates across the board, and this will affect everybody.

The thing is, I don’t know if I give a damn at this point. The November mid-term elections will be a disaster no matter what the outcome. Both sides will get the wrong message from the results, whatever they may be. If republicans pick up seats, they’ll see it as a vindication and endorsement of their block-everything strategy and they’ll double-down, making it impossible for Obama to do anything at all for the rest of his presidency. Democrats will assume they have to move further to the right, and the bills they propose will become more and more conservative even though they won’t pass anyway.

But if democrats win, the results won’t be much better. If the democrats maintain their large majorities they’ll see it as tacit permission from their supporters to continue on with their strategy of watering-down every bill and making every piece of legislation as corporate-friendly as possible. If they know they can cater to their corporate sponsors and still count on the people they’re screwing over to vote for them, there’s no chance in hell of them changing course.

American voters are faced with yet another awful decision. Either reward the republicans for their strategy of obstruction, or reward democrats for their strategy of capitulation. Either way, we lose.

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