Monday, January 18, 2010

Who's To Blame?

I am mostly living far from Massachusetts these days, but I've marinated in its politics for 25 years, and seen my share of reactionaries voted into office. The idea that the state's undecideds are breaking for Brown because of some generalized economic anger that Obama failed to tap is ridiculous. Think Sean Hannity, not Sacco and Vanzetti.

The "undecideds" in South Boston and working class suburbs like Lynn don't like Cambridge and Back Bay, but they respect its winners, when they act like winners. They watch hockey for the fights. Like most of us, they have a certain humility and expect famous people and experts to tell them what to think. But they haven't heard of Uwe Reinhardt; and they smell insincerity a mile away. I wish I had a bluefish dinner for every time Coakley referred to the health package as "not perfect." It all came out so forced and fake.

The real question Democrats have to ask themselves is: how come the greatest piece of social legislation since Medicare is something a progressive Democratic candidate for Ted Kennedy's seat has to speak so defensively about?

And we can look no further than Howard Dean, and MSNBC, and Arianna Huffington, and, yes, some columnists at the Times and bloggers at TPM--you know, real progressives--who have lambasted Obama again and again since last March over arguable need-to-haves like the "public option," as if nobody else was listening. They've been thinking: "Oh, if only we ran things, how much more subtle would the legislation be," as if 41 senators add up to subtle. Meanwhile the undecideds are thinking: "Hell, if his own people think he's a sell-out and jerk, why should we support this?"


Shoded Yam said...

"...And we can look no further than Howard Dean, and MSNBC, and Arianna Huffington, and, yes, some columnists at the Times and bloggers at TPM--you know, real progressives--who have lambasted Obama again and again since last March over arguable need-to-haves like the "public option,"

Look, maybe you're right, but I think there's a feeling on the left that if they don't extract the public option, they never will. Many of my friends are uninsured. Many of them lost their benefits when they were downsized or they developed a condition that made them "inelegible". Many of them never had it to begin with Bernie. And if they did, for most of them the co-payments were impossible. My wife and I are luckier than most as Miki is a public employee with excellent benefits. This was an issue that people expected their elected officials to be stubborn about, to show leadership and resolution, and most importantly to lean on those who needed to be leaned on. The republicans seemed to have no problem accomplishing this, leaving others to wonder why the democrats can't get their shit together. As for Mr. Obama, he needs to get real and recognize that the real reason most people voted for him was not because he was the messiah. Not because of Iraq, Not because of Afghanistan, not even because of the economy. They voted for him because he promised them health care, plain and simple. The masses took that to mean "public option" as he knew they would. This was a dangerous promise to make if he never had any intention of making good on it. To abandon it now seems like a betrayal and is obviously being percieved as such.

Mitchell J. Freedman said...

Bernie, stop. Just stop. Right now.

We progressives who have criticized Obama have no power. None. We never did. That's why Obama ignored us. To suddenly think we had the power to change the minds of low information voters is laughable. Low information voters hear noise on television and radio, and they don't watch MSNBC. They don't read blogs. They don't read newspapers.

What they know is that Obama helped the banks, but they did not see anything in their neighborhoods or among their friends. If we progressives noticed that, too, that's not our fault, that's our insight.

Obama, Reid, Pelosi, Coakley et al are politically tone deaf. The first three could have supported a robust public option and fought for it. They could have followed the Rule of 51 (where's your math, Bernie?) in the Senate. They could have done a massive public works program that put money into people's hands immediately. Krugman got it today when he said Obama and his Dem leaders in the Congress just got it wrong, not that they did too much. Not that they were too liberal for their own good. Not anything other than choosing to appease bankers, financiers and corporate power in the corridors of NYC, DC, Boston and Chicago.

Don't blame the powerless, but intelligent. It's unbecoming of an intellectual.

Bill said...

So after concession after concession has been made to the right, after the left swallowed their misgivings like good soldiers and voted for a bill that was crafted to win the support of Joe Lieberman, the left is still going to be blamed for it not passing. Great.

Potter said...

Today it is snowing here in central Massachusetts and we are going out to vote but not with enthusiasm and with some anger - feeling quite okay if our choice ( Coakley) loses. We will sit back and watch what unfolds if Brown wins.

The "arguable need-to have" public option was not only the best simplest way to get everyone covered and to save money (and already a concession from single payer) that many in this country, not only progressives, wanted. But more perhaps it's the WAY the public option lost out and the lack of Obama's leadership. That is more important to where we are today and why so many will vote Brown to kill federal health care reform.

I'll stand by my comments on your entry "Things Fall Apart" and add the healthcare reform issue to it. Obama managed not only to disappoint progressives but give new life to the far right and he will end up with nothing to show for the people. This social legislation has become- a convoluted mess.

I have read that there are very few undecideds in this one.

Bernard Avishai said...

Let's be clear. The health bill would cover almost everybody and force insurers to compete on service, not on cherry picking. It will give the country what Mass. already has. It would do so by subsidizing the poor to the tune of over 150 billion. This would have been enough; and Obama knew it when he was counting Senate votes back in March, knew that people like Lieberman were hopeless, and therefore signaling that he was open to the idea of delivering the "public (sector) option" through coops.

That's when the left attacked, and why? To control costs, they said. But the fee-for-service medicine that balloons costs was never going to be controlled by the public option (read Bud Relman, or Atul Gawande), unless you believe the obsolete idea that costs depend mainly on the "buying power" of a big government agency. I have dealt with this in depth on my blog:

The bottom line is that the left worked very conspicuously to discredit Obama all summer when it could have had the Baucus bill almost right away. And it fueled the "populist backlash" by saying, again and again, that the health bill was going to be too expensive and a give away to insurers and drug companies--this, after they said Obama was hanging out with Wall Street types when he refused to nationalize the banks. (That would have been even more disastrous.)

What America needs is universal coverage and proliferating HMOs. It also needs digital medical records and legally mandated standards for claims processing. It also needs a president as smart and decent as Obama. Do we have his back?

Potter said...

Bernard- a few points:

* Regarding competition for one-I understand that the current Senate bill does not repeal the anti-trust exemption for the insurers. They can legally collude- including on quality of service. There are other issues including with regard to how the exchanges are set up and patents that mitigate the forces of competition.

*in addition I believe there is no provision that controls abusive denial of claims- decisions by insurers about what services we will be able to /can receive that will be made under the guise of cost cutting.

*Was it not the deals cut with drug companies ( also anti-competitive) and insurers ( behind closed doors after the promise of openness) that made populist anger or liberal's complaining about it?

*In September the Congressional Budget Office said the public option is/was the most effective cost control option on the table. The public option at the time was 20% more popular with Americans than health care reform in general.

*There was no Baucus bill. The Baucus bill effort took the summer away and there was no Baucus bill. The reason for that had nothing to do with liberals rather it had to do with attempts to come up with a bill that Republicans could sign onto. What stalled this process to Christmas was Obama's insistence on getting Republicans on board.

Bob Kuttner, also getting into the blame game, has it absolutely right in his current piece- A Wake-Up Call Huffington Post

Cutting a deal with the insurers and drug companies, who are not exactly candidates to win popularity contests, associated Obama with profoundly resented interest groups. This was exactly the wrong framing. This battle should have been the president and the people versus the interests. Instead more and more voters concluded that it was the president and the interests versus the people.......a bill that served the drug and insurance industries was almost guaranteed to have unpopular core elements.

The politics got horribly muddled. By embracing a deal that required the government to come up with a trillion dollars of subsidy for the insurance industry, Obama was forced to pursue policies that were justifiably unpopular -- such as taxing premiums of people with decent insurance; or compelling people to buy policies that they often couldn't afford, or diverting money from Medicare. He managed to scare silly the single most satisfied clientele of our one island of efficient single-payer health insurance -- senior citizens -- and to alienate one of his most loyal constituencies, trade unionists.
The bill helped about two-thirds of America's uninsured, but did almost nothing for the 85 percent of Americans with insurance that is becoming more costly and unreliable by the day -- except frighten them into believing that what little they have is at increased risk of being taken away.

Finally- If this is really the "greatest piece of social legislation since Medicare" how come we- who pat ourselves for truly caring beyond our own skins, who have been paying attention, can't see it? This is reason for dissembling and defensiveness we are getting.

Mitchell J. Freedman said...


Please understand the health care bill benefits would not even begin to come into play until 2014. That's three election cycles from now. You sure that plan would even exist by then?

Please also deal with the fact that the left is silent as far as those who made up the difference in voting for Brown this evening in Massachusetts. Put that poli sci hat on and smell the coffee. The weakness in Obama and the Dem leadership is what led to this failure. Blaming the left is simply ridiculous. The left came out and voted for Coakley. Their voices, again, are not even heard in corporate media in the US.

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