Tuesday, December 22, 2009

The Progressive Predicament

Thanks to RB for sharing this, from The Weekly Sift.

The Progressive Predicament
Watching the ever-shrinking reform of the health-care system has made a number of progressives ask some bigger, harder questions. Thomas Shaller wonders why
the bar to clear for public support seems to be asymmetrically higher for progressive agenda items than conservative agenda items. ... the political reality that less support is needed, say, to pass a tax cut for rich people or start a war than is needed to expand health care coverage or raise the minimum wage
And John Aravosis asks:
how was George Bush so effective in passing legislation during his presidency when he never had more than 55 Republicans in the Senate?

DailyKos' thereisnospoon says outright that Obama and the Democrats in Congress sold us out on health care and financial reform, and delivers this wake-up slap-in-the-face:
He hasn't done this because he's a bad guy. In fact, he's a great guy. I think he's doing pretty much the best job he can. He's sold you out because he's not afraid of you. And really, if I may be so bold, he shouldn't be afraid of you. You don't know who really runs the show, and you're far too fickle and manipulable to count on.
S/he (I'm not sure) laughs at the idea that Democrats could elect a president and 60 senators and then expect that they will go off and work our will. It's more difficult than that.
The Right has built vast networks of think tanks, newspapers, periodicals, cable news channels, and political advocacy organizations to spread their finely tuned, well-honed messages. Their politicians may fail them, and their actual policies may be deeply unpopular, but their message machine nearly always works its magic to get them what they want, even when Democrats are in power.

That's partly because the American political Right never quits and never gives up. They know that organization is the key to their success, and they don't trust politicians to do their work for them. Democrats, on the other hand, get disappointed and quit when our politicians don't pan out the way we wanted. That's why we lose.
Until liberals have an equivalent level of organization, s/he claims, our agenda will always fall by the wayside.

OpenLeft's Paul Rosenberg pulls a bunch of this together, and then makes some very good observations about structural problems in the American political system.
We are the only advanced industrial nation with a pronounced and persistent class skew to our rates of voter participation-a skew that persistently under-represents progressive views, and like any feature of the political system that has endured this long, there is nothing accidental, incidental, casual, or individual about this.

Sure it's specific individuals who are not voting, but their non-participation is
not fundamentally a result of individual choice. They are responding rationally to the fact that their votes don't make a difference, that politicians don't listen to people like them, and that paying attention to politics only gets their hopes up in order to dash them--an extra helping of bitter disappointment that they really don't need in their lives.
He proposes an agenda to change the nature of the political process: election reform, strengthening unions, immigration reform so that we no longer have a non-voting underclass, and so on. Democrats pay lip service to this stuff, but haven't put any real muscle behind it.

It all comes down to the difference between corporations and people. Corporations are rich, they're totally amoral, they never take their eyes off the ball, and they don't get discouraged. People aren't like that. So a political movement that looks out for people is disadvantaged when it faces a political movement that looks out for corporations. This doesn't mean that people can't win, but they've got to face their disadvantages squarely.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Good Read for the Day

E J Dionne has a thoughtful column today on the Senate Health Care Reform situation. Urging progressives "don't scream, organize", he warns now is not the time to throw up our hands.
Of course what has happened on the health care bill is enraging. It's quite clear that substantial majorities in both houses of Congress favored either a public option or a Medicare buy-in.

In a normal democracy, such majorities would work their will, a law would pass, and champagne corks would pop. But everyone must get it through their heads that thanks to the now bizarre habits of the Senate, we are no longer a normal democracy.

Because of a front of Republican obstruction and the ludicrous idea that all legislation requires a supermajority of 60 votes, power has passed from the majority to tiny minorities, sometimes minorities of one.

Worse, more influence in this system flows to those willing to kill a bill than to those who most devoutly want to pass one. The paradox in this case is that senators who care most passionately about extending health coverage to 31 million Americans have the least power.
He notes how dysfunctional the Senate is, and if you read the comments on this article in the Oregonian, the writers miss the fact that the D's do NOT have 60 votes.
What transpired was thus not the product of some magic show in which more conservative senators are endowed with mysteriously ingenious negotiating abilities while liberals are a bunch of bunglers. The whole system is biased to the right because the Senate itself -- a body in which Wyoming and Utah have as much representation as New York and California -- is tilted in a conservative direction. The 60-vote requirement empowers conservatives even more.
Democrats have no purity pledge when they run as Democrats. Indeed, there are Democrats in some states which shall remain nameless but you know who they are, who would be R's any place else. The presence of only a few 'centrist' R's, like Maine's senators, underscores the vanishing species of 'just right of center' politicians in the GOP.

This whole process is very frustrating. Op Eds bash 'Obama's Health Care Bill' when in fact it's been castrated by the GOP efforts to stop any reform at all. But we progressives need to get over our anger, and resist walking away from this mess. No excuses. We should join the likes of Jay Rockefeller and Sherrod Brown, and ramp it up.

In the meantime, progressives such as Brown and Rockefeller are right to be fighting with all their might to push through this less than perfect but still remarkably decent proposal.

To vote against it, Rockefeller said when I caught up with him recently, "you have to be for not covering 30 million people ... you have to be for denying coverage to people with pre-existing conditions ... you have to be against helping small businesses buy health insurance." His list went on and on and on, making the point that this bill represents rather astonishing progress.

Brown is of the same view, and also points to where progressives now need to direct their energies. Senate passage of this bill is not the final step. The Senate proposal, Brown said in an interview, can still be improved.

Let's urge our Senators and Representatives to get the final bill closer to the House bill than it is to the Senate bill and keep the pressure on to constantly improve it. If we'd had imperfect health care legislation back when the Clintons were working on it, think of how it could have been morphed into something GOOD by now. Inaction is not an option.
It's a lot easier to improve a system premised on the idea that everyone should have health coverage than to create such a system in the first place. Better to take a victory and build on it than to label victory as defeat.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Victory for Democrats

Dwight Pelz
Chair, Washington State Democratic Party

November 21, 2009

If the Democrats get 60 votes for cloture this week, then a health care bill will probably pass the Senate. The bill will go to Conference Committee, and a new health care bill will emerge which can be expected to pass both houses and be signed by the President. When that happens, it will be a great victory for Democrats and working families in America.

When Congress passes a health care bill it will be declaring that health care for Americans below the age of Medicare is now a federal responsibility. Health care will join the list of issues "federalized" in the last 75 years by Congress: unemployment, retirement, and health care for seniors. Congress created unemployment insurance and Social Security in 1935, and Medicare in 1965.

The fierce battle taking place in America over this issue is actually a more critical battle of whether it is the role of government to solve problems facing our nation. This opposition is spearheaded by forces and ideas that have not accepted, and still seek to roll back, the New Deal.

For the greater part of the 20th Century it was the clear understanding of both political parties that the role of government was to solve problems, and that taxes were to be collected to finance these solutions. Dwight Eisenhower and Richard Nixon were classic New Deal American political liberals in this tradition. Eisenhower had utilized the full power of the American government to defeat Hitler; then directed the government to build the Interstate system and to respond to Sputnik by investing in education. Nixon was the greatest environmental President of all time, responding to Rachel Carson and the first Earth Day by passing the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, and creating the Environmental Protection Agency.

Kennedy thrilled America with his challenge, "Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country." Lyndon Johnson was the last New Deal President, passing the Great Society, the Civil Rights Act, the Voting Rights Act, and Medicare.

It was Ronald Reagan and his right wing oil patch patrons that declared war on the role of government in America. Reagan announced that "government is the problem, not the solution.", and promised that the way to improve government was to starve it of its funds. He cut the top income tax rates for his patrons from 70% to 28%, and launched an era of 25 years in which the income for the median American family remained flat while the top 1% doubled, and top .01% quadrupled.

GW Bush picked up Ronald Reagan's torch and carried it with a vengeance. He almost repealed Social Security, the New Deal bulwark once considered untouchable by American politicians. He became the first President to cut taxes during a war, reducing the rates for his friends in the top one percent by $930 billion, while creating a $1 trillion deficit in the midst of a growing economy. Bush asked his political base, “What can your country do for you?”

To illustrate how far we moved on the role of government, take the issue of poverty. When Michael Harrington's 1962 book "The Other America" identified destitute families and communities in America, his findings shocked the nation. In 1964, Congress, on a bi-partisan vote, quickly declared "War on Poverty". In George Bush's America we came to accept the homeless sleeping on the streeet, and beggars on every freeway ramp. These were simply the "have nots" in Bush's "Ownership Society".

Barack Obama has challenged the Reagan/Bush doctrine that the government should not confront the myriad problems facing America. In his Inaugural Address he said, "The question we ask today is not whether our government is too big or too small, but whether it works, whether it helps families find jobs at a decent wage, care they can afford, a retirement that is dignified." Obama has called on the government to end the Recession, enact health care reform, curb global warming, and boost clean energy jobs.

The opposition to the health care bill is fierce because the stakes are so high. FOX News commentators and Right Wing intellectuals lie daily about the basic facts of our health care system and the proposed legislation. Republicans in Congress offer no solutions because they do not believe the federal government should play a role in fixing the health care system.

If Congress enacts health care reform in the weeks ahead, the legislation will not be perfect. But once it becomes a federal policy matter, Congress will be forced in the future to improve the system and root out the inefficiencies and inequities. As that happens, it will be a great victory for Democrats and working families in America.