Thursday, March 18, 2010

Tom Tomorrow wonders if the president, that multidimensionsal-chess genius, is really just a lousy poker player -- I say there's more to it


If we can't get single-payer . . .
We'll settle for the public option. Um, Mr. President, didn't you support that in your campaign?
[Don't forget to click on it to enlarge.]

by Ken

We have it from the president's own mouth that everything there is to be said about health care has been said. (Well, that's a joke -- to me, if not to the president, as I tried to explain last night. It strikes me that actually hardly any of the most important things have been said, at least not as part of the official "discussion.") So why am I on the subject a second day in a row? Let's just say I want to get the rest of my scraps on the record, so I can go on to worrying about important stuff like the state of Sandra Bullock's marriage.

More than anything I just want to embarrass myself by asking the most naive question that can be asked about this whole debacle of a "health care debate" -- a protracted screech-fest that has touched on many mostly subjects, rarely including "health":

What if all that money had been spent on, you know, health care?


No, Tom, as far as I know, candidate Obama never did say he would support a public option. Oh, he may have intimated now and then, including after he took office, that yes, a public option is certainly an idea. And if for some improbable reason the insurance companies had been prepared to go along with it, I'll bet he would have been happy to include it in "his" plan, when he finally got around to having one.


The thing that originally put me off Obama in the presidential sweepstakes was that notion that he could solve problems by bringing all the parties together to negotiate, and the example was that the insurance and drug companies would be at the table for any health care reforms. It seemed to me hopelessly naive to imagine that the health care industries were going to willingly go along with any of the reforms needed to truly remake the U.S. health care system.

Now, finally, I understand that he wasn't being naive about what concessions they were prepared to make. His idea, as I now understand it, was that when you gather all the interested parties, what you come away with is whatever they agree to. The unstated corollary was that some parties' agreement would count for more than others. It turns out that the insurance and drug companies aren't expected to give up much of anything. I'm not sure why; could it just be because they're the richest and most powerful people at the imaginary table? Whereas consumers of health care are supposed to be satisfied with whatever deal is worked out.

Well, this seems to be the "postpartisan" world that the president had, and has, in mind. It's really not so different from the view attributed to his sidekick, Master Rahm Emanuel, that from the political standpoint all he needed to do was get a health care bill, any bill, passed. The only difference, I'm suggesting, is that Master Rahm means it cynically, while his boss means sincerely that a compromise is good.

(He also seems to believe that who does the compromising is in good part preordained. So where no fundamental concessions were to be expected from Big Pharma and Insurance, it hardly required a second thought to throw women's reproductive rights under the bus. There's something about this philosophy of governance I'm just not getting.)


We had a lot of money talk last night, mostly in terms of the stakes for the big-money players, which in my present understanding I believe the president and most of the Dem negotiators (you know, specimens like Max Baucus) were prepared to accept as sacrosanct. But I didn't particularly follow my own prescription of following the money, by which I mean the gazillions of dollars that have been dumped into the campaign against meaningful health care reform (the sort of thing, once again, that Howard Dean has been talking about, which I guess is why he never became part of the official discussion either.)

Of course Howie has been on the job of tracking the bribes paid by the big-money players to members of Congress, but that's only a part of the total expenditure in this high-pressure propaganda campaign. In the new (April 8) New York Review of Books, Michael Tomasky has a piece called "The Money Fighting Health Care Reform" (the cover line is "The Big Money vs. Health Reform"), in which he makes a heroic effort to quantify the numbers.

I should note that Michael has a different understanding from my new one of what exactly the president's agenda has been in this fight. He writes, for example, that the Sunlight Foundation's Paul Blumenthal (in "The Legacy of Billy Tauzin: The White House-PhRMA Deal") "documents how, step by step, PhRMA won on every point in negotiations with White House officials and with Max Baucus," when as I see it there was no winning or losing from the standpoint of the president -- or of Baucus. They were negotiating to see what kind of deal could be agreed on. Whatever they came up with was by definition a "win."

But Michael certainly understands the role money has come to play in our governance. He concludes his piece:
Whether it passes or not, the institutional pressures of big money have effectively and quietly deformed central parts of the bill and continue to loom over any attempt by Congress to write and pass major domestic legislation. Stronger financial regulation is now being resisted daily by Wall Street lobbies. It's not a coincidence that there have been fewer and fewer pieces of large-scale economic and social legislation since big money has increasingly dominated politics from the 1980s on. The question that remains open is whether there is any effective way of revealing what is being bought and sold in Congress.

Let's face it, these companies aren't spending the kind of money they're spending out of the goodness of their hearts, or to protect a philosophical principle, or because they've taken on the patriotic role of providing that amount of economic stimulus. They're spending it because they see it as a prudent investment to protect their financial interests. And the scope of that investment gives us a clue as to the scale of the ongoing heist they're safeguarding.

And here I am, fantasizing about how much real health care all that money could have bought. Oh well. I gather Sandra Bullock's marriage isn't in much better shape. Oh wait, I see on AOL that her husband has issued an apology and hopes his family can forgive him. Okay.

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At 6:31 PM, Anonymous rootless_e said...

Hate to break this to you, but the President promised to push for public option, not to make it appear by magic. There is no majority for public option in the Senate. The President does not get to rule by decree. The power of corporations does not disappear when Republicans lose the presidency. Getting the current deal through is nothing short of a miracle.

At 7:16 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

If the President believes compromise has value in of itself, then he is fundamentally ignorant, not merely a poor poker player.

At 7:43 PM, Blogger KenInNY said...

(1) to rootless:

Hate to break it to you, rootless, but the president never wanted a public option and NEVER LIFTED A FINGER, never made THE SLIGHTEST EFFORT, to make it happen.

He absolutely DID NOT promise to push for a public option. Never. But as I suggested, a lot of people let themselves be fooled into thinking they heard him say that -- and a bunch of other things he never said but sort of hinted at. And all those progressive things he never promised, guess what? He has been true to his word.

We'll never know how many votes there might have been for a public option if the president had pushed for it. Not only did he never do the SLIGHTEST thing to encourage it, in retrospect it's clear that he in fact tolerated or even encouraged enemies of it like Max Baucus and Joe Lieberman. Sometimes you really do have to consider what's actually going on.

Or maybe it doesn't matter.

Let me just add one more thing. Maybe you're new to DWT, because it's a point that has come up a lot here. When it comes to "not having the votes," the current Dem leadership in the White House and Congress is championship-caliber. At some point, like maybe about the 10,000th time it happens, you really have to start connecting the dots and grasp that when pols DON'T WANT something to happen, it's amazing how easy it is to not have the votes. It's virtually guaranteed.

But thanks for commenting. I think a lot of people are under that same misimpression. We really need to get over it.

(2) to Anon:

Of course this is my chacterization of the president's thinking, but I'm sticking to it, and I can't disagree with your point.


At 8:52 PM, Blogger Project Savior said...

I have held my tongue because this country needs people like you to keep pushing the country on to the right path.
That being said, the current healthcare bill isn't that bad. It makes healthcare a right. It lowers the deficit, it will save thousands of real breathing people as well as lowering the number of abortions, and it will be made better over time as it gets amended.
So lets take this bill that gives the American people a small break and use it as a wedge to make sure Washington takes into account the dignity and worth of every individual.
So celebrate the passing of this bill and keeping fighting to make this country even better.

At 4:58 AM, Anonymous rootless_e said...

The facts that Clinton failed to get HCR through even to a vote, that Carter didn't even get far enough to bring it up before the Democratic majority in the Senate backstabbed him, that the Dem majority requires votes from people who are deeply ethically compromised, that LBJ got medicare through on the basis of Northeastern moderate republicans who don't exist anymore (and Scott Brown and Lieberman for e.g. Lowell Weicker and Ed Brooke is no improvement), that Harry Truman was smacked down on this issue, are not compatible with the "mean President won't get me a pony" theory of some.

It has also been sad to watch as people who never heard of "public option" a 2 years ago suddenly decided it was the fundamental bottom line. To me, that's evidence of the reliance on symbolics that has been one of the hallmarks of what Jon Kozol identified years ago as the "made and effort" left.

At 5:35 AM, Blogger lawguy said...

Rootless I'd suggest that comparing what this president faced with what previous democratic presidents faced is miss direction. There was an opportunity here that Obama chose not to grasp. Before LBJs civil rights acts and Medicare where were the precursors?

This bill may be better than nothing, although I don't think so, but what it does is it makes poor people a conduit to syphon money out of the middle class and into the wealthiest coporations. In passing it provides some medical care, but that is only an after thought. In the end it stregthens the corporations who will fights all the harder down the road against real change.

In the end I'll be able to say I told you so, but that's cold comfort.

At 6:31 AM, Anonymous rootless_e said...

What a funny question. LBJ's first civil rights act was passed in 1957 and it was very weak indeed, but it helped prepare the way for the 1964 act. Medicare was a way of smuggling in part of what Truman proposed in 1946.

The "historic opportunity" you speak of seems to me to be a product of wishful thinking. What makes you think there was a moment when Baucus, Nelson, Blanche Lincoln, Lieberman and others, not to mention the anti-choice majority in the House, the unified block of GOP, and the massed forces of the insurance industry were all going to roll over at any point?

The reality is that "Democratic majority" in the Senate has not translated into easy legislative victories for Dem Presidents and that did not magically change in 2009.

As for the political implications of the bill, it will deliver a crushing blow to the Republicans as well as providing coverage to millions of Americans.


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