Thursday, November 27, 2014

The Senate Democrats' Messaging Czar Will Always Disdain Progressive Ideas


This photo of Schumer never surprised me; I went to high school with him

There are some good reasons to be unenthusiastic about the congressional action that eventually came to be known as Obamacare. It didn't go nearly far enough towards the modern universal, single-payer system that is desperately needed. And compromises with special interests left unconscionable profits flowing to Big Pharma and Big Insurance. But these aren't the criticisms economic royalist Chuck Schumer-- the Senate Democrats' messaging czar-- was whining about at the National Press Club Tuesday. Schumer's argument, writes Paul Waldman in the Washington Post "is not only incredibly weak as a matter of analysis, but also it runs in direct contradiction to the core values of both the Democratic Party and liberalism more generally." Schumer is up for reelection in 2016 and people who have followed his slimy career know this is exactly his m.o.
Schumer says that rather than move to reform health care, Democrats should have spent more energy lifting up the middle class. But, you might ask, didn’t they pass a $787 billion stimulus program just a month after Obama took office, something that required overcoming a Republican filibuster? Well, sure. And didn’t they also pass the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act and student loan reform, and save the auto companies, and extend unemployment insurance, and pass a payroll tax cut? Meh, says Schumer.
...The Affordable Care Act was aimed at the 36 million Americans who were uncovered. It has been reported that only a third of the uninsured are even registered to vote. In 2010, only about 40 percent of those registered voted, so even if the uninsured kept with that rate (which they likely did not) you would still only be talking about 5 percent of the electorate. To aim a huge change in mandate at such a small percentage of the electorate made no political sense. So when Democrats focused on health care, the average middle class person thought “the Democrats are not paying enough attention to me.”
...There’s some pretty striking cynicism in this passage-- the uninsured don’t vote, so why help them? And why, exactly, did working on health care reform preclude a second stimulus? There were people advocating it at the time, people who thought the Recovery Act was too small. If only Chuck Schumer had been in the Senate back then, so he could have written such a bill and pushed for its passage. Oh wait-- he was, and he didn’t.

...[T]he idea that health care reform “wasn’t the change we were hired to make” is equally wrong. Health care reform was a huge topic of discussion in 2008, both in the primary and the general election, so much so that John McCain, who couldn’t care less about health care reform unless you could convince him we ought to invade it, felt compelled to offer his own detailed reform plan. Beyond that, it was one of the central Democratic priorities for decades, and not because the party thought it could gain an advantage in the next midterm election out of it. It was a priority because of the nightmare of the American health care system, which alone among developed countries left tens of millions of people without insurance and millions more with no guarantee of coverage. Improving the lives of millions of people-- even some who don’t vote!-- is supposed to be the kind of thing Democrats stand for, and the kind of thing power is supposed to be used to accomplish.

So yes, after the stimulus passed, Democrats moved on health care reform. And yes, while the benefits of things like the elimination of denials of insurance for preexisting conditions help everyone, the most immediate benefits flowed to those who were less wealthy and more vulnerable. And yes, the particular design of the ACA-- a new set of benefits and regulations layered on top of an already absurdly complex private system-- contained the seeds of its political weaknesses, even if that design was the only thing that could have passed. But to say that Democrats shouldn’t have bothered on the off chance that they could have passed some more stimulus and maybe minimized their losses in 2010 makes one wonder what the point of electing Democrats is.

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At 8:29 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I like how Charles Pierce described Schumer in a post on Wednesday: "Senator Chuck Schumer (D-erivatives)".

With a friend like Schumer, we don't need Republicans to keep poisoning the well.

He must have been a piece of work in high school too. I'm imagining "all ambition" and a "What's in it for me?" attitude. And worse.


At 9:50 AM, Blogger ifthethunderdontgetya™³²®© said...

Chuck's bread is buttered by Wall Street.

Funny that he'd criticize Obama on economic populism...they're two peas in the GOP wing of the Democratic party pod.

At 10:42 AM, Blogger DownWithTyranny said...

Wall Street has given Schumer more dough-- $20,667,489-- (legalistic bribes and protection money) than any other senator in history except ones who have run for president. An economic populist he's never been.

At 8:15 AM, Anonymous Blissex said...

But Schumer has a point -- that to help the sick and poor the Democrats have to be elected, and the voters who bother to turn up and vote are often not sick and poor, they are "F*CK YOU! I GOT MINE" sort of people.

A large part of the Denmocratic party problem is that it was an partially still is the party of the non-WASP minorities, and in particular in its glory days it was the party of the Irish/Jewish/Italian ethnicities.

In the past the Irish/Jewish/Italian voters were poor, currently most got theirs and have joined the white-picket-fence middle classes thanks to the prosperity ladder made by the trade unions and the New Deal policies, and now they want to pull up that ladder. Their main worry is property prices, not good jobs or salaries or health-care or social insurance.

So there is a tension in Democratic strategy: is their constituency still made largely of the now-reactionary Irish/Jewish/Italian ethnicities it used to represent, and who vote regularly, or has it become the new poor and sick classes of society, who mostly don't vote?

Schumer is clear where he stands: with the newly-enriched "F*CK YOU! I GOT MINE" middle classes.

But that's not an entirely illegitimate stand: the social landscape has changed a lot.


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