Thursday, August 20, 2009

Drawing a Line in the Sand

Former speechwriter for Rudy Giuliani and columnist for the New York Sun, John Avalon, has a new piece entitled "The Coming Liberal Suicide" over at The Daily Beast.

In this piece, Avalon attempts to give everyone a "wake-up call" on why it is an awful idea for liberals to demand that the public option be included in health care legislation (emphasis mine):

Time for a wake-up call. With all the hate-filled hyperbole festering around the summer’s health-care reform debate (Hitler references now seem to appear almost daily) it’s easy to lose sight of the fact that there is essentially one substantive sticking point separating the center from the left: the public option.
That’s the proposal that is acting as the thin-edge of the wedge in conservatives’ apparently effective argument that health-care reform represents a slippery slope toward socialism.

Remove that plank and replace it with a non-profit cooperative based on local models that have existed in the heartland for decades—as a bipartisan group of senators has proposed—and the reasonable edge of the opposition evaporates along with most of the cost

The problem with this is that Avalon suggests that it should be a rational response for the liberals to simply drop their demand for the public option because conservatives think it is a "slippery slope toward socialism". Why should any appeasement be made to the party that has opposed any of the reforms that have been proposed? Republicans have opposed single-payer, the public option, and have even hinted that they would oppose co-ops. It is quite clear that they are not interested in meaningful reforms to the health care system, so why does Avalon feel it necessary to concede even more of the legislation to accommodate the Republicans?

More from Avalon:

In the run to the ramparts, Cong. Maxine Waters went on with CNN’s Campbell Brown in the first wave of the push back, arguing that liberals had already compromised and wouldn’t go any further even at the president’s request. “No one can say that we're not willing to compromise. …We did that on single-payer.”
But that’s a concession to reality, not to Republicans or Blue Dog Democrats. The single payer plan may be the fondest wish for the far-left but it’s a non-starter in the rest of the nation. That’s why the RNC is already at work trying to paint even the co-op as government-run healthcare. Republicans want to keep the bogeyman of socialized medicine alive as long as they can. They want to run against the public option because they know it is a fight they can win. If Obama embraced a proposal like medical malpractice reform, performing a bit of political judo, they wouldn’t know what to do.

Compromising on single payer by embracing the public option is not a "concession to reality", it was most certainly a compromise with the Republicans, Blue Dog Democrats, and centrist Democrats like the President. Single-payer specifically wasnt't considered because these very interests took it off the table. This was a political decision that was advanced and something that progressives in Congress decided that they could compromise on. This was compromised on because Barack Obama campaigned on promoting a public option to compete with private insurance and progressives felt that this would be a feasible alternative to their desire for a single-payer system.

Avalon acknowledges that Republicans are trying to paint any type of reform (even co-ops) as socialized medicine and says that they are doing it because they can win the fight. First, Republicans cannot win this fight in the House if you look at the numbers and with talk of splitting the bill into two parts in the Senate, it is looking more and more like the public option may have a legitimate shot of getting passed.

Second, I like how Avalon frames the compromise on single-payer as a "concession to reality" but when Republicans display an absence of reality, it is viewed as a legitimate position that must be taken seriously. Just because Republicans are painting the public option and co-ops as a "government takeover" of health care, doesn't make that true. I have an idea, why don't we operate on a foundation that is based upon factual information and then have a rational discussion? If Republicans continue to misrepresent what a public option entails, then that is not a reason for progressives to concede what Obama promised in his campaign and what they have already compromised on. Just the opposite, it is a reason for progressives in Congress to draw the line in the sand and declare they will not water down the legislation in order to accommodate those who wish to not see any reforms.


President Obama needs to depolarize the health care debate. He got off-message because he got off-center. Embracing a bipartisan bill that replaces the public-option with a non-profit co-op will not “muddy” the debate but help clarify it. It will not be a retreat but a way forward.

Lyndon Johnson once joked that “the difference between liberals and cannibals is that cannibals don’t eat their friends and family members.” In half-century long history of failed healthcare reforms from Harry Truman on down, liberal cannibalism has been as much to blame for defeats as fear-mongering from the far-right.

This is just nonsense. Single-payer is what progressive liberals wanted from the very beginning. Obama explicitly stated that this was off the table which led progressives to compromise on the public option that Obama campaigned on. The polarization has come from those on the right who have been showing up to town hall meetings, shouting down the opposition, and advancing claims that have no basis in reality or in the legislation that is being proposed. Obama, Democrats, and progressives have spent a good portion of time just correcting these falsities to get the debate back to discussing what the policy actually contains. This is still ongoing.

President Obama has played a very central role in this debate throughout all of this. He has not pressured the Blue Dogs to back down and is actually letting their small coalition steer the Senate Finance Committee's debate. The White House has even recently started talking about dropping the public option in favor of co-ops. If this is "getting off center" then I wonder what John Avalon views as the so-called "center" in this debate. If Avalon thinks that "liberal cannibalism" has had more to do with the failure of health care reform over the last twenty years than the fear-mongering on the right, then I would have to borrow a line from Rep. Barney Frank and ask him on which planet he has been residing. Who has been controlling this current debate...those who are arguing that nationalized health care is the only way to cover all Americans or the people who are bringing guns to town hall meetings and yelling about "death panels"?

If we are to pass meaningful health care reform in this country, progressives must draw the line in the sand on the public option. There is simply no rationale for continuing to give up parts of this legislation in order to make those who advocate for the status quo happy. That is not "moving to the center" it is deliberately weakening the legislation. There is nothing "bipartisan" about continued concessions from only one side of the aisle in order to achieve a watered down bill that isn't in the best public interest. Progressives actually have a chance to stand up to the status quo on this issue and it is imperative that they refuse the continued calls to "move to the center". Americans want a public option, what they are tired of is the continuation of political discussions that result in more of the same.