Friday, August 14, 2009

Harnessing Progressive Outrage

Author and Journalist Dave Lindorff has an interesting piece that is posted over at Counter Punch regarding the debate over health care reform. The main point of his piece is that the right-wing protesters are not really the main story:

What they are conveniently forgetting is that these are not really "town meetings" at all, at least in the sense of the town meetings I grew up with, and started out covering as a young journalist in Connecticut--that is, meetings called and run democratically, with leaders elected from the floor, open to all residents of a community.

These "town meetings" are really nothing but propaganda sessions run by members of Congress who are trying to burnish their fraudulent credentials as public servants, and trying to perpetrate a huge fraud of a health care bill that purports to be a progressive "reform" of the US health care system, but that actually further entrenches the control of that system by the insurance industry, and to a lesser extent, the hospital and drug industry.


Any mention of a system that works--single payer--the system we already have in the form of Medicare for the elderly and disabled, and the system that has proved successful for almost four decades in Canada-- has been systematically blocked and censored out of the discussion. Every effort has been made to bury an excellent bill, HR 676, offered up by Rep. John Conyers (D-MI), which would cover every American by simply expanding Medicare to cover everyone.

The only proper response at this point is obstruction, and the more militant and boisterous that obstruction, the better.

Instead of opposing the right-wing hecklers at these events, progressives should be making common cause with them. Instead of calling them fascists, we should be working to turn them, by showing them that the enemy is not the left; it is the corporations that own both Democrats and Republicans alike.

A couple of notes on this post that are worth mentioning. Lindorff is correct to observe that all the focus on the right-wing disruptions of the town hall meetings have lent a certain brand of sympathy from progressives to the Obama Administration and the currently proposed bills that are before Congress. With so much time needing to be spent correcting the ridiculous claims (euthanizing the elderly via "death panels", government control of which doctors that you can see, etc.) it takes away from the time that could be spent having a real conversation about options, like single-payer, that are not even being considered or discussed.

Lindorff also has a valid point that what is actually being advanced as a truly progressive reform of the health care system, is actually turning out to be a giant compromise between those who wish to reform the system and the lobbyists of the health care industry. Yesterday, The Huffington Post got their hands on a White House memo that outlines a compromise that was reached between the Obama Administration and the pharmaceutical lobby. Bloomberg is also reporting that there are six lobbyists for each member of Congress that are working to shape the terms on which health care will be reformed. These lobbyists have one thing on their side that constituents of members of Congress don't...large sums of money which too often translate into the power to influence critical decisions that we are told are in the public interest.

The issue I take with Lindorff, is his prescription for progressives to advance their calls for a single-payer system. His advice is two-fold; first, to disrupt these town hall meetings by being both "militant" and "boisterous". Second, to join the protesters on the right by finding common cause with them and trying to "turn" them by focusing their anger on corporate interests.

Lindorff's first point, that progressives should adopt the very tactics that they have been denouncing all this time, would simply be counterproductive. What good would being "militant" and "boisterous" be considering we have seen first-hand how ridiculous and anti-democratic this has been when displayed by the protesters on the right over the last few weeks? One of the very criticisms of the right has been that their tactics of disruption have resulted in the suppression of views from progressives who also may oppose the health care reforms. What good would be brought to the views of progressives if they also engaged in the shout-down tactics? I would argue that little to no good would be served by adopting these tactics.

Lindorff's second point is that progressives should be finding common cause with the right and should work to "turn them" by showing them that the common enemy are the corporate interests. While this may seem like moving a mountain, it could be a worthy long-term goal. This is not a good strategy for this current issue nor would much success come from even beginning to attempt to "turn" people who currently believe that moderate reforms to the system will result in the United States turning into Nazi Germany. Call me crazy, but I can't imagine the following scenario:

Conservative: "Down with Government control of health care decisions! We are turning into Nazi Germany! Obama is a socialist! You are going to kill my elderly parents!"

Progressive: "But what is being proposed isn't a government takeover of the health care system."

Conservative: "Really?"

Progressive: "Nope, but let me tell you why you should support a true government-run system and how the corporate interests are screwing us both."

Conservative: "Okay, I will listen calmly to your viewpoint, consider all the merits of each system, and then be open to changing my mind."

Please excuse my oversimplification in this example, but "turning" conservatives in order to unite with them to fight for a common cause is not a feasible strategy in my mind, especially in the short-term and especially when discussing health care reform given the current political climate.

Should progressives be angered and outraged at the insistence by Congress that the single-payer option be kept off the table? Most certainly.

Should tough questions be asked at these town hall meetings about this topic? Definitely.

Should progressives continue to fight for a health care system that would cover all Americans while not sacrificing the quality of care? Absolutely.

Should this be done by adopting the same disruptive tactics at town hall meetings and joining with Conservatives to attempt an approach as a "united front"? I don't think this is a good idea.

There are other ways with which to affect change and to use activism in order get Congress to take the option of "Medicare for all" seriously. Before all this outrage began, Jane Hamsher was (and still is) doing a commendable job at organizing and I think that progress can be achieved with both grassroots and coordinated efforts from progressive organizations. These voices are (unfortunately) being drowned out by all the screaming and all of the misinformation that is trying to be corrected. While it may seem like an easy step to sympathize with the Administration in lieu of all crazy rhetoric being spewed from the right, progressives should not sacrifice their own voices. We can do better in this debate over health care reform and in order to get health care widely recognized as a human right and in order to get every person covered, we must do better.

No comments: