Friday, March 19, 2010

The Disparity Between Progressives on Health Care Reform

When Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-OH) flipped his position and agreed to vote in favor of the current health care legislation earlier this week, many progressive activists from around the country felt as if they had been kicked in the gut.

Kucinich has long been a Democratic hold-out, voicing his staunch opposition to any health care legislation that did not include a public option. The fact that this legislation does not include a public option has caused a rift between those on the Left who feel that passing the current legislation is an important means to an end and those who feel that legislation without a public option is simply a giveaway to the insurance companies.

This disparity between progressive positions was on display during a very interesting and constructive conversation on today's Democracy Now!. The guests were none other than Rep. Kucinich and Ralph Nadar. While lengthy, the whole segment is worth watching and I have included it at the bottom, but here are a few highlights from the transcript that illustrate perfectly the difference in position.

AMY GOODMAN: Have you ever received as much pressure as you’re getting right now, as you have gotten right now, right down to your flight on Air Force One with President Obama?

REP. DENNIS KUCINICH: The pressure doesn’t really come so much from the outside. I mean, I had people who are for this and against it with equal intensity. What the pressure comes from, being told that you might be singularly responsible for the passage or failure of an initiative and having to live with the implications of that.

Amy, I did not want to be in the House on Sunday night with my voting card, you know, and a finger in the wind about what to do. And looking at the bigger picture here, I’m hopeful that in making this decision to switch in favor of voting for the bill, that we can use this opportunity to, down the road, push for the kind of health reform that I am for, that I stand for, that I’ve worked my life for. But it’s not going to happen in this bill. And there’s a point at which you just have to maturely look at the situation as it is and say, no matter what I do, it’s not going to change this bill. And I’ve tried harder than anyone, but, you know, it’s just not going to happen.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Ralph Nader, what about this issue of the seventy-seven other members of Congress who pledged not to support this bill? We’ve had quite a few of them on this show—Raul Grijalva, Anthony Weiner. What about the others who also have gradually agreed to support this bill?

RALPH NADER: They’ve all caved. They’ve all been put into line by the majority rulers in the House. So that’s not going to change, Juan.

What—I think Dennis Kucinich has been known as the great dissenter in the Democratic Party—against the criminal wars of aggression in Iraq and Afghanistan, for impeaching Bush and Cheney, for single payer, on and on. His subcommittee hearings, which are almost never covered by the press, provide a standard for what House subcommittees should be investigating all over the country. But I think he owes an explanation to hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of progressive Americans, many of whom who watch this show, who have clinged to Dennis Kucinich as the great dissenter, as the principled person, as the person who will hold the banner high. “The Star-Spangled Banner” has this phrase, “And the flag was still there.” But for the progressives in this country, they want to keep saying, “And Dennis Kucinich was still there.” So I would like him to go all over the country, after this malicious vote by the Democrats in the House, and address audiences all over, starting a complete new wave for full Medicare for all before this bill kicks in in 2014, so all the members running for reelection in 2010 are going to have to face it.

And I hope people will visit the videos that are on to show how many of his colleagues react when they’re confronted with a reporter asking the question, “The majority of the American people, doctors and nurses want this system. They want free choice of doctor and hospital. They want the insurance companies displaced with full single payer. Why aren’t you for it?” You look at their faces as they try to squirm out of that. That’s the moral position. They know it. But they’re caving into the enormous lobbying power of the drug and insurance companies, which are deploying over 2,000 full-time lobbyists on Capitol Hill as we speak.

AMY GOODMAN: Dennis Kucinich, your response? And also to Jane Hamsher, founder of Firedoglake, who asked if you were going to be giving back the money to people who gave to you all over the country because you said you would not support healthcare reform without a public option?

REP. DENNIS KUCINICH: First of all, with respect to Jane Hamsher, I talked to her yesterday, and I also indicated through my campaign early yesterday that anybody who contributed, you know, with the hopes that I was going to vote against the legislation unless it had a public option, that of course they’re going to get their money back, because I changed my position.

Now, with respect to what Ralph Nader just said about the need to keep a strong public—a strong single-payer campaign going, absolutely. I mean, you know, I haven’t changed my position one bit on single payer. I’m not suddenly saying, “Oh, gee, this for-profit model is something we ought to consider.” I don’t like it. I just want to make sure that everyone understands that the minute this bill is done, reforms within the context of a for-profit system, we have to accelerate that, and at the same time, a parallel track of continuing to pursue single payer. I agree with Ralph Nader on that.

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