Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Criticizing The President On Health Care

By FireDogLake's Jane Hamsher FDL

There’s a very slick PR letter posted online that’s being furiously retweeted by DC political operatives. I wasn’t going to address it, but the editor of the Nation Katrina vanden Heuvel started pushing it. It becomes widely disseminated based on her role as a validator within the progressive community, and that necessitated a reply.

The letter says:

I do not doubt that you genuinely feel that your very vocal opposition to the Senate health care bill is in the absolute interests of the American populace and progressive politics. I honestly believe that you feel that the administration has let you and other progressives down by not publically pushing harder for elements in the bill that we all hoped would survive the legislative process.

What I doubt is that your actions will ultimately serve the advancement of the progressive agenda that you obviously care so much about. I believe in fact, that quite the opposite will be the result. Pushing for the very best bill that we can get through this congress is laudable, attacking the administration for dealing with the reality that is congress is not.

You can argue that this bill helps people and is therefore progressive. I would argue that it forces the middle class to pay almost as much to private insurance companies as they do in federal taxes, weakens the coverage of those who have employer-based insurance, and is a Shock Doctrine attempt to raid the public sphere of unprecedented magnitude. I come down on the side of Marcy Wheeler, wrote an important post entitled “Health Care on the Road to Neofeudalism“:

I understand the temptation to offer 30 million people health care. What I don’t understand is the nonchalance with which we’re about to fundamentally shift the relationships of governance in doing so.

But the truly creepy thing about the letter being pushed by Katrina (in addition to all the manipulative Orwellian language), is that it doesn’t argue the bill itself is progressive. Rather, it says “attacking the administration for dealing with the reality that is congress” is not “laudable” and hurts the “progressive agenda.”

It is manifestly untrue that the bill is the handiwork of Congress, for which the President bears no responsibility. The White House negotiated this bill with lobbyists starting early in the year. As Marc Ambinder reported shortly after the inauguration, the official White House strategy would be to deflect responsibility for anything unpopular onto Congress.

But Rahm Emanuel’s need for self-promotion keeps stepping on that plan. The New York Times is just one of many places that has reported that he has been running the show all along:

Rahm Emanuel, the chief of staff, runs the campaign out of his West Wing office. A former congressman, he knows how to count votes. (It was Mr. Emanuel, for instance, who suggested Mr. Orszag reach out to Ms. Collins.) Aides say he does not host a regular health care meeting, but rather summons his team several times a day, typically with e-mail messages ordering colleagues to drop everything and show up right that minute.

On October 5, I wrote “Countdown to Lieberman,” saying it was only a matter of time before Joe stepped in and we started hearing that old song about “60 votes” again. And Brian Beutler reported that when it came time to deliver a bill to the Senate and yank the public option on October 25, Obama didn’t want to take credit for Rahm’s handiwork:

Reid wants Obama to do it to give cover to his caucus, Obama wants Reid to do it so he’s not the bad guy on the public option, and can still walk away with a win with reform, with bipartisanship, and with a card for everybody running for re-election.”

The Obama White House has been working furiously to pass an enormous transfer of wealth to the insurance companies from the start. I don’t see how reporting this constitutes “attacking the administration,” or why it “hurts” the “progressive agenda” to do so. So, I was very surprised that Katrina would promote and give the imprimateur of the Nation to a blog post encouraging me not to be critical of the administration on health care, and to accept the fiction that this bill is the fault of Congress. I asked her why she was doing this, and she replied:

Big tent. Divisions within progressive community can’t be wished away. Respect your views; worth respecting others’ views.

It’s not such a big tent when you’re promoting something that tells someone to stop criticizing the president’s role in crafting the health care bill, nor does it “respect” the views of anyone who disagrees with that contention on the basis of well-documented evidence. Yet the editor of the Nation is granting its legitimacy to a post which attempts to stifle criticism of the president and dismisses it as “Naderite,” equating the “progressive agenda” with “what’s politically advantageous for the President.”

Recently, Glenn Greenwald wrote in a post entitled “White House as helpless victim on health care“:

Of all the posts I wrote this year, the one that produced the most vociferous email backlash — easily — was this one from August, which examined substantial evidence showing that, contrary to Obama’s occasional public statements in support of a public option, the White House clearly intended from the start that the final health care reform bill would contain no such provision and was actively and privately participating in efforts to shape a final bill without it. From the start, assuaging the health insurance and pharmaceutical industries was a central preoccupation of the White House — hence the deal negotiated in strict secrecy with Pharma to ban bulk price negotiations and drug reimportation, a blatant violation of both Obama’s campaign positions on those issues and his promise to conduct all negotiations out in the open (on C-SPAN). Indeed, Democrats led the way yesterday in killing drug re-importation, which they endlessly claimed to support back when they couldn’t pass it. The administration wants not only to prevent industry money from funding an anti-health-care-reform campaign, but also wants to ensure that the Democratic Party — rather than the GOP – will continue to be the prime recipient of industry largesse.

Glenn was indeed roundly attacked for asserting that this bill is the handiwork of the White House, even though as he says “the evidence was overwhelming from the start that the White House was not only indifferent, but opposed, to the provisions most important to progressives.” And Russ Feingold backs him up:

“This bill appears to be legislation that the president wanted in the first place, so I don’t think focusing it on Lieberman really hits the truth,” said Feingold. “I think they could have been higher. I certainly think a stronger bill would have been better in every respect.”

Despite this evidence, there is an orchestrated, active, full-court press to discredit and silence anyone who tries to point out the responsibility the president bears for crafting this bill. I’m surprised that the editor of the Nation would take part in it.