Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Why Beating Lieberman Mattered, Until It Didn't


[If you're a reader who shies away from coarse language, you may want to skip this post]

As a matter of moral and political practicality, I think as much as the current deal has large, crap sandwich-esque elements to it, there is a lot to like in the bill. In the main, it returns health insurance to being something more akin to social insurance than it currently is. It also makes insurance affordable for a large number of people (and yes, I still need to do a post about how the bill is as good or better than Massachusetts on this score, despite my previous carping) and will reduce preventable deaths and other sickness-related reductions in quality of life. It also fully or partially unwinds some policy errors of the previous decade, such as Medicare advantage and the overpayments to pharmaceutical companies.

But as a matter of long term politics for progressives, it's hard to say that this bill is good news. Because we're still somebody's bitch. And since this whole political blogging thing got revved up in 2002-2003, a large animating factor was the desire for liberals to stop being everybody's bitch. Howard Dean's campaign message was basically that Democrats should stop being George W. Bush's bitch. The 2006 camaign finally put House Democrats in a situation where they could stand up and say that. In 2008, certainly some of the anti-Clinton sentiment grew out of a desire not to be under the thumb of the Clintonistas--not just Hillary, but various centrist figures such as Richard Holbrooke, Larry Summers, Mark Penn, and so on. On that score, things have worked out well in some cases, and not so well in others. But right now, none of that matters because we're all Joe Lieberman's bitch. There's some debate about the extent to which this is true because President Obama is letting himself be dragged around the nose by Lieberman, Nelson, et al. because he agrees with them more than the progressives, and the extent to which it's just the result of the current structure of Senate politics and there isn't much of a choice if Obama doesn't get anything done. Either way, it's not good.

Being anybody's bitch, especially being Joe Lieberman's bitch, doesn't feel good. So there is a question going forward of how we get out of this situation; how it is to convince the White House and Senate leadership that they should fear progressive objections as much as they fear "centrist" objections. That's not going to be possible when it comes to health care, or, I fear, when it comes to climate change. But it might be true for something else, like banking reform, or appointing Fed chairs who only pay attention to the "price stability" part of their mandate and not the "full employment" part, or continuing to fund the war in Afghanistan, or other priorities such as education reauthorization.
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