By Robin Hahnel
I completely agree with Norman Solomon’s excellent piece on the Democratic Party Healthcare Bill. The bill is a disaster and the Democratic Party “cave” on healthcare reform is another example of how progressives are betrayed by the Democratic Party – as if we needed another example! I also find looking for silver linings to console oneself with in the form of “when it proves to be a disaster we can move on to fix it” too pathetic to be of any comfort. (I truly wonder about people who can find comfort in that thought.) And I agree with others who have pointed out that this outcome was pretty predictable. I know few single-payer advocates who are truly surprised. So let’s move on to something we all did not already know.
(1) I think the Democrats have failed to realize how furious the bear they have witlessly and unnecessarily poked will become. No, the bear I am talking about is not progressives. Obama/Pelosi/Reid & Co. know they have poked the progressive bear. They know this every time they do it, and they know they will do it from the very beginning, It is always a calculated risk they take that the progressive bear will continue to sleep no matter how much they poke us because we have nowhere else to go on general election day. But I am talking about a different bear. The bear the Democrats don’t realize they have poked in this case is low to moderate income people of no particular political persuasion (until now) who the healthcare bill will force to buy a lousy product they have trouble affording. This bill will infuriate tens of millions of Americans who will not hate the private insurance companies who gouge them, but will instead become life-long haters of “big government” Democrats. Unlike progressives who are trapped, this bear will wake up and move when poked. And Obama/Pelosi/Reid Democrats Inc. will not like the direction this bear moves because these millions will flock to a readily available alternative – Limbaugh, Beck, Fox, Pallin, Gingrich, et. al. — are all waiting to welcome them with open arms.
I know how this works. In 1968 when Lyndon Johnson told me I either had to go to Vietnam, Canada, or jail I became a life-long peacenik as did millions like me.
So besides a catastrophe for real healthcare reform, this bill is a political catastrophe for the Democratic Party and progressives who seek to work in tandem with the Democratic Party. It is not only a huge gift to the insurance and pharmaceutical industries, it is a huge political gift to right wing Republicans.
To make the point a little more poignant: When these unwilling consumers stop making payments on their overpriced, lousy private health insurance policies – and these are people who know what the Repo Man looks like! — exactly what is going to happen? If anyone thinks through the possible options I think they will understand what a Rube Goldberg machine the Democratic Party Healthcare Bill really is. If the law says they must have coverage, will the US government enforce the law? How exactly? If their private insurers cancel their policies after they are three months behind paying their premiums, what then becomes of universal coverage and making sure that the pool of insured includes young and healthy people not just old and sick ones?
(2) Before this becomes another round of “I told you not to vote for Democrats but to vote for Nader or McKinney instead” let me hasten to point out that advocates of building a third party in the US have failed just as miserably as progressives trying to work through the Democratic Party. The reason Obama/Pelosi/Reid & Co. can get away with poking the progressive bear is that third party advocates have also failed completely to build a credible alternative. I say this as a card caring member of the Green Party who is honest enough to admit that running progressive candidates in general elections – at every level of office – practically never works either.
More stone throwing between “third party-ers” and “work-with-the-most-liberal Democrats” is one of the more useless activities progressives engage in to avoid the hard work of talking with someone in America who does not already agree with us. There is nothing to say on that subject that has not been said a million times already. If someone has a solution to the spoiler problem then please, let them come forward and enlighten the rest of us. But for both sides to keep telling us why the other side will fail is not only monotonous, it is debilitating! The truth is that both sides throwing stones in this spat among progressives live in houses built of glass.
Yes, Clintonism accelerated the process of wrecking the Democratic Party as a vehicle for progressive reform, and Obamism is finishing the job far quicker than I thought possible 15 months ago. Yes, I think this particular piece of healthcare legislation will weaken the Democratic Party and strengthen the Republican Party for decades to come in ways that few yet understand. But none of this wisdom gets us any closer to a solution to our problem.
The name of the game we need to concentrate on is “credible threat.” Until we figure out some way to create a credible threat on general election day the progressive bear will keep getting poked on every day that is not election day. And no, “Nader in 2012” is not going to prevent us from getting poked again!
Robin Hahnel (b. March 25, 1946) is a Professor of Economics at Portland State University. He is best known for his work on participatory economics with Z Magazineeditor Michael Albert. He is currently a visiting professor at Lewis & Clark College. Hahnel is a radical economist and political activist. Politically he considers himself a proud product of the New Left and is sympathetic to libertarian socialism.