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"Public option": the mother of all teachable moments

vastleft's picture

(Cross-posted at

What Bruce Dixon said:

Like the Obama campaign itself, the public option was never more than a brand. It was a container designed to fit our hopes and dreams just well enough and just long enough to close the deal, an empty wrapper, with little or no candy inside.

Then for good measure, as Bruce notes, they take the wrapper away.

From what I've seen on even relatively sane blogs, few seem to be able to recognize and hang onto the moral of this story, that "public option" was a tool — an empty wrapper — for preventing real health-care reform, whether it was in the final legislation or not. Further, the process by which it became the One True HCR Agenda must be understood and changed, lest we pass this way again and again.

Even at Corrente, I've seen a number of posts and comments that characterize Obama's and Congress's not enacting "public option" as if it were a notable point of failure in HCR, when the fail (of course) occurred when real reform was so blithely taken off the table... with nary a peep from the folks with the big megaphones. Sure, one might well note that Obama and Congress didn't even enact "public option." But without precision on our part, we can easily ratify the idea that the lost placebo, the unserved frim-fram sauce is something to be mourned.

The lack of consistent, reliable criticism of that presumably dead policy may allow its resurrection.

Kip Sullivan:

I do think we have to be very clear about the circumstances in which those of us who oppose the Senate bill would retract our opposition. And I hope to high heaven one of those circumstances is not the restoration of the sad little PO in the House bill. I get down on my knees every day and thank God that the PO was stripped out of the Senate bill. The only role the PO has played since June has been to give well-meaning progressives all over America the cover they needed to support legislation that throws hundreds of billions of dollars per decade at the insurance industry, the nation’s most powerful opponent of single-payer.

There are two lessons that I hope people will take out of the health-care reform fiasco:

  1. Don't follow leaders. Swell guys and gals pushing crap policy get us... *surprise!* crap policy. Your political and blogospheric heroes might be fooled, they might be chickenshit, or they might have selfish motives. And if they avidly pushed crap policy, insist on truth before reconciliation, before resetting their cred counters back to the max.
  2. Watch the parking meters. Crap policy is *surprise!* crap policy. If we know that "public option" is a bunch of hooey on Monday, its failure to pass is just as meaningless on Wednesday.

If I had a dollar for every time an otherwise sensible person got temporary amnesia and reverted to describing "public option" as a real goal or a missed opportunity, I'd be able to buy enough Senators to get us real health-care reform. Hint: a politician who goes around trumpeting the idea that Americans, who pay 2-to-3 times what other countries pay (and get less coverage and worse outcomes), love their insurance companies just may not deserve your policy proxy. But many give it, oh how they give it! Someone who spent the entire Year of Healthcare Reform calling single-payer advocates kabuki players before demanding that single-payer support be funneled through her own organization just may not deserve it, either. Of course, I'm not one of the Serious people, so I could be wrong about that.

Part of the power of clusterfucks, the power of shock doctrining, is the scattering of our bearings.

It's like Oscar Grace says in Body Heat:

We've got more of everything bad since the wave started. It's the crisis atmosphere. People dress different, feel different, sweat more. They wake up cranky and they never recover.... Things are just a little askew. Pretty soon people think the old rules aren't in effect. They start breaking them. Figure no one'll care, cause it's emergency time... time out.

While some exploit such a time, others succumb in subtler ways. Losing narratives, because there's only so much bullshit and pressure one can handle, so much being made to feel uncivil and purist and petty for demanding rationality and fairness.

Sometimes, it's just too hard to hang onto basic facts and essential observations.

Let's cut a corner here or there — like, say, looking the other way when your readers and peers are coronating a president who flagrantly disregards your espoused interests and values.

That's how they wear you down. Convincing you that maintaining clarity and intellectual consistency is for monomaniacs, for losers.

Maybe we could use a few more monomaniacs and losers, if this is what winning looks like.

Note: h/t to Chris Floyd for the subterranian homesick riff.

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par4's picture
Submitted by par4 on

Health care. From 'just look forward' to retroactive immunity, to Holder and his Bush DoJ. This administration is already a FAILURE and we have three more years of this mushy crap!

Valhalla's picture
Submitted by Valhalla on

this isn't exactly on point, but Ian Welsh has some excellent ground rules for "judgement and research that I use to cut through the BS" which he posted about a week or so ago.

The ones about not falling into the trap of thinking you must be right just because you're smart, and using empathy (wisely) stick out to me after the PO kabuki particularly. Maybe I'd add don't fall into the trap of thinking that just because you have an 'A-list' popular blog, you must be right.