Tactics, strategy, and progressives
I think it's very, very important in politics to separate questions of strategy and tactics.
Strategy is pursued by organizations "on the ground": the media, academic organizations like think tanks, the blogosphere, activist organizations like Healthcare-NOW, and the public.
Tactics is the province of people who actually make laws and is a completely different arena, an arena where knowledge of the exact methods used to pass laws becomes very important.
The grassroots level and the legislative level are two other names for these same concepts. While the grassroots builds momentum toward a goal and tries to remove politicians who oppose the goal, tactics is done directly only by politicians.
The question of whether politicians should oppose the Senate bill is a question of tactics. It's a roll of the dice where one has to balance the probability of a bad result, namely nothing getting passed in the next few years, with the probability of better bills getting passed in the next few years. Of course, if you favor the view that this bill is bad even compared with doing absolutely nothing, then there's no roll of the dice: no matter what these chances are, the answer for you will always be to oppose the bill. But I think the current Senate bill is preferable to nothing.
My guess is that this Senate bill represents poor tactics. It would have made more sense for politicians who favor measures like a Medicare buy-in to use reconciliation to get it passed this year, while making an attempt to get measures less fiercely opposed by big money passed in a separate bill. If that other bill failed due to retribution for the first one, as people like Nate Silver feel could happen, most of health reform would still be passed and the remainder could probably be returned to before the 2014 kick-in date. (It is quite possible, however, that it would actually pass.) Perhaps most importantly, such a course would demonstrate that progressives have the muscle to implement an independent agenda. If the other bill did fail, that muscle would still be there to bring it or a better one back the next session.
A separate question is whether it's possible to use reconciliation this session given all the effort that has already been poured out. In other words, if Bernie Sanders just says tomorrow, "I'm not voting for anything but reconciliation," will we get it? The nasty political consequences for the Democrats if they refuse leads me to guess we probably will.
For those on the ground, though, the problem is that criticizing this bill on the comparatively narrow grounds of how it differs from the House bill ignores the bigger picture of how short both fall of Medicare for All. Nate Silver talks about the Overton Window shift established by criticizing the Senate bill from the left. If this shift exists, how much bigger a shift could we get by simply arguing for Medicare for All? Why confine our criticism to narrow differences?
Favoring national health care is a much more important standard for organizations on the ground than their stance on the Senate bill. Howard Dean may deserve some credit for fleetingly opposing this bill, but it's a pretty small crumb of credit compared to the damage he's helped do to the health reform movement in saying that "you can't take choice away from Americans" and so anyone trying to institute single payer "would pay an enormous price at the polls." Even lower in usefulness are organizations like Health Care for America Now, which may well act as a "lightning rod," channeling radical tendencies among the public safely into the ground of their largely meaningless and revoltingly partisan campaigns.
Right now at Firedoglake, people's heads are filled with the question of whether or not others favor killing the bill. It's tempting to draw lines the sand between blogs like Firedoglake, where founder Jane Hamsher has made a big deal of killing the Senate bill, and blogs like Daily Kos which largely accept the Senate bill. However, I think this difference is peanuts compared with the difference between blogs who emphasize national health care, like Corrente and ZBlogs, and blogs that ignore it. Given their official link to the Democratic Party, Daily Kos certainly ignores it and doesn't have a choice because that party rejects it by more than 2 to 1. Firedoglake too has been very caught up in the false promise of the public option, what with its sponsoring of slinkerwink the Daily Kos public option zealot, of Public Option Please, and so on. Firedoglake does have a higher proportion of people who favor Medicare for All (which is why I still post there).
The difference between strategy and tactics is: while it may be justifiable for John Conyers to hold his nose and vote for the House bill because tactically it's sensible, there is absolutely no reason why organizations on the ground should not be emphasizing the deficiencies of these bills compared with Medicare for All. Unlike Conyers, they cannot claim that there is a risk of messing up and getting nothing passed, because they do not directly pass laws. The failure of the leaders of organizations like Daily Kos, Firedoglake, Open Left, HCAN, Moveon, and others to get behind national health care is unacceptable. That also goes for public figures like Howard Dean and Paul Krugman, the latter of whom recently suggested, absurdly, that the current bill "simulates" Medicare for All by increasing coverage, ignoring the monumental waste of the current for-profit system.
But while Krugman can say whatever he wants, we can have direct effects on organizations we're a part of. I strongly encourage people to permanently leave Daily Kos, because it's joined at the hip to the Democratic Party. That also goes for Open Left: just don't post there. Every post on a blog is a small chunk of change into the editors' prestige jar. (Firedoglake I'll be keeping for now, no thanks to its editors.) Similarly, don't participate in HCAN, OFA, Moveon, and other organizations that refuse to support national health care. This is at best a waste of your time. Do crosspost on Corrente, ZBlogs, and friends. Do support Progressive Democrats of America, Healthcare-NOW and friends.
To sum up, let's not get carried away yelling at Democratic politicians if we don't realize that much of what is usually called the "progressive movement" is also responsible for this fiasco. Their strategy was flawed from the start.
Real change starts from the grassroots. If it is blind, change is impossible.