Without getting into the policy debate about whether this health care bill should be passed or rejected (my personal opinion is here for those interested), I think it's important to step back and just look at the false assumptions that are being made. Not about the bill's substance, mind you, but about the process. And it's important to consider those assumptions, if only to understand how the parameters and rules of the game are inherently - and dishonestly - rigged:
ASSUMPTION - This Is the "Last Chance" to Pass Health Care for a Generation: This is one of the key rationales being cited by the those who want to immediately pass the Lieberman-gutted legislation. It actually makes zero empirical sense. Last I checked, Democrats will still control Congress and the White House for all of 2010. These are the Democrats making this "last chance" argument - and they are the same Democrats who would get to decide if that's actually true. You can't cite your own future discretionary decisions (say, not allowing Congress to revisit the health care issue) as reason that this is automatically the "last chance" to pass health care. If it is the "last chance" then it's the Democrats who control Congress and the White House who are deciding it's the last chance (by the way, a decision that Democrats in the past made differently - it took multiple tries to pass Medicare before it finally passed). Put another way, this assumption isn't ironclad reality. It's a choice whereby the Democrats saying this are actually issuing a threat - a threat to not allow health care to come up again unless this particular Lieberman-gutted bill is passed. I certainly agree that with thousands dying every year for lack of health insurance, there's an urgency to passing a health care bill - but especially when you consider that many of the bill's benefits don't start becoming a reality until 2013 or 2014, there's no reason why this bill must be passed ASAP, or why this is the "last chance" to pass health care legislation.
ASSUMPTION - Dems Couldn't/Wouldn't Come Back to Health Care Again Soon If This Bill Fails: This is related to the first assumption. Maybe they would, maybe they wouldn't - but there's the assumption that they would be strongly inclined not to because of the politics of it. I don't get this at all. Seems to me Democrats and the White House are so completely vested in getting something - anything! - done that they'd have to come back to it, and quickly. I think progressives have really missed an opportunity to call the buff of this assumption, because if you believe it's not true (and there's strong reason to believe it isn't), then it means progressives hold potentially far more power than they think. It means that if they take the bill down, the Democratic leadership and White House will be even more desperate to pass something - anything! - and will be forced back to the negotiating table on key progressive priorities. This is why the White House freaked out on Howard Dean - because his clarion call to vote this bill down undermines this particular assumption.
ASSUMPTION - We Need 60 Votes to Pass Anything: Again, just not true, even though it's been said over and over and over again. Sure, there are problems with reconciliation - but it's a fact that Democrats could at least attempt to pass a public option or Medicare buy-in via reconciliation. Somehow, that's not talked about anymore. Somehow, even after Lieberman sliced out the public option from the overall package, there's been no talk of giving progressives the concession of even allowing for a reconciliation vote on a public option. We are to assume reconciliation just doesn't exist - when, in fact, it does.
Now, you can disagree with me on some of the speculative opinions in what I've just written. But you cannot disagree that these assumptions being made are artificially manufactured - they are not scientific Laws of the Universe. In many ways, they are contrary to ironclad fact (see the reconciliation assumption, as an example). Yet, they are being treated as Laws of the Universe. And what that proves is that the very terms of the debate we're having is tilted - just like it tends to be tilted on so many fundamental economic issues.
It's not surprising that Democratic politicians and the media are trying to hem in the discussion of health care with these artificial assumptions. As Sen. Russ Feingold (D-WI) has suggested, the president and the Democratic leadership has wanted to pass an insurance/drug industry giveaway from the beginning, and then happily declare some great victory on behalf of the little guy - and these assumptions help make that more possible.
It's also not surprising that much of the Professional "Left" - DC organizations, pundits, etc. - is backing this bill. They have insider access to protect and White House Christmas Card lists to try to stay on - and the last thing they've shown any willingness to do on any issue is stand up and fight with Democrats.
But it is somewhat stunning to me that so many activists would so quickly accept these assumptions without question. I say "somewhat" because it's become fairly obvious over the last year that in this age of Obamania and worship of politicians as celebrity deities, we haven't seen a rise in consciousness. We've seen an exponential increase in the willingness to swallow Establishment bullshit without any questions - a rise of a Nation of Sycophants, a Country of Zombies, an Idiocracy, or whatever else you want to call it.
The truth will, of course, persist, as it always has in our history - you can't hero-worship away reality. And the reality is this: Only when we start asking some fundamental questions about such assumptions will we be able to marshal more power and leverage over these kinds of negotiations. But rest assured - until that happens, we'll be - at best - fighting over legislative scraps as we are right now.
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