03/18/2010 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Think Again: Money for Nothing?

Crossposted with the Center for American Progress. With Mickey Ehrlich

Many in the media enjoyed covering the intraliberal fight that broke out over the final version of the health care reform legislation. The New Yorker's Hendrik Hertzberg collected some of the more colorful complaints in this week's comment, when he noted the angry opposition of Markos Moulitsas,, Arianna Huffington, Keith Olbermann, and Howard Dean. Ralph Nader even had the bad taste to call President Barack Obama "an Uncle Tom groveling before the demands of the corporations that are running our country."

Hertzberg also notes Paul Krugman, Paul Starr, Jonathan Cohn, and Harold Pollack are among the bill's supporters, despite its myriad flaws, adding, "it is nonsense to attribute the less than fully satisfactory result to the alleged perfidy of the President or 'the Democrats.' The critics' indignation would be better directed at what an earlier generation of malcontents called 'the system.'"

Kai Wright of The Nation is buying none of this. He insists that those like Hertzberg who make excuses for the "[c]orporate special interests and the Democratic politicos they underwrite would like us to accept this false choice between fake reform and the status quo. But there are many, many more choices--including both the public option compromise Obama proposed and the Medicare-expansion compromise the Senate hammered out. Our leaders--the same ones who will once again ask for our money, our votes and our volunteer labor next election cycle--simply were not prepared to fight for those choices."


We take the position with Hertzberg that yes, legislative flaws in the health care bill, as well as in the cap-and-trade bill, and in financial regulation, and in fact, just about every piece of legislation Congress does or does not pass and the president does not sign do in fact stem from systemic failures that go beyond party affiliation or unwillingness of this or that politician to "fight harder." But it is also true that perhaps they are not fighting for the right things in the first place. While most in the media prefer to focus on personalities of these influential "consensus builders," "moderates," and "conservatives," they would be wiser to obey that old Watergate adage and "follow the money." For it is the manner in which we finance our elections--rather than the courage or cowardice of any given individual--that determines the shape of the legislation the "system" produces...

You can read the rest of Eric Alterman and Mickey Ehrlich's analysis in their recent article, "Think Again: Money for Nothing?"

Eric Alterman is a Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress and a Distinguished Professor of English at Brooklyn College. He is also a Nation columnist and a professor of journalism at the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism. His seventh book, Why We're Liberals: A Handbook for Restoring America's Most Important Ideals, was recently published in paperback. He occasionally blogs at and is a regular contributor to The Daily Beast.

Mickey Ehrlich is a freelance writer based in New York.