Badfellas : How Rahm And My President Killed Health Reform

05/25/2011 02:40 pm ET

Do you remember how Joe Pesci got killed in Martin Scorcese's film Goodfellas? Pesci was told he was finally going to get what he'd always wanted and become a made man. He and his mother proudly picked out his best suit and got him ready for the big moment. He was picked up and brought to a house for the ceremony but just as he walks in the door, he sees a totally empty room. In an instant, he realizes what's really going on. He barely gets out a sound before a gun is put to his temple. He's shot dead and collapses in a heap on the floor.

That's how I feel about the current state of health care reform.

When I supported Barack Obama in 2008, two of most compelling reasons were his stand on health care reform and his strong opposition to the power of lobbyists in Washington. When he was elected, it was like we were all elected. Finally, we'd have one of our guys as the President.

When President Obama began he push for health reform months ago, I immediately began making a series of videos supporting his efforts. My videos focused on the issues that I thought President Obama would focus on, based on his campaign. I realized that the biggest danger to real reform was the corrupting influence of lobbyist money. I went after people like Senate Finance Committee chairman Max Baucus and Joe Lieberman, both of whom were getting millions from the insurance and drug lobbies.

Here's a video - one of about twenty I made back in June, doing what I thought Obama would be doing - fighting for the public option and connecting the issue to lobby money.

After several weeks, I noticed that President Obama wasn't really talking about lobbyists. He wasn't calling out people like Baucus and Lieberman. He wasn't rhapsodizing about a robust public option. In fact, the President wasn't saying very much at all.

This silence seemed odd to me. After all, President Obama had run as a reformer who was going to change the way the game was played in Washington. I expected a steady drumbeat of reasoned, compelling statements about the corrosive effect of all that money on our politics.

This wasn't just idealism. I expected Obama to lay the groundwork for health reform by making the case against lobbyists and the politicians they owned because it was smart politics. Speaking out against lobbyists would have tremendous appeal to independents and even some people in the Republican base. And Obama's extraordinary persuasive skills would allow him to subtly call out people like Baucus and Lieberman without even naming names.

If President Obama acted like the leader we'd elected and laid out the case for a robust public option, I knew supporters like me and the millions of others Obama voters would be right there to help him. And the press would pick up on Obama's hints about politicians who were playing the politics as usual game as start to shame people like Max Baucus in public.

So I kept working on my little videos and I kept waiting for the President to lead. I was ready for Obama and his lieutenant Rahm to deliver us reform. Finally. Time to pick out our best suit.

But as the summer wore on, I started to get a bad feeling. My stomach started to churn a little when I heard in August that Rahm Emanuel - in a rant that Joe Pesci could have delivered - said that groups making ads attacking Blue Dogs like Baucus was "f*cking stupid." That's exactly what I'd been doing, after all.

Then I learned about the backroom deal that the Senate made with PhARMA with the approval of the White House. The door opened and the room was empty. Everything clicked.

The White House didn't want real reform. They didn't want a a good bill. They wanted a win.

Rahm had said in August, "We're 13 and 0 going into health care." Sports talk from Rahm. This was a game. It wasn't about saving lives or even saving money. It was a game. Obama hadn't said anything about a robust public option because stating a position would mean a possible loss. Better to not stand for anything at all. Obama hadn't called out Baucus because he'd been working with him.


BANG. Get ready to pull the Trigger on an already weak public option.
BANG. A bailout to the insurance and drug lobbyists.
BANG. Selling out woman at midnight then cheering about it.

And there was nothing we could do. We had to sit still and take it. It was decided among the beltway insiders. It was real D.C. shit. They even shot Single Payer in the face so it couldn't be discussed.

They got us, all right. They got all of us. But Obama and Emanuel forgot one thing that they may remember in 2010 and 2012.

The dead don't vote.