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A Dragon over Congress
Why the GOP needs to fear mythological beasts

by Bryan Zepp Jamieson
September 3, 2009

There's a lot of talk around about how the public option has been dropped from the health care proposals due to be put up before Congress after the Labor Day weekend when they reconvene. The trouble is that most of that talk is coming from people who are more interested in persuading than they are in informing, and who prefer to create realities rather than describe it. I won't have a clear idea myself until I hear Obama's speech before a Joint Session of Congress next Tuesday. If he is pushing hard for the public option, then we can assume it's still in play, and go from there.

If he doesn't even mention it, we can assume that it, health care reform, and his presidency are dead. Public option is the heart and soul of reform, the stick that will either force the insurance companies to clean up their act or get forced out by a superior choice. Without it, any reform that goes through will just be some half-assed legislative nightmare that will probably make things even worse in a country notable for having the worst health delivery system in the developed world. According to Nate Silver over at 538.com, 26% of people think “public option” means a government controlled medical system like Britain's National Health. That version of “public option” is off the table for the simple reason that it was never on the table to begin with. National Health hasn't been a part of any of the health care proposals before Congress, and even among liberals there is little support for it, since the Canadian system of single-payer is considered a better, more American-style choice.

So when right wingers crow that they have slain the “public option” dragon, keep in mind that dragons are mythological and never did exist. Contrary to reports, this makes them relatively easy to defeat in battle. Just the other day I defeated six Minotaurs, blind folded, and with my nose tied behind my back. I credit it to clean living and an aversion to absurdity.

I figure that my regular readers already know what the public option is, and don't mean to insult them by belaboring the obvious, but these essays circulate into strange realms, and I never know who might have Googled “dragons” and come up against this and got curious.

Public option is the creation of a publicly-funded, not-for-profit insurance company by the government that will compete with private insurers. The medical industry itself will remain private, and there will be no controls over which doctor you may see (aside from already existing rules about accredited doctors as opposed to New Agers who believe that a diet of fruit loops and staring into the sun for an hour a day will make you live forever) or what hospital you may use. All insurance companies will be compelled to drop denials based on pre-existing conditions, and small employers will be compelled to offer insurance plans, with help from the government.

It's not as good as single payer, but it's a vast improvement over what we have to deal with now, and once people have a chance to compare rates, the reforms could eventually end up as a single-payer system.

That's a good thing.

Obama doesn't have a thing to gain from dropping the public option. Even if he loses, as long as he goes down fighting, he might be able to save his presidency. If he surrenders now without having fired a shot, he's toast. We on the left will abandon him altogether, leaving him to the mercies of the Republicans. Bill Clinton can tell you that isn't a good position to be in. He tried for bipartisanship with the Republicans, who, then as now, viewed bipartisanship as my-way-or-the-highway, and view any effort to accommodate them as being a sign of weakness. The administration has been hinting all week that they have gotten tired of trying to work with Republicans and getting only games and loud smears in return.

The best option the Dems have at this time is to go for broke. One of the regulars on Usenet, a fellow calling himself “Phlip”, summed it up masterfully: “[T]hey must enact the best possible legislation. The reform bill must damage the GOP in the worst way possible - by giving as many voters as possible free medical benefits, so they will see the difference between the HMO lobby's spin and the Democrats' generosity and humanity. The best reform bill would be the one predicted to hurt the GOP most at the polls. That will be the price of the GOP rejecting Obama's gracious offer of reconciliation.”

One of the problems that proponents of health care reform have had is that there is no solid proposal they can point do and discuss its strengths and weaknesses. And Obama himself has been conspicuously silent on which of the dozen or so different competing bills coming before Congress he supports.

Yes, Virginia, it's true: there is no “Obamacare” That's purely a figment of the right's imagination. Hopefully by the evening of September 9th we'll have a clearer idea of what Obama does want from Congress, and THEN we can talk about “Obamacare”.

To quote Van Jones, speaking last February about Republicans, “...they're assholes.” In fact, here's the exchange as reported by Fox News, which just suddenly started making a big fuss about it this week: “He [Van Jones ] made the remarks in February during an energy lecture in Berkeley, Calif., after a woman in the audience asked him why President Obama and congressional Democrats were having trouble moving legislation -- even though Republicans, with a smaller majority, didn't have as much trouble earlier in the Bush administration.

'"Well, the answer to that is, they're assholes,' Jones said, to uproarious laughter. 'That's a technical, political science term.'

“The questioner responded, 'I was afraid that that was the answer.'

“But Jones said that, even though Obama is 'not an asshole,' others have to step up the fight.

"'Now, I will say this. I can be an asshole, and some of us who are not Barack Hussein Obama are going to have to start getting a little bit uppity,' he said.”

Here's the punch line: the Fox New article managed not to mention that Jones was not a member of the Obama administration last February. Jones apologized for calling the Republicans assholes, but the fact is, they are assholes. It's been at least 20 years since they promoted any legislation that put the welfare of the public ahead of corporate interests, and probably longer than that. (I defy anyone to come up with an example that says otherwise). They are completely bought out assholes, and while there are a depressing number of Democrats who are just as bad, it's nearly unanimous among Republicans. Even the ones that aren't just corporate whores face immense sanctions if they break with party discipline and vote their consciences rather than the needs of their corporate constituents.

So it's no surprise that they aren't even faintly interested in any meeting of minds about health care. They serve a different set of masters, rather than the American people. They could no more support funding for the public option than General Eisenhower would lend munitions to the Nazis.

So, freed of any need to reach a meeting of minds, the Democrats might as well go for broke. The Republicans are going to vote against it no matter what, and with such an intractable stance, have effectively taken any negotiating leverage they might have had off the table. (I can't imagine how they came to think that crossing their arms and sticking their nose up in the air was a sign of strength—to me it just suggests they are too brittle to discuss things and too cowardly to fight an idea on its merits).

Therefore, both tactically and politically, there is absolutely no reason to not include the public option in the package. The Democrats and Obama have absolutely nothing to lose, and everything to gain. If it passes, they will have constructed a legislative accomplishment that will make them the majority party for decades. Even if they lose, they will lose with widespread public support (polls show that once it's explained to them, people support the public option in immense numbers—70%, even 80%. Even half of self-identified Republicans support it). A close loss will prevent electoral catastrophe in November 2010, and will give the Democrats something solid to run on. And, if the public makes it clear by voting Democratic that they still want the public option or single payer, then the Democrats need to get it on the table in the spring of 2011.

If they cop out now, they're dead.

If they fight, they can only win.

And we can only win with them.

Posted: September 6, 2009

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