But Don’t Look Back In Anger, I Heard You Say

Jake McIntyre at Daily Kos:

Has anyone else noticed that the split in the progressive blogosphere between those who are saying “it’s a good bill in spite of everything” (Kevin Drum, Matt Yglesias, Ezra Klein, Josh Marshall, to name a few) and those who just can’t bring themselves to support Liebercare (Markos and Digby come to mind, among bloggers who have been at it since 2003*) is eerily similar to the split between those who grudgingly backed the invasion of Iraq and those who fought against the war seven years ago?

To a large degree, it’s the same cast of characters, with the same tone to the arguments. It’s the policy wonks versus the activists. On the wonky side, there is (and was, in 2003) a resigned sense that this isn’t an ideal action, but that we don’t live in an ideal world, and that consequently we should suck it up and support an imperfect initiative. On the other, there is (and was, in 2003) a resistance born of an awareness that Congressional Democrats will more often than not — and often unintentionally — screw themselves and the country, out of a misguided belief that powerful forces with agendas very different from that of the Democratic Party can be managed and trusted.

It’s been long enough since the invasion of Iraq that the two camps – the credulous wonks and dirty fucking hippies – have reconciled (and even interbred), but the dynamic that separated us in 2003 is the same. The fundamental difference in approach is still there.  When all is said and done, the wonks trust Democratic politicians to protect our interests. The activists don’t. That doesn’t mean that we don’t like certain Democratic politicians, or that we don’t cherish our wonky brethren. It just means that we’re not willing to get fooled again.

Ed Kilgore at TNR:

Now that the public option compromise is apparently no longer on the table, and there’s no Medicare buy-in to offer single-payer advocates an alternative path to the kind of system they favor, it’s hardly surprising that some progressives have gone into open opposition, and are using the kind of outraged and categorical language deployed by Marcy Wheeler of Firedoglake yesterday.  As with the financial issue, there’s now a tactical alliance between conservative critics of “ObamaCare,” who view the regulation and subsidization of private health insurers as “socialism,” and progressive critics of the legislation who view the same features as representing “neo-feudalism.”

To put it more bluntly, on a widening range of issues, Obama’s critics to the right say he’s engineering a government takeover of the private sector, while his critics to the left accuse him of promoting a corporate takeover of the public sector. They can’t both be right, of course, and these critics would take the country in completely different directions if given a chance. But the tactical convergence is there if they choose to pursue it.

For those of us whose primary interest is progressive unity and political success for the Democratic Party, it’s very tempting to downplay or even ignore this potential fault-line and the left-right convergence it makes possible. It’s also easy to dismiss critics-from-the-left of Obama as people primarily interested in long-range movement-building rather than short-term political success; that’s true for some of them. But sorting out these differences in ideology and perspective is, in my opinion, essential to the progressive political project. And with a rejuvenated and increasingly radical Right’s hounds baying and sniffing at the doors of the Capitol, we don’t have the time or energy to spare in dialogues of the deaf wherein we call each other names while getting ready for the elections of 2010 and 2012.

Glenn Greenwald:

This supposedly irreconcilable difference Kilgore identifies is more semantics than substance.  It’s certainly true that health care opponents on the left want more a expansive plan while opponents on the right want the opposite.  But the objections over the mandate are largely identical — it’s a coerced gift to the private health insurance industry that underwrites the Democratic Party.  The same was true over opposition to the bailout, objections to lobbying influence over Washington, and most of all, the growing anger that Washington serves the interests of financial elites at the expense of the working class.

Whether you call it “a government takeover of the private sector” or a “private sector takeover of government,” it’s the same thing:  a merger of government power and corporate interests which benefits both of the merged entities (the party in power and the corporations) at everyone else’s expense.  Growing anger over that is rooted far more in an insider/outsider dichotomy over who controls Washington than it is in the standard conservative/liberal ideological splits from the 1990s.  It’s true that the people who are angry enough to attend tea parties are being exploited and misled by GOP operatives and right-wing polemicists, but many of their grievances about how Washington is ignoring their interests are valid, and the Democratic Party has no answers for them because it’s dependent upon and supportive of that corporatist model.  That’s why they turn to Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh; what could a Democratic Party dependent upon corporate funding and subservient to its interests possibly have to say to populist anger?

Even if one grants the arguments made by proponents of the health care bill about increased coverage, what the bill does is reinforces and bolsters a radically corrupt and flawed insurance model and an even more corrupt and destructive model of “governing.”  It is a major step forward for the corporatist model, even a new innovation in propping it up.  How one weighs those benefits and costs — both in the health care debate and with regard to many of Obama’s other policies — depends largely upon how devoted one is to undermining and weakening this corporatist framework (as opposed to exploiting it for political gain and some policy aims).  That’s one of the primary underlying divisions Kilgore identifies, and he’s right to call for greater examination and debate over the role it is playing.

Reihan Salam:

Actually, it is entirely possible for both sets of critics to be correct. The concern from the right isn’t that the Obama approach will literally nationalize for-profit health insurers. Rather, it is that for-profit health insurers will continue evolving into heavily subsidized firms that function as public utilities, and that seek advantage by gaming the political process. Profits, including profits governed by medical loss ratios, can and will then be cycled into political action, which leads to the anxiety concerning a “corporate takeover of the public sector.” Again, progressives don’t literally believe that such a takeover is happening. Instead, they believe, rightly, that subsidies without effective cost containment represent a massive windfall for the private insurance sector, including non-profit insurers that generate salaries for large numbers of politically active middle and upper middle class professionals..

So yes, Obama does not intend to nationalize the private insurance industry and then turn around and auction off the new nationalized health agency to Rupert Murdoch or Monsanto. But the anxieties of critics on the left and right are, to italicize for a moment, perfectly compatible.

Ross Douthat:

The point is that the more intertwined industry and government become, the harder it is to discern who’s “taking over” whom — and the less it matters, because the taxpayer is taking it on the chin either way. Or to put it another way: The creatures outside looked from pig to man, and from man to pig, and from pig to man again; but already it was impossible to say which was which …

Ed Kilgore:

But do conservatives really oppose this intertwining of industry and government? Rhetorically, yes, operationally—not so much.

Consider the default-drive Republican approach to health care reform, such as it is. It typically begins with federal preemption of state medical malpractice laws and health insurance regulation, the latter intended to produce a national market for private insurance (while also, not coincidentally, eliminating existing state provisions designed to prevent discriminatory practices). But the centerpiece is invariably large federal tax credits, accompanied by killing off the current tax deduction for employer-provided coverage, all designed to massively subsidize the purchase of private health insurance by individuals (with or without, depending on the proposal, any sort of group purchases for high-risk individuals). Another conservative pet rock is federal support for Health Savings Accounts, which encourage healthy people to pay cash for most medical services, perhaps supplemented by (very profitable) private catastrophic insurance policies. And most conservatives, when they aren’t “Medagoguing” Democratic proposals to rein in Medicare costs, favor “voucherizing” Medicare benefits—another gigantic subsidy for private health insurers.

Now some conservatives will privately tell you that all these subsidy-and-deregulation schemes are just an interim “solution” towards that great gettin’ up morning when tax rates can be massively lowered, all the tax credits, vouchers and other subsidies can be eliminated, and the government gets out of the health insurance business entirely. But don’t expect to see that on any campaign manifestos in the foreseeable future. In the meantime, Republicans generally support huge government subsidies to corporations without any public-spirited regulatory concessions in return.

Do anti-“corporatist” progressives really think they can make common cause with conservatives, beyond deep-sixing Obama’s agenda in the short term? Well, sorta kinda. Salon’s Glenn Greenwald, who rejected my “incompatibility” argument about left and right critics of “corporatism” as strongly as did Salam, is smart and honest enough to acknowledge there’s no real common ground with conventional conservatives or Republican pols. He instead offers a vision of an “outsider” coalition that includes anti-corporatist progressives and Tea Party types. This is, of course, the age-old “populist” dream (most famously articulated by Tom Frank in What’s the Matter With Kansas?) of a progressive takeover of the Democratic Party that attracts millions of current GOP voters (or nonvoters) who don’t share the economic interests of the Republican Party or the conservative movement but have seen little difference between the two parties.

All I can say is: Good luck with that, Glenn. Short of a complete and immediate revolution within one or both parties, complete with blood purges and electoral chaos, it’s hard to see any vehicle for a left-right “populist” alliance other than a Lou Dobbs presidential run. Barring that unlikely convergence, wrecking Obama’s “corporate” agenda would produce little more on the horizon than a return to the kind of governance we enjoyed during the Bush years, or maybe a bit worse given the current savage trajectory of the GOP.

Reihan Salam:

I get the sense that Kilgore may have misunderstood the post in question, and for that I blame myself. My point was that these putatively rival interpretations are in fact perfectly compatible. This does not, of course, mean that critics on the left and the right have the same policy objectives. “Pirouetted” is a nice touch, though.

But do conservatives really oppose this intertwining of industry and government? Rhetorically, yes, operationally—not so much.

This is one of my favorite rhetorical turns. “You say you favor X. But then this other person did Y!” I disagree with other conservatives on a number of issues. And I imagine that Ed Kilgore disagrees with George McGovern and that he rejects certain aspects of LBJ’s Great Society, among other things. If Kilgore determines what conservatism really and truly is, and whatever conservatives say is necessarily a kind of subterfuge, well, I guess there’s not much point in having a conversation.

Salon’s Glenn Greenwald, who rejected my “incompatibility” argument about left and right critics of “corporatism” as strongly as did Salam, is smart and honest enough to acknowledge there’s no real common ground with conventional conservatives or Republican pols.

At the top of the post, Kilgore suggests that I think that there is common ground between left and right critics. So one gets the sense — and I could be wrong — that Kilgore is suggesting that I’m neither smart nor honest. On the smart point, Kilgore is clearly right. For example, I barely know how to tie my shoes. There’s plenty of other evidence to suggest that I’m not the sharpest tack in the box, and I’ll happily concede the point. I do take exception, however, to the notion that I’m not honest. Any confusion on my part is entirely sincere.

Kilgore ends his post with helpful advice for conservatives:

Meanwhile, conservatives need to be far less pious about their alleged objections to “corporatism.” Cheap rhetoric aside, their own agenda (when it’s not just preserving the status quo) is largely corporatism with any clear and enforceable public purpose cast aside whenever possible.

I find this very interesting, if not terribly responsive. My sense is that conservative journalists like Tim Carney were arguing forcefully against Republican corporatism during the Bush years, and that my own view more closely parallels that of economists like Edmund Phelps than it does the Republican politicians and lobbyists that Kilgore presumably has in mind.

Jane Hamsher at the Huffington Post:

There is an enormous, rising tide of populism that crosses party lines in objection to the Senate bill. We opposed the bank bailouts, the AIG bonuses, the lack of transparency about the Federal Reserve, “bailout” Ben Bernanke, and the way the Democrats have used their power to sell the country’s resources to secure their own personal advantage, just as the libertarians have. In fact, we’ve worked together with them to oppose these things. What we agree on: both parties are working against the interests of the public, the only difference is in the messaging.

Harry Reid and Dick Durbin put on a nice show for the credulous. As Durbin said when he was trying to build his email list, “The question is no longer if we will have some sort of public option in the final health care reform bill, but instead what form it will take.” But the very same day, he was also warning about “60 votes” on MSNBC, and it was Durbin who whipped Lieberman’s vote for PhRMA to kill Dorgan’s drug reimportation bill (after Harry Reid kept it off the floor for 7 days until PhRMA could twist enough arms to defeat it).

The end is the same as it was when Medicare Part D passed. Remember how Democrats made a big show of passing negotiation for prescription drug prices when they knew George Bush would veto it? We saw how long that lasted. When it comes to true differences in the parties, only the set dressing on the road to capitulation seems to change.

With unemployment at 10%, the idea that you can pass a bill whose only merit is that “liberals hate it” just because the media will eat it up and print your talking points in the process is so cynical and short-sighted it’s hard to comprehend anyone would pursue it. It reflects a total insensitivity to the rage that is brewing on the popular front, which is manifest in every single poll out there.

Mark Kleiman:

Right. The bailouts that prevented the Great Recession from turning into a second Depression were a bad idea, because some bank executives took home bonuses they didn’t deserve. And the only difference between the party that gave us Justice Scalia and the party that gave us Justice Sotomayor, the only difference between the party that passed the Lilly Ledbetter bill and the party that opposed it almost unanimously, the only difference between trying to stop global warming and denying that it exists, the only difference between Sarah Palin and her racist-nativist-theocrat crew and Barack Obama and his supporters, is “messaging.”

And therefore it makes sense for Jane Hamsher to join Joe Lieberman and Bill Kristol in putting an effective end to the Obama Presidency, while leaving tens of millions of the uninsured out in the cold.

Jamelle:

I just wanted to quickly focus on the bit about the bailouts, because it’s representative of a criticism that I don’t quite understand, especially coming from liberals.  Hamsher (and her fellow travelers) seems to think that the country — and progressive goals — would have been better served if the Obama administration had not bailed out the financial industry.  Which makes a lot of intuitive sense; it’s incredibly galling to know that you’ve invested a substantial portion of the nation’s resources into rescuing an industry that shows almost zero understanding of “collective responsibility.”  That said, Hamsher must know that the only real alternative to bailing out a bunch of assholes was a second Great Depression, and last I checked, condemning the vast majority of Americans to economic desperation isn’t a particularly “progressive” thing to do.

Knoxville at Firedoglake:

Firedoglake may not be the right place for you if: 1) you care more about protecting the careers of everyone and anyone who ran for office with a “D” after his or her name than about holding those whom the American people elect accountable for what they do in office; or, 2) you think that the career of any particular politician is more important than seeing that he or she works for the American people and serves their interests and the interests of the common good.

Otherwise, attacking Jane Hamsher and Firedoglake seems, at best, counterproductive.

At worst, I think it’s just plain stupid.

So, I came to the blogosphere last August because I care deeply about reforming our broken health care system. The result has been a huge disappointment, as all the underlying problems that were breaking the system will remain unless something is done. Indeed, what the Senate’s proposing and what the House is being forced to accept can potentially make the problems worse before the decade is out, once you factor in the inevitable abuses of the private insurers that the CBO simply can’t factor into its analysis.

Either way, we’ll be forced to battle with the private insurers over every little thing until there is real reform, which at a minimum must include something like a public option.

Many promises were made last year and, throughout this debate over how to fix our health care system, there have been compromises upon compromises, each one being rejected until even the consolation prize of a weak Medicare buy-in for Americans 55-64 was thrown out with the trash.

I’m hugely disappointed with President Obama, with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, and with the Senate Democrats for having failed to do more to achieve real reform.

Is anyone else as disappointed as I am?

James Joyner:

Yesterday, Teresa Kopec noted the strange convergence of the Left and Right over the healthcare debate, quipping “2009: Little Green Footballs goes left & Jane Hamsher goes right. Who’d a thunk it?”

She was referring to erswhile warhawk blogger Charles Johnson’s public break with the Right and progressive movie-maker and the FireDogLake firebrand’s going on the warpath against what she terms “LieberCare,” proudly making common cause with conservatives who oppose the plan for entirely different reasons.

Indeed, Hamsher sees much in common with the Tea Party protesters and her own compatriots.   Maybe she’s right.

John Cole:

Really? Progressive bloggers are saying the same thing as the tea party activists? I really fucking missed out on all of the posts at Eschaton that Obama is a socialist. I haven’t seen Markos in his tree of liberty t-shirt yet. There is no telling what David Sirota might do or say, so I’ll give you that one.

Dean/Palin 2012. Good luck with that. We’re all teabaggers now.

These posts need to read in full (in other  words, too big to post here).

Jane Hamsher‘s 10 reasons to kill the bill at Huffington Post

Ezra Klein‘s response

Nate Silver‘s response

Tim Fernholz and David Weigel at Bloggingheads

UPDATE: Scott H. Payne at The League

Jane Hamsher at Firedoglake

UPDATE #2: Mark Thompson at The League

UPDATE #3: Joe Klein in Time

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2 responses to “But Don’t Look Back In Anger, I Heard You Say

  1. Pingback: What We’ve Built Today « Around The Sphere

  2. Pingback: What We’ve Built Over The Holiday Weekend « Around The Sphere

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