Does liberalism equal masochism? Does being liberal mean you like getting beaten up in the political schoolyard?
Democrats outnumber Republicans in America, yet in the last 41 years, Democrats have occupied the White House for only 13. The Democrats have controlled Congress for decades, and yet taxes for the rich are lower than ever. Health care reform should been a reality in 1994, but the Republicans and dissent Democrats stopped the Clinton plan dead.
And here we go again. Another butt-whumping in the making. I can understand why Republicans oppose Obama’s health care reform. It’s callous and cynical to deny health care to millions of Americans just to embarrass your political opponents, but Republicans do it because it works. What I don’t understand is why Obama is being ripped by his own party.
Think a moment. If a public insurance option can’t be passed this year with a popular Democratic President and a Democratic Congress, why will it be easier in two years or ten? Are we waiting for President Dean and Vice-President Nader? An 80-Democrat majority in the Senate? The progressive Anti-Rapture that makes all the conservatives disappear one morning?
It’s not fair that that a few Blue Dog Democrats from states with more cows than people can block health care for millions of Americans. Blame the Constitution. It’s not fair that a few well-financed right-wingnuts dominate town halls. Blame politics. It’s not fair that giving working people access to a doctor should be such a struggle. Blame the world we live in. You can deal with it or retreat into a corner and sulk while the other side implements its agenda.
While conservatives are ruthlessly slashing health care with their swords, liberals are falling on theirs. Like fanatics with a suicide belt, they prefer martyrdom to compromise. It’s all so bipartisan; liberals relish a noble defeat and conservatives are more than happy to oblige.
Compromise isn’t fun, but it’s often the price of getting anything done instead of just talking about getting things done. I want a public option, just like I wanted to see Clinton’s plan enacted in 1994. We’ve had to wait 15 years for another chance. I like the public option, but not if the choice is between that or no reform at all. I’m 15 years older now, and I don’t have the time to wait another 15 for the perfect health care plan.
I’m far from an Obama apologist. He deserves criticism for not communicating his message, and for being so passionless. But it’s not his fault that he doesn’t have an overwhelming mandate for health care reform. A significant number of Americans oppose government health care, even if it’s for the kookiest of reasons. The Republicans may be a minority in Congress, but 40 Senators voting in lockstep are a powerful force. Even the Americans that want change are so fickle that their support can flip with the next Harry-and-Louise campaign. It’s not fair and it doesn’t make sense, but those are the cards that were dealt.
Obama and his advisors aren’t fools. If they’re suddenly willing to give up the public option, it’s probably because they realize that they may lose the health care battle. They know that if they lose that battle, the failure will overshadow Obama’s presidency and hamstring his efforts on everything from clean energy to foreign policy. Ask the Clintons about the consequences when the flagship policy of a new administration is defeated.
I don’t know whether the public option is the best option, or whether it’s better or worse than health care cooperatives. With something this huge, I’m not sure if anyone really knows, and I’m even less sure that it makes a difference. What will count is how the program is run; a poorly-administered public option would be as much as disaster as anything else.
What I do know for certain is that our current health care system is broken. It doesn’t treat many people, and it leaves many others fearful that they won’t be treated. I’m willing to take a chance on change, even if it’s not all the change that we need. At least it’s a starting point. Every great cause, from women’s rights to civil rights, had to start somewhere. It’s not a battle. It’s a long war, and sometimes a partial success is good enough to keep the fight going.
So I’ll grit my teeth as the health insurers make money, because I know that no matter what Obama does, somebody is going to game the system and make a lot of money. But it’s better than the alternatives. Martyrdom makes for great drama but lousy health care.