by Jonathan Singer, Fri Jan 22, 2010 at 05:18:23 PM EST
The last few weeks we have seen FireDogLake gearing up in an effort to challenge and ultimately weaken Democratic incumbents who supported healthcare reform. This effort has included running surveys in swing and even quite red districts now represented by left-of-center moderate Democrats who stuck out their necks to advance the cause of near-universal healthcare reform, with one poll arguably forcing into retirement one such Democratic Congressman.
Now FDL is going after a bona fide progressive champion, Earl Blumenauer (for whom I did some consulting a few years ago). Blumenauer's apparent fault: Not pledging continuing to pledge* to kill the Senate bill, which would cover 30 million Americans who currently do not have health insurance. No matter, of course, that Blumenauer has been one of the leading progressives in the House for more than a decade, fighting for livable communities, clean energy, and other smart policies that all too often get short shrift on Capitol Hill, voting against measures ranging from the PATRIOT Act to the Iraq War. No matter that he spoke out on the need to reinforce the levies in New Orleans for fear that they might be breached during a hurricane -- in a speech delivered months before Hurricane Katrina hit -- that he had the prescience to submit legislation restricting primate sales long before the chimpanzee attack that seriously wounded a woman last year, and that he was one of the few in Congress willing to speak out and organize against the Tom DeLay-led effort to thrust the federal government in the middle of Terri Schiavo's end-of-life decisions. No, not pledging continuing to pledge* to kill the Senate bill is enough to place a target on the back of a member of Congress.
This all really has me wondering, what's the point? What are we doing in politics? Has the purpose of our involvement over the years been to prove an ideological point, to show how resolute we are in our beliefs? Or rather, has the point been to make tangible steps towards the betterment of the lives of those who so desperately need it?
Lest you think I am setting up a straw man argument, that this is not a binary set of choices, think about where we stand today. If the House is unwilling or unable to accept the legislation already passed by the Senate -- and that appears to be the case at present, though the situation remains, to a great extent, up in the air -- a significant portion of those 30 million who would be coverage will still have to go without health insurance (half, according to a reports, if the House and Senate can agree on a pared down bill; all if they can't).
And it's not like reform will be easier to come by in a later Congress with fewer Democrats. After Harry Truman tried and failed to enact universal healthcare legislation, it took another generation until Congress seriously moved again on a similar measure. Even then, Congress was unable to enact universal healthcare legislation, opting instead to cover senior citizens and the extremely poor. Though Congress debated legislation during the 1970s, it took another generation until such an effort moved forward again under the Clinton administration. Now, more than 15 years after the failure of the Congress and President Clinton to move forward on healthcare reform, we again stand at the precipice. Can we really afford to wait another decade or longer?
This is far from the first time that there has been disagreement over how best to forward progressive policy initiatives. One need not even think that far back to the candidacy of Ralph Nader, when promises were made that if the left cost Democrats enough votes to block the party's nominee from the Presidency, the liberals would be emboldened and thus progressive policy would be made easier to enact in the future. We all know how well those promises worked out -- a War in Iraq, a conservative activist Supreme Court, a Great Recession.
Simply put, I cannot see how killing healthcare reform today -- and, no, not just the Senate bill (which has its positives along with its negatives), but any meaningful healthcare reform -- will make it easier to pass a better bill in the future. And I can't fathom how attacking Democrats willing to risk their jobs to try to cover 30 million more Americans will do anything to forward the cause of universal healthcare.