The cyclical death of the public option has been Kafkaesque. Every time it looks like it's back on its feet, some oblique sinister force from the shadows snuffs it out again.
The latest round has been among the weirdest: the polls have never been clearer, the route toward its insertion into reform never simpler -- through reconciliation an expansion of Medicare could easily be added -- yet we're seeing most of our progressive representatives doing nothing but mumbling, pointing fingers, and trying to change the subject. No one is explaining the unseen force so powerfully continuing to kill the public option.
According to New York Times reporter David Kirkpatrick (as seen on Monday's The Ed Show), the devil was a deal struck last summer between President Obama and the for-profit hospital industry. This has been followed closely by Miles Mogulescu over at the Huffinton Post.
If this reporting is true, I think we should demand immediate transparency.
But I think it's also VERY important that we progressives don't condemn the process in a kneejerk fashion. The relevant question is not whether or not there should be "backroom deals." Wheeling and dealing is part of politics. Always has been, always will be. Remember, one of the big concerns about Obama before he was elected was that he wouldn't have enough LBJ in him, or enough Hillary in him. This wasn't merely referring to his "toughness." It was also referring to his ability to get behind the scenes, to twist arms, and, yes, to make deals.
The only way to properly analyze his effectiveness, though, is to shine a light on what happened -- and why it happened. I think it's safe to say it didn't happen because Obama secretly loves the for-profit hospital and pharmaceutical industries and wants to protect their ability to get rich off suffering poor people. Clearly, if the reporting is true, Obama made the decision that the deal was worth it.
What did we get in return? Would healthcare reform now be dead without the deal? Why? Did we get more powerful reform than we would have gotten with a weak public option? Is the groundwork being laid for a next step that includes a strong public option?
If it turns out the deal was stupid -- that Obama got rolled -- we need to know that too, so that we can judge how much to trust him in his future wheeling and dealing (e.g. financial reform, cap and trade, immigration, etc). Let's face it, it was partly progressive demonization of Obama that contributed to dwindling overall public support of healthcare reform. If he's making smart deals, we need to know it so that we can be better allies in the future.
It's telling that Kucinich has come on board, as he probably knows the extent of "the deal." Perhaps during his ride on Air Force One he got a better sense of the rationale behind it.
I just saw John Shadagg (Arizona Republican Congressman) responding to Kucinich on MSNBC. Shadagg was arguing that the current bill is a giveaway to the insurance industry -- and he was sounding almost like he favored a public option. We might be seeing a narrative developing in which a public option -- simply expanding Medicare -- becomes one of the most obvious first fixes to the legislation. If so, we progressives can't be pissing all over the entire process, yelling about how beholden Obama is to the industry. But to garner our good will, the administration needs to help us see why it made the strategic decisions that it did.
One of the reasons Obama said he ran for president early in his career was that he predicted Washington would inevitably change him. I think this was a tacit admission on his part that he didn't plan on pursuing his time in government as a purity troll. He intended to get things done -- which would mean getting his hands dirty from time to time. I, for one, am glad about that. But I need to know that he's being smart about his compromises.
And since the death of the public option (hopefully temporary death) is still so inexplicable, I need an explanation.