Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Diogenes redux

Updated So Dennis Kucinich has switched his vote on health care deform.

I can appreciate how intense the political pressure was and as I said myself just the other day, if I were in Congress I would be 50-50 about my vote: Given that it's this (plus, one assumes, the tweaking - and face facts, it is no more than that - through reconciliation) or nothing, the question is which course, defeat or passage, holds out a better chance for actual, honest-to-gosh reform and actual, honest-to-gosh universal access and actual, honest-to-gosh "healthcare is a right."

While, as I've said to the point of boring people, I think the best outcome would be if the bill were defeated as the result of a loud, significant, progressive shout that it's just not good enough, I strongly suspect that rejecting the bill will be seen as the right wing having killed it. I sense that Kucinich was making some of the same calculations I did, as his references to attempts to "de-legitimize [Obama's] presidency" suggest he was thinking in terms of the bill's defeat being read as a right-wing victory even if it was progressives' votes that made the difference.

So I still think I would have voted "no" but I understand Kucinich's decision and can't really fault him for it. I admit to being a little disappointed but I can't be too disappointed because of the reasons I already stated.

(Parenthetically, I can't help but notice that despite the almost routine attempts by the media and much of what passes for the left in this country to dismiss him as irrelevant, the effort the White House put into lobbying him - including four one-on-ones with Obama who also staged a rally in Kucinich's district - shows how significant his vote is: As Kucinich himself said, if he can vote for this there's no reason anyone else can't. His "yes" becomes good political cover for other progressives who voted no the first time around to switch.)

What I'm more disappointed by is the fact that this is just another case where true progressives - Let me make a detour here to make it clear here that I emphatically reject the attempt by flaccid liberals to hijack "progressive" as their new self-description as they run away from their own label because they're too fucking wimpy to fight for it. I hold "progressive" to mean what it traditionally did, referring to that space that was to the left of "liberal" but short of "radical." Anyway, this was just another case where true progressives (and there are some in Congress, a couple of dozen, anyway) are not allowed even by those who should be their allies to vote their conscience, to stand on principle. Oh no, you must be, you must be, "pragmatic," you must bend, compromise and compromise again, you must settle, you must seek only what conventional wisdom says is doable right now, never more than that, and then you must negotiate back from there to even less, you must bend until you break - because to do otherwise is to be condemned as "irresponsible" or even "reprehensible," to be mocked as living in a fantasy world and believing in "magical ponies."

But as has been said many times, progress is not won by "reasonable" people pursuing "realistic" goals but by very unreasonable people who refuse to settle for what is attained conveniently or without undue fuss - and despite all the bluster and fluster over the last year, a health care "reform" bill that not only does not challenge but in fact cements the dominance of the health insurance industry and profit-driven medicine, that makes some adjustments in how we finance health care but does not challenge how we deliver it, is, yes, "without undue fuss." It is the "reasonable" people who make the incremental improvements - but only because, only because, the unreasonable people have carved out the space in which they can operate.

I intend to continue to be an unreasonable person.

Footnote: The quote about "de-legitimizing" Obama's presidency comes from a scuzzy piece by Dana Milbank, which link I used largely for the purpose of having this Footnote.

What a pathetic piece of pap Milbank regurgitated. Writing about Kucinich's press conference, he started with a reference to "leprechauns" and "lucky charms," moved on to "diminutive" and "little man," referred to a "six-inch box" on which Kucinich stood "so that his face would be above the microphone," then reprised "leprechauns" before closing with "the little guy."

His undisguised sneering didn't stop with physical references: There was the obligatory adjective "quixotic" when referring to Kucinich's presidential runs and, Milbank scornfully insisted, now as it was then, "It was all about him." And, "keeping the spotlight on himself," Kucinich "viewed the crowd with a satisfied smile," having "luxuriated in all the attention Obama had given him."

All that in little more than 800 words, even when the word count includes the quotes from Kucinich's statement that Milbank included because he thought they make Kucinich look foolish and self-absorbed.

He also included the obligatory reference to Kucinich having "lead [Cleveland] into default" when he was mayor while of course not mentioning how and why it happened or the personal price Kucinich paid or that his actions ultimately saved the city and its residents hundreds of millions of dollars over the following years.

Dana Milbank has become much better known for his smirk than his journalism - and, as this exercise in unjustified condescension shows, deservedly so.

Updated with Two More Footnotes: First is that Glenn Greenwald discussed - and largely agreed with - a piece by
Politico's Ben Smith [which] suggested that one important aspect of Rahm Emanuel's health care strategy -- to ignore the demands of progressives on the ground that they would fall into line at the end no matter what -- has been vindicated.
Despite some huffing and puffing from some quarters that "that's not fair!" I'd say it's not only fair, it's correct. My only criticism of Greenwald's piece is that it doesn't go far enough in exploring the price progressives pay - one extracted by liberals - when they try to stick to their principles and promises, a price that can go well beyond denunciations and name-calling. For example, as Jane Hamsher noted at Firedoglake,
[t]he alternative [to capitulating], as Dennis Kucinich found out, was to be hounded from office by liberal interest groups whose job is now apparently to play enforcer on the left so the President can follow through with his PhRMA and AHIP deals.
I'll also note that among the huffers and puffers was Markos Moulitsas, despite the fact that he was just on Countdown opining grandly about the progressive failure to gain anything in the bill - which he did just a couple of days after going on the same show to denounce Dennia Kucinich as "reprehensible" for not supporting the Senate bill. A case study in being irony-challenged.

The other footnote comes from the same Jane Hamsher piece and is another entry for your Diogenes file:
Last July, in response to a campaign we launched the month before, 65 members of Congress pledged to vote against any bill that does not have a public option. At the suggestion of Rep. Donna Edwards, online supporters raised $430,000 to thank them. Dennis Kucinich was one of those members of Congress. ...

I spoke with Dennis following his speech [about changing his vote], and his campaign will return the money to those who have donated in support of his pledge to vote against any health care bill that does not have a public option.
Hamsher calls it "the honorable thing to do," which it surely is, and suggests the other recipients should follow suit. Let's see if any do.


Jenny said...

nice to know you're keeping a calm head- the distant ocean and chris floyd people are going apeshit:

LarryE said...

I actually agree with Chris Floyd that if the bill passes, we will be stuck with the results for some time. I intended to post on that idea and may still, but the short version is that is that the Dem leadership will take the position "Health care? We've done that. Move along."

That's one side of why I was 50-50 about what my vote would be: I was (and am) genuinely unsure as to which outcome - passage or failure - would be worse for real reform. I think it's a close call - and for that reason, I can't be too upset with someone who looks at the same considerations and comes to the opposite conclusion. And I think those who now condemn Kucinich as anything from a wimp to a traitor are as ridiculous as those who previously condemned him as anything from reprehensible to just this side of a murderer.

BTW: Nice to know you're still reading. Good to "see" you.

Jenny said...

You're welcome,but I was sorta referring to Floyd's commentors. And I didn't know Chris lived outside the U.S. either.

But uh, Richard's worth a look on this subject too:

And I made a political blog of my own-course I'm a trifle more neurotic:
read and reflect. criticism and disagreements are welcome as always.

LarryE said...

I was sorta referring to Floyd's commentors

I often don't look at the comments because they too often resemble old Newsgroup flame wars except that only one side is actually present. It's that lack of control that anonymity affords, see Lord of the Flies.

(I'll note parenthetically - obviously, duh - that I had one run-in with John Caruso where I made a comment that actually cut and pasted a quote from his post only to have him deny he said it with a sort of hyper-clever pretzel logic that would have left John Yoo agape with awe. That kind of soured me on him.)

Oh, and congratulation on your new blog! Cool beans!

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TGirsch said...

I agree with Krugman when he expresses confusion as to why this supposedly vindicates Rahm Emmanuel. Emmanuel pressured the president and the Congress to give up on a large reform bill and "go small" after the loss in Massachusetts. Fortunately, the president and the Congress ignored him and pressed on.

While the bill we got is far from perfect, it's far better than the nibbling around the edges that Emmanuel argued for.

LarryE said...

The point on which Emmanuel was vindicated (and the one avowedly at issue) was his contention that the progressives who were saying things like "no public option = no bill" would capitulate in the end and sign on to whatever was demanded of them. I find it very hard to see how anyone could argue that he was wrong. Arguing that he was wrong about "big bill vs. small bill" is a completely different question.

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