Friday, March 12, 2010

Hey Diogenes! Over here!

Put away the lamp: There is at least one honest person in Congress. His name is Dennis Kucinich.

Congressman Kucinich made a bit of news a couple of days ago when he said on "Countdown" that he would not change his mind about the healthcare deform bill: He voted "no" before because the bill lacked "a robust public option" and did nothing to control insurance companies - and as nothing was substantially different now, he would vote "no" again this time. In the face of all the pressure, Dennis Kucinich has chosen to do what lefties are not supposed to do, what we're often denounced by our own side for doing: He is standing on principle, thus opening himself to the condemnations of those "realists" who negotiate away a dollar in the hope of getting a nickel, all the while patting themselves on the back for their "pragmatism."

I think you can tell a lot about the atmosphere of a website by the reaction to the news. At Firedoglake the comments were generally although not exclusively supportive, as they were at Crooks & Liars. On the other hand, at TalkingPointsMemo the response was overwhelmingly negative - including calling him "a loser elf" at least twice. At DailyKos it wasn't much better and the entirely predictable "just like Nader" crap quickly emerged, a stance also embraced by Obamabot-in-Chief Markos Moulitsas. Moulitsas, who "Countdown" apparently regards as embodying the whole of the "left wing blogosphere," was brought on the show the next night seemingly for the specific purpose of denouncing Kucinich as "Nader-esque" (defined as "unrealistic" and "selfish," even though those two terms seem at odds with each other) and "reprehensible" - and to persistently mispronounce his name, putting the accent heavily on the first syllable.

Well, I am with Kucinich 100% on the principle: The bill - among other criticisms - is a giveaway to the insurance companies, does not protect consumers, will not lower or even control costs, foolishly and wrongly equates health insurance with health care (which means the claims of expanded access to care are clearly and I believe seriously inflated), and locks in the dominance of the insurance companies, thereby inhibiting future hopes for actual change. Bottom line, it sucks.

That said, I am - based on my own political calculations - 50-50 about the actual act of voting no. I have said on more than one occasion and in more than one place that I think the best outcome would have been for the bill to fail because a significant number progressives in the House and the Senate stood up and said they would not support the bill because "it's just not good enough!" But despite Kucinich's stand, drawn from his own conscience and judgment, if the bill fails it will not be seen as having failed because it sucked, not because it just wasn't good enough, but because the right wing killed it. As a result, I am honestly not sure if the better outcome at this point would be for the bill to pass and even further entrench the power and control of the insurance companies or for the bill to fail and to further entrench the idea - already embraced by some even before a failure has occurred - that actual health care reform can't be passed over the resistance of the right so forget about it for another 15 or 20 years. That is, one option makes genuine reform more difficult; the other makes people think genuine reform is more difficult. A true Morton's Fork.

But thinking it through as I write this, it seems to me now that if standing on principle and abandoning principle merely lead to variations on the same unfortunate outcome, hell, you might as well stand on principle and damn the vituperation. So yeah, I'd vote no.

Important Footnote: Whenever Kucinich comes under the baleful glare of the lefty blogosphere, there are sneering references to his "failure" as mayor of Cleveland. As I strongly suspect those come mostly from people who are too young to remember the events (which took place more than 30 years ago) and therefore actually have no idea what the hell they are talking about, a quick history lesson:

In 1977, Dennis Kucinich became the nation's youngest big-city mayor. The big issue during his term was the effort by banks and businesses to force the city to sell its municipal electricity authority, Muny Light - because those banks and businesses were invested in Muny Light's commercial competitor. Kucinich, who had been elected on a pledge to stop the sale, resisted.

Ultimately, in 1978 the banks tried to force the city to sell by calling the city's loans and refusing to extend credit without the sale of the utility. Kucinich didn't blink and the city went into default.

It cost him the mayor's office and almost his entire political career. But he did prevent the sale. And 15 years later, he was rehabilitated when city officials of Cleveland, which today still owns Muny Light (now called Cleveland Public Power), said Kucinich's decision had saved the city and its residents hundreds of millions of dollars over that time.

We all should be such "failures."


Richard said...

the amazing thing about Kos is that he actually claims to have spent time being trained to serve in the CIA

I never trust anyone who any connection to the CIA, but, it's just my paranoia, after all, the CIA has always been scrupulous about respecting the wall between foreign and domestic activity

Lotus said...

Hey, Richard! Good to "see" you!

Lotus said...

I'm not sure that his being interested in the CIA proves more than that he's a pretty standard cold war type liberal - which I think we already knew - but I do think what fflambeau recalled at FDL is relevant here:

"Kos, it might be recalled, during the Democratic primaries in 2008 never once addressed issues raised by DK but preferred to call him 'ugly' and put #!# after his name, like swear words."

TGirsch said...

I'm just not sure this bill is as bad as you seem to think it is. Sure, it could have been a lot better, but I think our primary disconnect is our disagreement about what a "perfect" bill would look like. Your preference is for something like the NHS, with single-payer being your first runner up. Whereas my preference is for a German-style Bismarckian system, with single-payer as a distant second. It seems to me that this bill moves us more toward a Bismarckian system, though not far enough in that direction.

It should be noted that the top-ranked health care systems in the world are Bismarckian, rather than single-payer or NHS-style.

I won't re-kick the dead "pragmatism-vs.-idealism" horse, other than to say that if you genuinely think this bill will be worse than the status quo (or even no different from the status quo), then by all means you should oppose it. I support it because I do think it will be a significant improvement over the status quo.

(It may surprise you a bit to learn that I'm more than willing to take a step back if it will enable two steps forward -- where we generally disagree is over whether a particular step back will actually enable such forward steps.)

Lotus said...

this bill moves us more toward a Bismarckian system

Except that Bismarckian systems involve nonprofit insurance overseen by tight government regulation. I see no reason to believe the current proposal will move us in that direction in any more than a purely symbolic way.

the top-ranked health care systems in the world are Bismarckian, rather than single-payer or NHS-style

According to one measure and even there it would be possible to argue the particulars chosen and the relative emphasis placed on each - and even there the differences among the 30 countries are hardly significant. (I also couldn't help but notice that by that measurement, far and away the best health system in the world is found is Estonia.)

I'm more than willing to take a step back if it will enable two steps forward

I'm sure - but I maintain this bill is more a case of taking two steps back to take one step forward. Or, at best, one step back to take one step forward, with all the attention on the step forward while the insurance industry giggles with glee over the step (or two) back.

TGirsch said...

Actually the measure I was going by lists France and Italy as the best. And from what I can tell, France is actually somewhere in between Bismarckian and single-payer. Upon further review, the bag is more mixed than I had remembered: generally speaking Bismarckian, single-payer, and socialized systems all tend to perform quite well, and much better than what we have.

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