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Why Liberals Shouldn't Compromise Away the Public Option

Friday, December 11, 2009
One word: credibility.

The liberal leadership is pragmatic, sometimes too much so. We knew we couldn't get what we really wanted - single payer. So we put together a piece of compromise legislation that preserved the role of private insurers. We accepted the deal Obama cut with the pharmaceutical companies. But we put down a marker on one thing - the existence of a workable public alternative to private insurance. That is what we asked for. We said that we were willing to compromise further on an already compromise bill, but that there was a bottom line below which we would not cross, that if there was no public option, there would be no bill.

Now the so-called "moderates" in the party are engaged in a game of chicken with us. They aren't particularly interested in health care reform. They were elected as Democrats, but they aren't particularly loyal to liberal policy objectives. They are under the belief that our desire for a health care reform bill - any bill - is so great that we will compromise on anything to get it. If they are right - if we change our minds and going along, if we dump the public option for the medicare buy-in, then guess what? The medicare buy-in will suddenly become unacceptable. If we give in on that, they'll want to revisit medicaid expansion. And further weaken the exchanges. And permit lifetime limits on health care. And so on , and so on.

And from there it will get worse. When we want to do climate change, they'll tell us that they want something. We'll say no, and they'll guess that we'll fold and demand their weakening amendments and exceptions or threaten a filibuster. And why wouldn't they expect us to roll over again? Didn't we just do it on health care, over and over and over again.

Look, it's quite simple. In politics other politicians have to believe that you'll follow through with your commitments. They have to know you are a serious person or they won't pay you any attention whatsoever. For better or worse Democrats have staked out a position on the public option. I don't care about the substance of it. At the end of the day the public option isn't the point. Health care reform isn't even the point. What's at stake is the credibility of the entire liberal movement.

Yes, maybe the worst will happen. Maybe Ben Nelson and Joe Lieberman will filibuster, and maybe Harry Reid won't have the guts to break the filibuster and we won't have health care reform. Maybe the Democrats in the House will vote against the conference report and the whole thing will unravel, and health care gets put back another 10 years. But you know what? The next time we say that we'd rather blow the place up than give up on our principles, they'll believe us. When we cheer at them and send them F-U cards when they lose their seats in the Republican tidal wave, their successors will have learned that we are to be taken seriously.

To put it simply, the corrupt whores who call themselves centrists will only start doing what we want them to when they are more afraid of us than they are afraid of Republicans or their campaign contributors. If that means that in the short term we have to break a few eggs, so be it.
Posted by Arbitrista @ 1:42 PM
  • Well said.

    The thing keeps getting watered down so much is is quickly becoming useless. And if it passes its going to stall any chance of real change even longer, so I say if its this watered down, drop it and start over.

    Sometimes if something is failing, you have to let it go and move onto something new.

    But I expect general lameness out of all of this, as I have mostly lost all faith in our government at this point in time. I think I had more hope when Bush was in power. At leas there was the illusion that if power switched to the other side more good would come of it, but I am not seeing that. Its just sort of staying the same. And I'm sorry, but no getting worse does not equal an improvement.

    By Blogger Jesse, at 6:55 PM  
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