Update: For a great account similar to what I’m saying, check out Cenk Uygur, who compares the passage of health care to ‘Mission Accomplished’ in Iraq.
And in the interest of transparency, here are a number of people who take a rosier view of the bill while still being honest about the nature of the process: Robert Reich, Robert Kuttner, Lawrence Lessig, Matthew Yglesias, and Kevin Drum. They don’t go as far as I do. I see this bill as a pretty big indication that Obama frankly either lied about his intentions (most explicitly on the public option and drug re-importation, what I’d argue would have been the two most effective strategies for making insurance and drugs more affordable for people and the government. See Greenwald- he killed them both) or more charitably, failed to initiate anything resembling ‘change’ in Washington. But be that as it may, at least they have the journalistic integrity (I won’t impugn Kuttner’s integrity, but I do think he’s just wrong about Obama on this one- turn to any other issue and it’s impossible to claim he’s learned any kind of lesson here) not to swallow the claim that anyone ‘beat’ the special interests. That may be good politics, but it’s also, to all of our detriment’s, a complete lie. I’d like to get beat like the special interests do if that’s the case.
Because what it says is that those most responsible for a social problem must be bought off and begged for that problem to be addressed. This is a fundamentally unsustainable (in every way) proposition. Chris Hayes had a piece out in January that was probably the single best explanation I’ve yet found of the nature of our current predicament:
So what, exactly, is it that ails us?
In pondering the answer, it’s useful to distinguish between two separate categories of problems we face. The first are the human, economic and ecological disasters that demand immediate action: a grossly inefficient healthcare sector, millions un- or underinsured, 10 percent unemployment, a planet that’s warming, soaring personal bankruptcies, 12 million immigrants working in legal limbo, the list goes on. But the deeper problem, the ultimate cause of many of the first-order problems, is the perverse maldistribution of power in the country: too much in too few hands. It didn’t happen overnight, of course, and the devolution has been analyzed and decried by a host of writers and thinkers in these very pages.
It’s also not the first time. Indeed, the story of the American Republic is the never-ending task of redistributing power that always seems to collect and pool and re-form, a cycle in which we break up the power trusts, only to find them reassembling, Terminator 2-like, and requiring yet another dose of the founders’ revolutionary fervor to be broken up again.
The central and unique paradox of our politics at this moment, however, is that our institutions are so broken, the government so sclerotic and dysfunctional, that in almost all cases, from financial bailouts to health insurance mandates, the easiest means of addressing the first set of problems is to take steps that exacerbate the second.
And that leaves us in a position of gross insecurity, depending on the benevolence of concentrated, and greatly advanced power, whom we must hope will deign to consider our needs.
This is not, to be fair, entirely unprecedented. But it has now been definitively confirmed to be not just an anomaly, but a trend. This is how things are done now. The Senate climate(?)/energy/jobs bill further confirms that trend. Instead of starting with what’s necessary and then diminishing it from there, we now start with what we think we can get this group of people to agree to (also, this group of people). Get ready folks, we are entering a period of extended capitulation.
It’s as though the government has been reduced to the level of a corrupt police force, forced to pay off not only Mr. Potter, the petty drug dealers and assassins, but also the local ‘convenience’ store and evil gas station, to get any services to the local residents. No one in their right mind would respect that kind of authority. But that is what every indication seems to point to about where we’re going, in no small part because while our community is having trouble with the current authorities, it has every reason to be existentially terrified about the gang trying to move in on their turf. At least our guys can sweet-talk the above mentioned criminals into doling out any services at all.
Not only did this bill set a destructive precedent in terms of necessitating that we can only solve problems by empowering the causers of them (which should give you a hint as to whether the problem is truly solved), it also set the precedent that ‘reform’ only happens when some of our most undervalued members of society, like Latinos (to be fair, National Council de La Raza ended up supporting what passed) or Women (NOW alone in its furious response to Obama’s executive order) get unambiguously fucked over and told that their concerns are marginal to the ‘greater good’, so could you quit whining and get back in the kitchen/field while the White guys figure out how to solve your problem?
Finally, let’s not forget that at the end of the day this was an essentially Republican bill (Robert Reich also good) that they didn’t even have to vote on to get it passed- they basically got Democrats so freaked out they couldn’t pass their own.
All in all, you’ll have to forgive me for feeling somewhat less than jubilant when I look at the landscape of other issues in store for us (climate/energy, education, jobs/finance, military/civil liberties). I say this all not to be a downer, but because it is imperative that we be honest about where we’re at, and the steps that need to be taken for addressing not just the symptoms of our dysfunctional system but its core- concentrated corporate power. Anything less than a recognition that we have not truly advanced toward fundamental change, and need to figure out how we do that as soon as possible, strikes me as lacking.
On the other hand, as I hope to get to soon, I do think the immigration rally that I attended on Sunday really does point toward an awakening that may have some hope for setting a different kind of precedent- a people’s precedent.
But it’s late, and I’m dumb for being up now already, so hopefully I’ll get to that by like, I dunno, Saturday?