Death Panels, Progressive Style

by Karoli on December 21, 2009 · 1,091 comments

Health care reform?

At the top of my email this morning, one headline stood above all others. From Jane Hamsher at FDL Action, this urgent message:

The Senate’s health care bill must be killed.

It is an ungodly mess of errors, loopholes, and massive giveaways. When the American people find out what’s actually in this bill, they will revolt. Congress and President Obama have no choice but to do better for health care than this bill.

Not so much, Jane. There’s a lot not to like in this round of legislation, but killing it is the equivalent of a death panel for people like me. [Update: Ezra Klein answers each of the 10 reasons with facts.]

David Sirota joins the panel of judges with this:

We can feel free to risk sending a bad bill down to defeat in the cause of making it better — because we know that the bill in its current, non-improved form is bad. And from that stand, we may get more progressive concessions before this thing is finally done. Just as the old dynamic was based on buying Lieberman’s vote with insurance/drug industry concessions, this new Dean dynamic could means progressives forcing the leadership and the White House to, say, add back a public option back into this final bill as price for progressive votes.

Jane Hamsher at least carries the authority of her own experience battling breast cancer with her and a genuine desire to carry a torch toward improving the system for everyone. David Sirota just genuinely thinks if we all stand up and throw a far-right-size hissy fit, we might get more.

Yesterday I was taken to task privately for ‘caving’ to the Senate compromise instead of ‘fighting back’. The logic went like this: When Howard Dean called for the bill to be killed last week, what he was REALLY saying was to fight for more progressive concessions, and by not supporting him (and in fact, criticizing him) I was selling out progressive values to insurance companies and fat-cat lobbyists.

If a call to kill the bill is REALLY intended to be a pressure play, a roadmap for exactly how to mislead people who trusted what I said would have been helpful, similar to the one that went out from Frank Luntz to the right-wingers last summer. It is a character flaw of mine, this belief that if I say something I ought to actually mean it, and if I’m going to start using far-right wing memes to push the debate in one way or the other, there had better be a damn good reason to do it. But really, there is no reason compelling enough for me to ever start using teaparty memes to put progressive pressure on Congress.

In fact, hell would really have to freeze over first, and I am not referring to the weekend blizzard in Washington DC. That’s as intellectually dishonest as the furor over death panels, rationing, and socialist takeovers of health care.

In the world Hamsher and Sirota live in, an unholy alliance forged with the likes of Grover Norquist and Phyllis Schafly is perfectly justified, as long as they share a common goal. In this respect, perhaps I am more of a purist than they, since I believe that there is a line that should not be crossed. Overall ideological differences still matter. It is one thing to craft a compromise. It’s entirely another to crawl in bed for a one-issue stand with the same people who funded the tea party movement and crafted terms like “death panels” and “government takeover of health care”.

Yet, for Hamsher and Sirota, this is a perfectly rational response to their perception that the current Senate bill is so terribly awful that it should just be killed dead. They somehow justify this rationale by thinking they can come back around in 2010 to a bill that more closely resembles what they want.

I ask this: In what alternate universe do they reside? The New Republic’s Jonathan Cohn injects a dose of reality into the discussion, as does Nate Silver, the new media guru of statistical political analysis. If they couldn’t get it on the first, best try, what fantasyland do they think will give it to them on the second one, with an entrenched right wing and a divided left wing?

It’s clear to me that there is such deep anger over the very idea of insurance companies not being completely destroyed by this effort at health care reform that progressives like Hamsher and Sirota want to destroy those who are currently struggling in the name of an ideal.

I would like for them to tell Brenda the waitress why the bill should be killed. The immediate Medicaid expansion will cover her medical needs. Or David, whose son Woody will immediately receive the care he needs without his family worrying about caps on the cost of his care.

If Brenda and Woody’s story aren’t enough, maybe they could explain it to all of the people who wrote their stories here.

History is a fabulous teacher. It teaches us that Truman, Nixon, Carter and Clinton paid dearly for failing to get health care reform passed. We are now TWO cloture votes and one up-or-down vote away from having a bill that will ultimately go to President Obama to sign. No President has accomplished this in the first year of his first term as President.

Killing the bill is the equivalent of a death panel for the ranks of the uninsured, the unemployed, the US economy, and progressive values. Only by organizing and mounting a campaign to IMPROVE the bill will we rise. We fall if it dies.

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