Friday, September 11, 2009

Moderates, Centrists, BlueDogs, and Other Useless Creatures

Health care reform may finally move forward, if the President's excellent speech is any indication of the likely course of future events. The bottleneck is in the Senate Finance Committee, where Max Baucus and Chuck Grassley have supposedly been struggling to forge a measure that would draw 60 votes. Baucus is no liberal champion, and Grassley's public statements show that he is actually out to block any reform at all, and it is no surprise that progress has been stalled in their shop.

The President has tried to move this legislation forward with bi-partisan support, but the Republicans see no advantage politically in helping him achieve what would be a stunning reversal of the sorry history of health care reform in this country. He is right to try to change the tone of public discourse and to seek to bring together people of goodwill to bring changes we can mostly agree on -- surely we do not need more of the kind of ugly and divisive behavior that was evident at McCain-Palin rallies and more recently at Town Hall meetings. But the idea that compromise is always the best course, and that mollifying the so-called centrists is the right thing to do, is just plain wrong.

Tying our policy, and our nation's future, to the meandering and mindless middle is what produced the war in Iraq, the Bush tax cuts, the torture of detainees, and the meltdown of our financial markets. Where were these moderates when these things were happening? They were happy to go along with Bush and his radical economic and foreign policies. They raised no objection to the suppression of regulatory oversight of our financial services industry. They endorsed and tolerated and compromised their way through eight years that ruined us financially, empowered our enemies, punished our military and our military families, and exposed us to dishonor and shame.

It is clear that we need to avoid rancor and insulting speech, the personal attacks, and the appeals to fear and bigotry that have reinforced and magnified the fringe elements and rowdies who have emerged from the bars, and other places that feature FOX news and similar degraded forms of entertainment, to take their place as political spokesmen and women of middle America and to claim the loyalties of the likes of Chuck Grassley and Mike Enzi. Is it any wonder at all that Chuck Grassley stood before such people and told them they were right to worry that the government intended to pull the plug on Grandma?

Much of what passes for moderation is nothing more than mindless passivity and amoral abdication of a citizen's responsibility to be informed and to give serious thought to the public policy issues of the day; a natural consequence of such complacent neglect is uncertainty and self-centered inertia. It is very common to fear change and to hold onto the status quo even as it becomes ever clearer that the status quo cannot be sustained -- it is also common to prefer to be called a moderate than to admit you are simply complacent, uninformed, and afraid.

The time for all that passed a long time ago. Change, at long last, is inevitable. This may be our last chance to reform our health care system before we all go broke. The President has put forward a sensible and decent plan. It is not the single-payer plan that many of us wanted, but it deserves our endorsement and full support. It is time the blue dogs and moderates got on board or out of the way.


Thursday, September 10, 2009

You Lie!

My President gave a wonderful speech last night. So wonderful that it could not be marred even by the ugliness that we have come to associate with the Republicans since the fall presidential campaign and this summer's absurd town hall circuses.

A Congressman from South Carolina shouted an insult to the President, charging Mr Obama with lying. It would of course be no less offensive had the charge been made by a member of a party that had not already sold us the war in Iraq on the most dishonest and discredited terms, challenged the President's eligibility to serve in his office, and charged that he intended to pull the plug on America's elderly. But in this case, the charge is plainly ridiculous.

We have endured the dishonesty and belligerence of the Republicans for eight long, difficult and dishonorable years. It is time to move on. With or without these people, and we may well be better off without them, let us bring the change that America needs. Elections have consequences, I was told when we invaded Iraq. It is time that the last two elections began to make a difference in the lives of Americans.

I am proud of my President tonight.


Thursday, September 03, 2009

Town Hall Republicans

The past few years have been a challenge for progressives and liberals. Going back to the failure of our political system in the presidential election of 2000, and moving forward from that flawed beginning, we have seen a series of plagues: the repeat of the Vietnam experience (ie, a war without justification and without an ending, and with American war crimes and dishonor), the disabling of government agencies like FEMA and the SEC, ruinous tax breaks for the wealthy, the attack on science and the promotion of religion as its substitute, an ugly pandering to homophobes and nativists, and the depressing degradation of debate of public policy issues.

It's this last bit that I am thinking of tonight.

In the 70's, the GOP included talented and serious people who were pragmatic and moderate in their approach to public policy. Even the hated Richard Nixon was capable of supporting Food Stamps.

The change in the GOP began with the rise of Newt Gingrich, but really blossomed under the presidency of George W Bush. These were the years when the party moved sharply from competence, pragmatism, good government and moderation, to become the party of Glenn Beck, Sarah Palin, Chuck Grassley, and the townhall rowdies who shouted down a woman in a wheelchair in Red Bank today.

The career of John McCain from 2000 to 2008 tells the story: in 2000, Americans on both sides of the aisle supported his presidential campaign. I liked Bill Bradley and John McCain more than I did Al Gore. By 2008, he had completely rebranded himself -- even to the absurd extent that he was able to choose Sarah Palin as his running mate. A more convincing repudiation of competence and moderation would be hard to imagine.

What has happened to the GOP is really a shame. It is also a tragedy for America and for the world that looks to America for leadership. Perhaps the worst thing is that the phony populism of the GOP affirms the misbehavior and encourages the belligerence of people who have suffered the most from Republican policies of the past eight years. The GOP draws its political clout from the resentments and bigotry of the least well-educated members of the lower fringe of a threatened middle class.

It seems likely tonight that the public option will be dropped from health care reform. This is also tragic, because it is a clear indication that the large companies that have been the beneficiaries of the current system -- who have benefited from the system that has so disenfranchised tens of millions of Americans -- have succeeded in protecting themselves and their profit margins from serious competition. For now.

With or without the public option, we need to extend coverage to all Americans now. It will be much more expensive without a public option, but so be it. First, let's get people covered, even those idiots doing all the shouting in the town halls. In time, when reform proves to have been a good thing for them and their families, we can come back and finish the job.

It's a big country with a lot of stupid people; progress is going to be slow and difficult.