America's political geography is fundamentally dysfunctional: we draw political divisions--most notably between states--along the bottoms of significant rivers, thus dividing regional ecosystems in half, rather than drawing those divisions along ridgelines. There's an understandable historical reason for this, of course: rivers are natural traditional dividing lines. People inherently tend to gather together on one side or the other. They've done so for eons. But even so, that doesn't make it any less dysfunctional today.
The same is true in a more abstract sense. We tend to draw conceptual divisions in same sort of naively naturalistic way, even though the functional result is deeply frustrating. Take, for example, the ongoing health care battle. It's the natural inclination of people on all sides to assume that the important distinction is whether we have "X" feature or not--whatever "X" may be. Obama says "X" is "cost controls" and he supports the public option as a means to that end. Most folks in the blogosphere would say that "X" is the public option. Some have argued that "X" is single-payer. But my view is that all these Xs are like river bottoms--or sometimes even just puddles--when what we ought to be thinking about is the ridgelines. It's the ridgelines that determine the broad outlines of things.
In that spirit, I refer you to Digby writing:
I have, for months now, predicted that this was going to come down to what Barack Obama really wanted. We assumed the president would want "what works," particularly after fetishizing pragmatism throughout his campaign, which meant that he would require a real public option. But he had also fetishized bipartisanship. And then there were those side deals ...
But the picture is becoming clear:
President Barack Obama is actively discouraging Senate Democrats in their effort to include a public insurance option with a state opt-out clause as part of health care reform. In its place, say multiple Democratic sources, Obama has indicated a preference for an alternative policy, favored by the insurance industry, which would see a public plan "triggered" into effect in the future by a failure of the industry to meet certain benchmarks.....
The administration retreat runs counter to the letter and the spirit of Obama's presidential campaign. The man who ran on the "Audacity of Hope" has now taken a more conservative stand than Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), leaving progressives with a mix of confusion and outrage. Democratic leaders on Capitol Hill have battled conservatives in their own party in an effort to get the 60 votes needed to overcome a filibuster. Now tantalizingly close, they are calling for Obama to step up....
"Everybody knows we're close enough that these guys could be rolled. They just don't want to do it because it makes the politics harder," said a senior Democratic source, saying that Obama is worried about the political fate of Blue Dogs and conservative Senate Democrats if the bill isn't seen as bipartisan. "These last couple folks, they could get them if Obama leaned on them."
It seems that the administration believes that it's better to deliver a bill that will not work than to take a chance on losing some seats. Since it's nonsensical to think that that Republicans would take those seats because of the public option but not health care reform over all, they must believe that they must deliver a devastating blow to the majority of their own party in order to prove their bipartisan bona fides and give Rahm's Blue Dogs a tea bag to take home with them. (Certainly, nothing would make the villagers happier...)
If the reports we are hearing are true (and that's a big if) it looks like we have bigger problems.
I quote this at length because I think it captures the larger situation exactly. It identifies the ridgelines. And in doing so, it clearly reveals why Obama is, at bottom, a conservative, notwithstanding some cultural inclinations to the contrary. When all is said and done, he wants to change things as little as possible, his desire for change is driven by a perceived necessity to avoid disaster, and the priorities and parameters of change are dictated by doing as much as possible for those representing existing power, and doing as little as possible for everyone else. This is what classic Burkean conservatives believe in, along with the ideal of unifying the polity, and marginalizing all divisive forces.
Divisive forces, for those not clued in, means you and me, pardners. Every bit as much as Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck. For a classic conservative like Obama, it really makes no difference whatsoever if the divisive forces are right or rational. All that matters is that they resist going along. And because of Obama's essential conservatism, it's you and I who are the problem in Obama's eyes. Not Baucus, Nelson, Lieberman & the like. You and I. We are the problem.
And since we are the problem, we've got to get a whole lot better at it. Because if we can make ourselves insoluble, then that will force Obama to accept us, however much he may hate doing so.
And that is the only way that we will get what we want.
And what do we want? That's where the ridgelines come in once again.
|My sense of how to answer the question of what do we want is simple: we want a system that will evolve toward single payer, because anything less will be wastefully expensive and a strong inducement towards a variety of bad policy options. Naturally, the best thing ideally would be to go directly to a public option. But there are strong reasons why this isn't so practical--most notably the millions of workers who've sacrificed wage increases over the years for health plans that would now be abandoned. And so we need an equitable transition process as well as single payer, and we're simply not in a political position to make something like that happen. But we are in a position to reason together as progressive to strategize how to make it happen over a longer period of time--and that's what I believe we should be doing. Keep our primary focus on the long-term goal, on the ridgelines, and the shaping of political watersheds.
Of course, that's a vast over-simplification, since health care reform doesn't exist in a vacuum, and we face the same sorts of problems in other major areas as well--most notably global warming, and restructuring our economy away from its current dependency on financial sector gambling. But the principle should be the same--the important dividing lines should be those of the large-scale political ridgelines. And toward that end, we need to become very, very good at separating the wheat from the chaff. And very, very good at saying, "No!" and sticking with it.
In order to do this, we must be willing to risk taking losses. Because, quite frankly, losses are always a possibility--and generally become even more likely whenever you go on defense, no matter how reasonable it may seem. That's why I've argued that we should not, and cannot support a bill with individual mandates and no public option. This will be political poison, and the only question is "How fast will it act?"
Typical of the sort of hysterical "We'll all be killed" narrative that will be deployed against us have been numerous comments from BobTegas, such as those in my diary, "Against The CW: Health Care Reform DOESN'T Have To Pass This Year", in this comment thread, which begins with comment:
If reform dies, Democrats will not be given another chance
Republicans will get a hammerlock on Congress and by the time Democrats actually win it back, they will be far too afraid to touch healthcare.
by: BobTegas @ Sat Oct 17, 2009 at 18:05
As the thread unfolds it becomes increasingly obvious that Bob has not rational basis for his argument. He is simply afraid, and he will twist any facts he has to in order to make his fear appear to be the only rational, sane response. At one point he assets that 1994 was a realigning election, which it was not. I went on to write a whole diary dealing with that, and Bob proved that he didn't even have a fixed idea what a realigning election was.
More concretely, however, he had this exchange:
If Democrats had passed something in 1994, they would have held the House
Passing nothing was the worst possible outcome.
by: BobTegas @ Sun Oct 18, 2009 at 15:23
depends on what they had passed
if it was something good they'd have expanded their majorities
if it was something bad they'd lost even more seats then they lost
if they pass something bad 2010 it will be worse than 1994
republicrats will get a hammerlock on congress and democrats will be in the minority for generations
by: The Big Hurt @ Sun Oct 18, 2009 at 16:15
It cant possibly be worse than 1994
That year Democrats lost every possible race they could have lost and stayed in the minority for 12 years.
by: BobTegas @ Sun Oct 18, 2009 at 18:01
This example of unreasoing fear is much easier to refute, since it's directly refuted by cold hard figures. There we plenty of other seats the Democrats could have lost. I know, because I was a campaign worker in the coordinated (State Assemby/Senate and Congressional) campaign that saved one of those seats by less than 1,000 votes. Here is a list of close races we won that year--races we could well have lost if we had passed a terrible bill, just to "pass something":
AL-5 Wayne Parker (Rep) 86,923
Robert E. (Bud) Cramer, Jr. (Dem) 88,693
CA-24 Rich Sybert, (Rep) 91,806
Anthony C. Beilenson (Dem) 95,342
CA-36 Susan Brooks (Rep) 93,127
Jane Harman (Dem) 93,939
CA-42 Rob Guzman (Rep) 56,259
George E. Brown, Jr. (Dem) 58,888
CT-2 Edward W. Munster (Rep) 79,167
Sam Gejdenson (Dem) 79,188
FL-11 Mark Sharpe (Rep) 72,129
Sam Gibbons (Dem) 76,821
KT-3 Susan B. Stokes (Rep) 67,238
Mike Ward (Dem) 67,663
MN-6 Tad Jude (Rep) 113,190
William P. Luther (DFL) 113,740
MN-7 Bernie Omann (Rep) 102,623
Collin C. Peterson (DFL) 108,023
NC 7 Robert C. Anderson (Rep) 58,849
Charlie Rose (Dem) 62,670
OR-1 Bill Witt (Rep) 120,846
Elizabeth Furse (Dem) 121,147
PA-15 Jim Yeager (Rep) 71,602
Paul McHale (Dem) 72,073
TN-6 Steve Gill (Rep) 88,759
Bart Gordon (Dem) 90,933
TX-5 Pete Sessions (Rep) 58,521
John Bryant (Dem) 61,877
I've gone on at some length with this one example not because it's important in itself, but because it's indicative of the sort of damage than mindless fear and pseudo-certainty can do. As we face some very difficult times ahead, it's going to be inevitable that we will have disagreements in the short run. And to resolve those disagreements we will need the utmost trust in one another. We will need to join together in raising the level of debate, and keeping ourselves free from the influence of unresoning fear, and the many sorts of deception that fear can lead us to blindly accept.
Above all, we should remember the words of Franklin Delano Roosevelt: The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.
Keep your eyes on the ridgelines, not the river bottoms. The ridgelines are the keys to the river bottoms.