The response to my last post about the House Democrats who may work to add the public option into the final health care bill is very telling about the true divide in American politics these days - and it's worth showing you exactly what I mean.
I emailed my post to a list I've built up over the years - activists, politicians, staffers, scholars, organizers, etc. I received a number of responses from folks working at a very high level in politics and with many of the politicians in question (that's all I can really say) - and they all said a version of "this is very constructive." Then I received this:
This is an excellent example of the "satisfying purity of indignation." Millions will benefit from a compromise plan. Zero would do so from a more ambitious but unachieveable plan. I've no patience for this kind of impractical and bloodless stance. Please take me off your list.
Sent from my iPhone
Yale School of Management
I don't know Mr. Davis personally (and am not sure how he got on my list, actually - rest assured, I've removed him from the list). But the contrast here is telling.
Progressives have some allies right now, even if it sometimes feels like we don't. There are people in Washington who understand how movement politics actually works. They understand the story Chris relayed about the interaction between President Clinton and then-Rep. Bernie Sanders in 1993 - that continuing to push on health care will get us closer to short-term and long term goals, whether we achieve those goals on this bill or not.
Progressives and Democratic partisans should be able to respectfully disagree on the tactics and process - specifically on whether the Senate bill should have been voted up or down (and you'll note, those saying the Senate bill should have been sent back to the drawing board have been largely respectful, while the other side has been increasingly enraged and vitriolic). But the value of having at least some progressive voices pushing hard and demanding more is absolutely undeniable. As Chris has said, we've managed - for the first time in a very long time - to make the dominant political discussion on health care between the center-left and the progressive left. And longer-term, even bill proponent Nate Silver (whose post I don't fully agree with on every point)* acknowledges we're creating the pressure for Democrats to make this particular bill better - and for them to come back and pass other bills that add to this bill, should it pass.
On the other hand, there is an entire Establishment of people like Mr. Davis - well-paid ivory-tower types who strut around as Serious and Pragmatic - who have no understanding of/appreciation for the basic history of movements or the basic dynamics of politics (much less the substance of this bill - you'll notice he makes no substantive points about the actual health care bill the Senate passed).
These people typically have never worked as political organizers or on political campaigns - and yet see themselves as political "experts." They have internalized the Princess Leia notion that I described in my USA Today editorial yesterday - and attack anyone else as "bloodless" "impractical" "purists" pushing something that's supposedly "unacheiveable." This, even as polls show the goals progressives are pushing are supported by the vast majority of Americans. This, even as a House-Senate conference committee has yet to meet. This, for merely noting that 60 House Democrats have promised to - and still have a chance to - fight hard for a public option.
These people who "have no patience" for movements are, of course, power-worshiping parrots - they simply echo what the White House and cable news pundits say (notice this screed comes the week after the White House lashed out at Howard Dean as "insane" for saying Congress should do something other than hand over almost a trillion dollars to the private insurance industry). They never stop to even momentarily question the artificial assumptions rigged into the health care debate. And, at least in Mr. Davis's case, this isn't surprising - check out his bio and see his extensive and ongoing connections to the financial industry, Corporate America and Dubai sovereign wealth funds (somehow, we're supposed to nonetheless see him as a "credible," caring and disinterested opinion on health care for millions of middle-class Americans). Someone like that is not in the business of questioning assumptions - they are in the business of propagating them.
These Establishment voices in the coming weeks will do whatever they can to make the progressive movement feel marginalized. And it is, indeed, going to be demoralizing. But don't let it get to you (I sure don't - or at least try not to). Their anger and vitriol emanates from their ignorance of history, their naivete of bare-knuckled politics and - in many cases - their personal corruption and their ideological bankruptcy. They are not interested in movements because movements are a threat to the status quo, their personal legitimacy and, quite often, their own hidden agendas.
* Just to totally clarify: I agree with Nate that there has been a healthy debate - and I'm glad to see him acknowledge that. However, I don't agree with him in his criticism of Firedoglake.