Monday, January 25, 2010

In Defense of the Democratic Party

There is no realistic scenario in which the electorate is impressed by policymakers who spend a year doing the hard work of tackling a seemingly-impossible challenge, pass the landmark legislation, and then somehow manage to come up short anyway.
-Steve Benen
Look, I hate the Democrats as much as anybody. They're feckless, and gutless, and they lack the courage of their convictions. They're in bed with many if not all of the same kleptocrats as the Republicans. But they do at least try to govern effectively when they're in power, and they do try to identify and solve the many looming crises that hang over our world and our nation like the proverbial Sword of Damocles. Yes, they must often compromise the best solutions to those problems, because the people with whom they negotiate have pretty much abandoned the notion that government is for anything other than handing out fat defense and energy contracts to their friends and the people and corporations who subsidize their campaign efforts. And they're a little too like Jesus, turning cheek after cheek until they're red and raw both top and bottom.

I wish they'd fight harder. I wish they'd get more accomplished.

I wish they'd at least realize that the other side isn't interested in finding common ground or even common sense solutions to the serious problems we as a nation, a people, hell, even a species, face.

But there really aren't any other options. No other game in town, except for the Republicans, and they've already amply demonstrated that they think campaigning is more important than governing, and when they do manage to get ahold of some power we end up with an endless series of debacles like the George W. Bush presidency.

For those, like me, who would pursue a largely Progressive agenda, who would like to see real problems addressed and life made better for everyone, both at home and abroad, there really isn't another credible vehicle for making the change I desire, the change I believe, in my inmost heart, is needful if we all are to survive for much longer. It may break my heart, and does on a regular basis, but the Democratic party, with its big, dysfunctional tent and its penchant for the circular firing squad, is pretty much it if what I want is Progressive legislation.

And that is what I want.

So here we stand, on the verge of passing historic legislation decades in the making. Something really basic, that almost every other developed nation on the planet long ago realized should be one of the very cornerstones of civilization: the right of all citizens to have advanced, high-quality health care, available to everyone at a reasonable price. And we're gonna blow it.

The system we have is broken. It's a cancer, a parasite. We pay too much, get too little. If you actually need health insurance, you can't get it because of your pre-existing condition. If you do have it, but then get sick and need it, your policy gets rescinded. If you have it but don't get catastrophically ill or injured, then you get to keep it, but your premiums rise by double-digit percentage points. Every year. Every. Year.

Wages have stagnated in this country since 1973. That's the entirety of my lifetime. Up until then, at least since after WWII, wages rose every year, which meant people did better every year, because there was more to go around. It was a good thing. But somewhere around 1973 that stopped, and wages have stagnated since. The pie's still growing. Hell, for a couple of periods (the tech bubble, the housing bubble) the pie appeared to growing faster than anyone could eat it. But here we are, with real wages about what they were when I was born, or probably worse now that the official unemployment number is 10%. And why is that, do you suppose?

Sure, the kleptocrats have gotten better at their kleptocracy. But the real reason is health care costs. Every year they rise and rise, get more and more expensive, and so instead of getting more than just a cost-of-living adjustment to your salary, you just get to keep your healthcare, such as it is. That's where your increasing prosperity went. That's where the productivity gains you managed to make went. Into a monopolistic racket that dictates costs to consumers and fails to provide the service for which it ostensibly exists.

And while it would be better to have a single-payer system nationwide (we have one in Medicare, which everyone seems to think pretty highly of), politics is the art of the possible, and what is possible right now is, basically, the Senate version of the Health Care Reform bill. No, it's not ideal. But it's passed the fractious, dysfunctional Battle-Royale of Ego and O'erweening Pride that is the US Senate, which given its traditions and its knee-jerk, lock-step minority is saying something.

And that's not even the extent of what can be done. All sorts of improvements can be made through the reconciliation process, which only needs 50 votes (since Joe Biden can break any ties). We might even get a Public Option out of it. But we have to get the basic legislation on the books first. We have to send a bill to President Obama's desk. And all this noise and kerfuffle about it's not good enough and they sold us out isn't going to get us anything better than what's already on the table. And if Democrats fail at this, if they take historic majorities in both Houses of Congress, and the White House, and a two-election-cycle mandate to get shit done on this and blow it, if they back off now, then it's going to deal a staggering blow to the Progressive Agenda, one that's going to take decades to recover from, decades we frankly don't have.

Neither Social Security nor Medicare, when they were first passed, looked like they do today. And the arguments made against them at the time (by the very same people using terms like 'death panel' and 'government takeover' now) were just as absurd as the lies being spread about Health Care Reform now (for example, Medicare, it was claimed, by none other than Ronald Reagan himself, would inevitably lead to the goevernment telling doctors where and what kind of medicine they could practice). But Democratic lawmakers manned up and made it happen, and as a result they not only held power for decades, but we all are better off. Because they had the courage of their convictions, and the sticktuitiveness to make it happen, the elderly and infirm no longer have to worry about where the money's coming from or how they're going to pay for their health care, and that's a good thing, both from a policy and a moral standpoint. And it doesn't seem like they, or anybody, should begrudge the rest of us some of that same security.

But there are those that do. People and organizations who have a vested interest in things staying just as they are, and they've mounted an coordinated and maddeningly effective campaign to muddy the waters and bring things to a standstill.

Which is why, if you are a Progressive, now is the time to act. To call your Congressperson and infuse them with a little spine. To not make the perfect the enemy of the good, but to lay the first stone in a foundation that will never be torn up. That will help not only ordinary Americans but American business, too.

Because one thing is certain, if Health Care Reform is not enacted, the Democrats will rightly lose power and seats in the legislature. And while that might be of some fleeting psychological comfort to those for whom our elected representatives are not Progressive enough (yeah! they sure got what they deserved!), at the end of the day, those seats will not go to more Progressive candidates, they'll go to Republicans, just like Ted Kennedy's seat did, and everything we want, everything we hope and wish and work for will be that much futher away.

It's good to have your heart in the right place. Good to be passionate about what you believe in. But it's not enough. Your head still has to be in charge. It has to channel that passion in useful ways. It has to see the way forward, connect the dots between where you are and where you want to go, and make the hard choices that get you there. We'll all have to swallow something we won't like, some compromise that in a perfect world might be a deal-breaker. It'll suck, but we have to be grownups about this. We can't get what we want by stamping our feet and holding our breath, because if we do that, what we get is Republicans in charge, and while they may once upon a time have been reasonable people (some of them, anyway), they've been taken over by the crazies, and if they get to be in charge again it's going to be worse than the Bush years ever were. Mark my words.

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