Why are progressives so stuck on the public option?
It’s the big question of the day. Chris Bowers has a much-linked post describing the major reason. (He’s responding to people who think that progressives should have just up and demanded single payer, but it’s insightful in the larger sense about why pushing for a robust public option became the progressive demand.)
I have spent the last few months trying to increase progressive power in Congress. This effort is centered around a new strategy I call “The Progressive Block,” and yes the k is intentional. Basically, the strategy is for House Progressives–reinforced by the netroots–joining with Republicans to block must-pass Democratic legislation unless we get some real concessions in return for passage…..
This is the best idea and the broadest effort I encountered to try and make the federal government more responsive to progressives in the long-term, and to try and improve the health care bill in the short-term. It certainly struck me as more attractive and workable than just writing blog posts explaining why single-payer is so great.
The argument behind this is that the Blue Dogs in the House are sitting in the most precarious seats, and so they have more to lose if this bill fails. But I’m going to step away from the deal-making aspects a little and address the larger question, the one that makes the Obama administration run to the WaPo crying about the meanie left: Why the public option? Why is that become a make-or-break thing for progressives?
The argument for not getting hung up on it is sound enough. It’s less important that creating exchanges, regulating the insurance industry so they can’t weasel out of paying bills, subsidizing the purchase of insurance for low income Americans, and lowering costs. (Though a lot of us are well within our rights to point out that the lobbyist-owned Congress won’t be lowering costs if they push through a mandate but refuse to bring the hammer down on insurance companies.) But this very sensible argument is missing the point. The public option hasn’t become the organizing point because it’s the most important thing. It’s because we can’t fucking believe that our so-called allies are taking opposition arguments seriously.
I can’t emphasize this enough. The main argument against the public option is that the insurance companies don’t want to have to compete against it. This should be regarded with the same respect you’d accord someone arguing that we can’t have puppies around because they’re too cute. If you take this argument seriously, you buy into a bunch of fucked up underlying assumptions:
1) That the government has an obligation to protect corporations from the free market. God forbid they should be forced to compete. What’s hilarious about this is that conservatives who trot this argument out will, in the next breath, claim to be free market absolutists who think that health care choices on the ground—like deciding who is going to fix your broken leg—should be handled by a sober assessment of costs, that the free market will fix all. Except that they clearly don’t believe that, since they argue that the government should protect insurance companies from free market competition from a public option. The sheer contradictory bullshit should be enough to make Democrats not only not cower, but attack, attack, attack Republicans with the public option. Every time they whine, they should be met with, “What do you have against the free market and competition?”
2) Corporate profits are more important than people’s health care.
3) We don’t know that the opposition to the public option is financed 100% by insurance companies buying off politicians.
It’s the brazenness of the bullshit that really sets people off on this front. Fighting the public option is a straight-up admission that you will always choose corporate lobbyists over the basic needs and health of the public that votes for you. It’s also incredibly scary to see a wholesale willingness to blow off stated capitalist arguments about free market competition the second said competition threatens corporate profits. It’s the nakedness of the corporate state that’s not even pretending to adhere to a free market ideology. They never had one. It was all a big lie to cover their more unsavory argument, which is that the rich should suck the rest of us dry just because they’re better than us, and you can tell, because they’re rich.