I'm Down With Dennis

By David Swanson

Let me get this straight. The Senate will pass a public option if the House will. And the House will, because it already did. But House Speaker Nancy Pelosi won’t allow it. So the mortal enemy of public-option backers is . . . Dennis Kucinich.

Why? Because when Congressman Kucinich said he’d stand for a public option he stupidly thought he was supposed to mean it.

Let’s review a brief history of the disease known as “health insurance reform.”

When the president and the speaker of the House thought it would be strategic to censor any talk of single-payer healthcare, almost every member of Congress and almost every astroturfing party-before-country activist group and labor union, and almost every follower of those groups, fell obediently into line. “We’ll open the debate with the least we’ll settle for, a pathetic token public-option,” they thought cleverly, rubbing their hands together. “Then we’ll compromise down from there.”

But after demanding the “public option,” too many people refused to toss it overboard, and public pressure grew to keep it in. So 60 congress members signed a letter to the speaker last summer insisting that they would not settle for a health insurance bill that lacked a serious public option. When they were presented with a bill that did not meet their demands, almost all of them voted for it anyway.

Now 51 senators say they will pass a bill including a super-pathetic token public option of the sort passed by the House last summer, but Pelosi wants to pass a bill without anything even called a “public option” in it. Almost all of the congressional public-option stalwarts want to go along with the speaker and the president. And almost all of the astroturfing party-before-country activist groups want to fall obediently into line.

Meanwhile several states are moving single-payer healthcare bills through their legislatures, but they face likely lawsuits from insurance companies over conflicts with federal law if they try to actually get their residents healthcare. Senator Bernie Sanders is advertising the Senate bill as solving this problem, routinely failing to mention that his solution, if it is one, does not kick in for seven years. But an amendment passed in a House committee last summer would have clearly and unequivocally taken care of states’ concerns. The president told the speaker to strip that amendment out of the bill, and almost no members of Congress complained when she did so.

Where does Dennis Kucinich fit into this story? He’s the reason the word “almost” appears in it so many times. He didn’t open negotiations by proposing the lowest he’d accept. He pushed for a real single-payer solution. He single-handedly framed the public option as a compromise rather than a communist plot. Kucinich signed the letter committing to take a stand for at least a public option. But he made the mistake of thinking people actually wanted him to mean it. So he took that lonely stand. And he introduced and passed the amendment that would have allowed states to provide their residents with a serious healthcare solution.

Now, all the astroturfers applauded and encouraged taking a stand for a public option when there were 60 congress members pretending to do it, without apparently giving any thought to how greatly weakened progressives would be in Congress if they didn’t follow through. Did they think the chance that a bluff might work was worth damaging all future campaigns? Did they disbelieve all their own talk about how the bill would be worthless without the “public option.” It’s hard to know. The so-called public option had shrunk to such a token gesture that it was always hard to know what good they imagined it would do if included. And today they talk about passing a bill without even that token included, and passing it “for political reasons,” usually avoiding the question of whether the bill is actually better or worse than nothing.

But suppose that you honestly thought the public option was worth at least pretending to take a stand for, and now you no longer do, but you think the remaining bill does more good than harm. Why would you have no complaint with Pelosi who could put the “public option” back in and pass the bill? Why would you have no complaint with congress members who oppose the bill on the grounds that it protects abortion rights? Why would your complaints be focused on the one guy who stuck to what you used to want him to stick to? Could embarrassment be a factor here? Shame? Humiliation? Do you feel uneasy about asking that ever congress member be an obedient slave to the president? Do you sense that progressives would then be excluded entirely? Does it worry you that you’re protesting insurance companies in support of a bill that causes insurance companies’ stocks to rise?

Even the activist groups that have acted on principle throughout this ordeal have fallen short of Kucinich’s actions. Kucinich knew that real progress would come through the states, so he worked to pass an amendment permitting state single-payer. And virtually nobody backed him up. Activist groups either prattled on in a fog about national single-payer, or they focused exclusively on the so-called public option. These two camps wouldn’t talk to each other, but they both agreed on leaving states’ concerns by the wayside.

If, in stark contrast to what was done, labor unions and activist groups and progressive media had taken their agenda from their membership and brought it to Washington, rather than the reverse, then very quickly Kucinich would not have been alone in demanding single-payer, and the right-wingers would have soon been begging for a token public option as a compromise.

Healthcare is only one issue. There are dozens of stories like the one above, with different issues but the same characters and plot. When dozens of congress members commit to opposing war funding, Kucinich commits and then follows through. When it comes to ending the wars or impeaching the war criminals, Kucinich leads, in opposition to his political party but in support of his constituents, the American people, the rule of law, and the stated goals of progressives.

I hope self-loathing partisan sycophants realize that the corporate media will equally depict either passage or nonpassage of a “health insurance reform” bill as a defeat for Democrats. And, in this case, rightly so. But the long-term impact of a reform that doesn’t reform, one that rather compels Americans to pay their hard-earned money to institutions even more hated than Congress, namely health insurance companies — THAT would be the real political loser, with or without a privately run program for 3 percent of us called “the public option.” And, again, rightly so. Kucinich is saving the Democrats from themselves by helping to block their health insurance bill, but they can’t see what’s in front of them through the fog of their constant dreaming about mountains of money and a naked Rahm Emanuel poking them in the chests.

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