Posted by rflacks on:
As President Obama said on signing the health insurance bill, "as we mark the turning of spring, we also mark a new season in America". It's a hopeful forecast that can be fulfilled and that depends on sprouting grassroots.
The new health law changes the climate. The pundits' declaration of change focuses on the President's allegedly new determination and ‘toughness' and on the totally disciplined behavior of the Democrats in congress. All of that is to the good, though I feel like asserting that the chattering class has misunderstood and misestimated Barack Obama since the moment he stepped on the national political stage. A case can be made that from the outset he has more or less been doing the right moves strategically to get this health measure actually passed. He held off confrontation with the insurance lobby and the GOP until it was clear to the country (and not just to him) that they were refusing to cooperate. He seems to have understood from the start that a variety of deals with corporate power centers would have to be made if there was to be any hope for reform. He's like Goldilocks, looking for what's ‘just right' and often finding it when others can't.
The biggest question about what could have been has to do with the public option. Some such provision could have passed congress, but its scope and potential was destined to be very constrained, and the fuel it would have provided to the ‘government takeover' line made it politically dangerous. Had a version of the public option been included in the bill, however, its passage would have provided a clearer foundation for more progressive reform down the line.
Still, in his declaration of victory, Obama said: "And we have now just enshrined -- as soon as I sign this bill -- the core principle that everybody should have some basic security when it comes to their health care." A modest restatement of the progressive belief that healthcare is a right and therefore a fundamental responsibility of government to guarantee for all. The historic significance of the new law is that it enshrines that right. That new fact is something to be built on in the years to come.
Those of us who understand that 'single payer' is the right and only practical way have universal guaranteed health care long ago won the rational argument. What we might learn from the last year of struggle is that the case has not been made to a popular majority. But an opportunity to made headway on that score might be to follow the strategy of trying to institute single payer plans on the state level. The need for this will be evident if the fears of health reformers about the new law bear fruit-namely that health costs for consumers will continue to rise, that the policies actually provided by the private corporations will be flawed, that loopholes in the new law will mean people will continue to be denied insurance, or their coverage will be inadequate when major illness strikes. Groups like the National Nurses Union and the Physicians for National Health plan (http://www.pnhp.org/) need to develop a strategy that makes the failure of the private insurance corporations evident and urgent.
The sweetness of the HCR was enhanced by the passage along with it of the direct student loan act. Here's a case where congress was in fact willing to terminate some major corporate business by ending the federal subsidies to private banks to provide student loans. Putting the banks out of the student loan business releases billions that can be rechanneled to direct aid for students.
Under the radar these last weeks has been a considerable mobilization of people power for healthcare and student loan reform expressed largely through torrential rain of email and phone calls to congress. The progressive grassroots are stirring. Students and teachers on the march in California (this week thousands rallied in Sacramento again). Huge immigrant rights march in DC with more to follow in other cities. Antiwar rallies on the anniversary of the Iraq war. These are further harbingers of a new season.
But media attention focuses on the fascistic mobilization on the right-displays of which certainly foul the spring air. It's certainly newsworthy that congresspersons are being threatened and their offices vandalized, and that a rhetoric of violence is being spewed by major national figures. It's past time to demand that Palin, Limbaugh and the congressional leadership denounce violence and the threats of it (think of the contortions Obama had to go through in the matters of Rev. Wright and Bill Ayers). It's to be hoped that the Democrats will made the case that the best way for ordinary citizens to repudiate that extremism is to vote against those who seek to profit from it.
The progressive legislative agenda has to include active support for job creation. An important aspect of that has to be aid to the states and cities to prevent scenarios of mass layoffs of teachers and other public workers, and to create jobs to sustain the infrastructure. There's a lot more on that agenda (from financial reform to immigration reform, energy reform, workers rights reform), all of which is guaranteed to be powerfully resisted. Maybe in the new season, progressive national leaderships and local activists will feel new confidence to advance that agenda. Otherwise, a winter of hate and despair looms.