Progressives impacted the nation this week more than at any time since they brought Barack Obama the 2008 Democratic nomination. In refusing to accept the abandonment or watering down of the public option for health care, progressives have likely prevented the Democratic Party from suffering the type of meltdown in November 2010 that occurred in 1994. Thanks to the Internet, progressive dissent could not be silenced as it was during the Clinton years, forcing former community organizer Obama to realize that he risked losing his progressive base if he bypassed the public option. Progressives left no doubt last week that that the people Obama was counting upon to promote his agenda and re-elect Democrats in 2010 were on the verge of jumping ship. While the ultimate outcome is far from certain, it now looks like a Democratic Party implosion over health care has been averted, with progressives -- aided by Republican incompetence -- saving the transformational meaning of Obama’s 2008 victory.
On the Sunday before the November 1994 midterm elections, the New York Times
and other media predicted only small Democratic losses. Not even Newt Gingrich foresaw the Republican tidal wave that made him Speaker of the House, as observers failed to realize that Democrats would stay away from the polls in response to disappointment over Clinton’s health care failure and broken campaign promises.
Had the Internet been widely used in 1994, the Democratic Party might have foreseen looming electoral disaster and acted to avert it. That’s clearly what has happened in the past week, as progressive outrage over the potential abandonment of the public option forced the Obama Administration to change course, narrowly avoiding mass disaffection from the Democratic Party and a low turnout 2010 election that would bring major Republican gains.
Thanks Again, Howard Dean
Howard Dean’s insistence on a public option as both non-negotiable and as the fallback position from single-payer was likely the key factor in forcing the Obama Administration to do the right thing. As I wrote last March
, Dean and Democracy for America are willing to pressure wavering Democrats and Obama when many other progressive groups only target Republicans -- and passing health care has always been about keeping Democrats on board.
Jane Hamsher, Robert Reich, Anthony Weiner and my own favorite, Jed Lewison from Daily Kos, also helped shift the debate, sending a cumulative message that progressives had already compromised on single-payer and would not accept anything short of a public option. I was struck by Keith Olberman’s recent statement that this is the first time he’s wondered whether Obama knew what he was doing -- a question many of Obama’s staunchest supporters have asked while the President promoted negotiations with Republican Senators who oppose any version of real reform.
With the entire meaning of the Obama’s 2008 election victory suddenly at stake, the progressive blogosphere stepped up and appears to have snatched victory from possible defeat. Had Obama betrayed progressives on health care, he could just as soon forget about their trusting him on any other major issue.
Republicans to the Rescue
Of course, we don’t know what would have happened with the public option had Republicans not decided to label the ridiculous co-op plan a “government-run” health care system as well. North Dakota Senator Kent Conrad, promoter of the co-op alternative, must feel like a fool, which is certainly justified.
Astonishingly, it was not until August 18 that the New York Times
finally revealed that the co-op plan was mostly fictional, that it was not functioning even in Conrad’s home state. And when we learned that Blue Cross believes that it qualifies as a co-op, we all saw that the emperor clearly had no clothes.
Republicans thought the “just say no” strategy that killed the Clinton plan would also work in 2009. But they forgot that this strategy now lacks the element of surprise, and that the Internet now prevents the corporate media from entirely controlling the debate.
I’d like to think that Obama would have insisted on the public plan even if the GOP had embraced co-ops. But how we get there is less important than achieving the goal, and the enactment of a public plan will leave progressives eager and willing to trust Obama on immigration reform, EFCA, and other issues.
Randy Shaw is Editor of Beyond Chron and author of The Activist’s Handbook.