Monday, August 10, 2009

Lance Selfa Rip of the Current Health non-Reform


"Given this constrained vision--where the "progressive agenda" becomes increasingly melded with the White House's agenda--even liberal complaints about Obama's concessions to corporations and "centrist" politicians fall by the wayside. Perversely, of course, this gives even greater license to the White House to make concessions to business and conservative politicians.

Until there is independent pressure from a mobilized social movement, combined with a real political challenge from Obama's left, the type of reforms--even the prospect of reforms--are likely to follow the pattern we're currently seeing in the health care debate."

In a way, I wish that Selfa was wrong about this but he's not. I can't tell you how many times I've heard from liberal friends that the problem is Max Baucus, Blue Dogs, Republicans, etc. Yes, they're all blowhards. Yes, they're doing their best to thwart reform. But they're not alone. Obama and friends are doing plenty to screw this up as well. I think most of Selfa's criticisms are right on -Obama didn't try to mobilize popular support, but tried to broker a deal among elites with the assumption that if he played their game that they would bargain, with the result that we get 'something' without having to start a fight with Big Pharma, the insurance companies, etc.

There's also the related issue of Obama's rhetoric: he speaks about reform in terms of technical points which are admitedly important in some respects, but he leaves the normative punch of why we need health reform largely out of the message.

I agree wtih Selfa. I think most liberals know all of this, but feel strongly that the Democratic Party is the best that we can do. If not Obama, then John McCain. If not Harry Reid, then Mitch McConnell. But where does this leave anyone remotely close to the Left in this country? Is there no other viable option other than to sit down, shut up and resign ourselves to health care 'reform' that's beginning to look less progressive than RomneyCare?

This is a serious dilemma, and its not hard to see where the liberals have a point here.

But its also not difficult to see that the meagre electoral Left (to the extent that there even is one) has no bargaining chips. They are marginalized in the Democratic Party. Its even worse for voters, who don't get to vote on legislation but only between a canditate from one of the two dominant parties. The voting Left is powerless; the Democrats never fear for a second that they won't get these votes, because they know that these people have nowhere else to turn. They know that anyone remotely progressive despises the Republicans and that that alone will turn them out. And it does, I've seen it. I've seen anti-war friends committed to mariage equality and social justice campaign for right-wing Democrats committed to war, homophobia and cutting funding for education. I'm hardly exempt here; I've helped out and cast many votes for 'centrist' and 'Blue Dog' Democrats.

Still, the ISO invocation to 'build an independent social movement' is appealing yet frustrating. The reason that many people don't join an independent social movement isn't that they don't agree with the ISO here; its tough work that pits one against a heavily-funded institution with shock-troops who themselves claim to be 'progressive'. Most media, 'pundits', etc. won't even take note of what you're doing- and if they do they'll just distort you. Meanwhile, they'll be playing up the next election like its the most important even of the century and making you look more and more irrelevant. Its not an easy struggle. Its not easy to see what an independent Left-wing organization should be try primarily to do -its not claer what the goal should be if the organization lacks the ability to threaten to take votes from the Democrats. Of course, building a separate party is another dilemma entirely. I'm not saying its not worth trying again -there are probably many lessons to be learned from the demise of the Green Party. Still, I'm not convinced that's the place to begin putting time and energy.

The thing that intrigued me the most about the EFCA, wasn't that the big unions would get more members. In general, I'd rather that they did, but this wasn't the most interesting part of the card check. Think of the political reverberations of having more people join a union and encounter some of the values (solidarity, community, equality) that accompany the experience of striking together, fighting for a contract, etc.

Alas, I don't know what the right way forward is. But I'm not getting sucked into the next round of elections where I am supposed to bite the bullet and canvass for Democrats (no matter how conservative).

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