Matthew Yglesias fires off a screed against Democrats who have told pollsters that they are unlikely to vote for Democratic congressional candidates in 2010 (I think Amanda’s response sums up my thoughts rather well: people have to like this stuff, or surprisingly, they might not take the time to vote–or want to make the emotional investment in supporting you). Yglesias and others primarily pin the blame on the Blue Douchebags in the Senate. Yes, the Senate is dysfunctional. But to pin this all on Nelson, Bayh, Lieberman and the rest of the Asshole Caucus is overstating the case.
Ezra Klein a couple of days ago made an eloquent case for the utter immorality of Lieberman’s narcissism:
Joe Lieberman is insured. Chuck Lane is insured. I am insured. If we get sick, we can go to the doctor. Studies show that our risk of death is substantially lower than those who are uninsured, as is our risk of medical bankruptcy, and chronic pain or impairment. Health-care reform, with or without the public option and the Medicare buy-in, will extend coverage to more than 30 million people. It will improve the coverage of tens of millions more.
The debate over this policy is whether it cuts the deficit, but the point of this policy is that it saves lives. Making that clear using numbers derived from the best empirical evidence we’ve had is not venomous. It’s responsible. Threatening to sink the effort because you don’t like a small corner of it is morally irresponsible.
Klein is correct: at this point, in terms of legislation, we probably don’t have any choice but to support this crappy bill; the alternative is probably worse*. But Yglesias’ hectoring–“grow up”–simply rewards incredibly bad behavior on the part of Congressional Democrats. He is dead wrong when he writes, “But realistically “Democrats” have been trying very hard to get a decent public option compromise.” Consider Klein’s argument again, but imagine that instead of thousands of lives murdered by spreadsheet, we had thousands murdered annually by, let’s say, terrorists flying planes into buildings (just to pick a crazy hypothetical example). And suppose, for some reason, the filibuster happened to stand in the way of legislation that could stop those murders.
Would there be any doubt that one could find 51 senators to use the nuclear option and destroy the filibuster? Would anyone dare say, “Well, we just can’t get past Senator X’s opposition”? Of course not. At the very least, they would give the filibusterers a choice: let us vote on the bill, or we’ll use the nuke, and hold the vote anyway.
This too could be done with healthcare, but the Democrats choose not to do so. So they have not done all they could. They put some effort into it, but they didn’t fight hard enough. Why? A lack of fear. When Democrats, including the ‘good ones’, start losing votes (electoral, not legislative) and campaign contributions from their most loyal supporters, when even the ones in safe seats have to worry, only then will they fight with tenacity. When a liberal or progressive congressman can say to a Blue Dog, “I need this, or I might lose my seat, then and only then, will we see the liberals fight as hard and as tenaciously as the Blue Dogs. More importantly, moderate Democrats who want to retain power will have to worry about losing seats from not just the right, but also the left, and thus, pay more attention to the demands of the left.
So would I advocate staying home? Not exactly. If nothing else, down-ticket candidates and liberal ballot initiatives shouldn’t suffer for the sins of the congressional Democrats. But I say this as a Democrat who has donated, canvassed, and has never missed an election**, and whose Democratic bona fides are not in question: if I don’t like what I see over the next few months–and that includes healthcare legislation–I will not support or vote for congressional Democrats. Now, I won’t do this without telling my Congressional representatives, along with the DNC, the DSCC, and the DCCC, as well as newspapers to which I subscribe***, why I would do this. There’s no point in doing this (or even talking about doing it) if the Washington Mandarins will incorrectly interpret this as the need for Democrats to ‘move to the center.’
But until the Democrats, including the ‘good’ ones, learn to fear us, they have no incentive to listen to us. As John Aravosis put it:
It’s not going to get better if we elect more Democrats to the Senate and it’s not going to play out any differently should we try to revisit this issue in the future.
We can change this, but only if we stop rewarding bad behavior. We need to stop rewarding bad behavior and force them to do better–because they can.
*The argument that the bill is a good start misunderstands the historical moment: when a less expansive Medicare and Medicaid were passed (and there was no CHIP), the middle class was economically secure, overall. Now, people who are solidly middle class (and even those who ‘have done everything right’–get a good education and have a ‘creative class’ job) are paying through the nose for healthcare of dubious value. They need help now, not a decade from now. Aravosis is absolutely right when he calls this blackmail: “But helping 22,000 poor people a year is not what we were promised. We were promised health care reform that would help all 304 million people living in our country…”
**I even once got an absentee ballot for a municipal primary to make sure that the ‘unofficial’ Democratic school board candidate was elected. Don’t anyone dare fucking tell me I’m not a ‘good’ Democrat.
***I’m under no illusions these letters would actually be published, but I think it’s important that editors see them for reasons described above.