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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Securing Health Care Reform Left Dems Can Support

Katrina Vanden Heuvel’s thoughtful ‘Editor’s Cut’ piece “Time to End False Bipartisanship” in The Nation is an important contribution to shaping the debate on health care reform. As America’s most venerable progressive magazine, The Nation is read by many of America’s tough-minded left of center social critics, a vitally-important constituency for securing meaningful health care reform. In her editorial, Vanden Heuval provides what may be the best case yet made for urging left Dems to support a health reform plan anchored in a public option, as a step toward a universal, single-payer system down the road:

…Like 59% of the Americans surveyed in January 2009 by CBS News and the New York Times, I would prefer, as would my colleagues at The Nation, to see Congress respond to this country’s healthcare crisis by scrapping a failed-for-profit system and replacing it with a comprehensive national health insurance program.
But for now, the calculus of political viability has taken single-payer off the table. That doesn’t mean we cease fighting to get it back on –but it probably means we need to balance our short and long-term goals. Let’s assume some compromise in our political system is inevitable. The hard question is whether the compromise opens the door to greater progress or forecloses opportunity. A weak public plan will make it harder to get healthcare expenses under control while extending care to all. A weak plan may discredit healthcare reform for a generation. Real reform will cement strong attachment to the party which has shown it can pass legislation truly improving the condition of people’s lives…

Vanden Heuvel opposes coddling centrist Dems, who are backing away from the public option and warns of the need to get them to “pay more attention to the broad majority favoring a strong public option than to the wads of dough lavished on them by big Pharma and insurance lobbyists.” She is clear also that the acceptable compromise does not include pandering to Republicans who oppose even a public option:

It’s time to part ways with obstructionist Republicans and pass a strong healthcare bill with a majority vote, which is possible if efforts cease to get a handful of Republicans to cross over. Redefining bipartisanship at a time when the GOP has become a male, pale and stale party committed to deficit demagoguery and fearmongering is the common sense and, I’d even argue, pragmatic course. Instead of wasting time on recalcitrant GOP holdouts, do what Drew Westen, author of the terrific book “The Political Brain,” advises to pass meaningful healthcare change: “Focus on principles, tell compelling stories, move people emotionally and send clear messages.”

Many liberal Democrats are still fiercely supportive of single-payer reform as the best possible alternative. But Vanden Heuvel’s editorial is a signal that the broad outlines of health care reform being advocated by the Obama Administration and other progressive Democrats provide a credible stepping stone toward an all-inclusive, single payer system. As she asks “…With a President with high approval ratings and an historically unpopular GOP–if this isn’t a time to pass sweeping reform with a strong public plan, then when is?”

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