washington, dc

The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

J.P. Green

After Kennedy: Obama’s Burden…and Ours

To get a full sense of the void Senator Kennedy leaves in his party and Congress, consider the likely successors to replace him at the top of the powerful Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee (HELP), which plays a vital role in protecting living standards across the nation. In order of seniority, they are: Chris Dodd; Tom Harkin and Barbara Mikulski — fine Senators all, but none with the clout and skill of Kennedy. As Paul Kane explains in WaPo:

Kennedy ruled as the top Democrat on the committee for more than two decades, using the perch to serve as the Senate’s lead agitator for increasing the minimum wage, expanding civil rights to cover the handicapped and gay Americans, and for promoting what he long called “the cause of my life” — universal health care.

Atop The HELP committee is clearly a great place to be for aspiring national leaders, addressing core concerns of the Democratic Party. Yet, to run HELP, Dodd would have to give up the chairmanship of the Senate Banking Committee and Harkin would surrender the the helm of the Agriculture Committee, important committees, particularly in their respective states. The new chair won’t be selected until after the recess.
The stature of Democratic senators shrinks considerably in Kennedy’s fading shadow. As the media turns to other congressional Democrats to articulate their Party’s agenda, the ranks will likely appear even thinner. Kennedy was a mediagenic star of unrivaled magnitude in Congress, as well as a highly-skilled legislator. There is no other U.S. Senator with anything close to the progressive gravitas and leverage Kennedy commanded.
All of which is likely to strengthen President Obama’s hand as the leader of his Party. But it will almost certainly increase the demands on him to speak out more forcefully. Absent Ted Kennedy, there is no one other than Obama who can credibly be called “the real leader of the Democrats.” Obama will have to abandon much of his low-key approach to legislative reform and step up. It might be a good idea for him to hire a couple of Kennedy’s top staffers to help navigate health care reform and other key bills through Congress.
Obama has another burden, to lift the spirits of a nation coming to grips with the end of the Kennedy era. I know it may not mean so much to the younger generation. But I and a millions of other Americans can still remember what America felt like under JFK’s administration, the can-do spirit and sense of hope that was shattered in Dallas. We remember how RFK grew a heart in Marks, Mississippi, and how he went on to inspire a renewed faith in America’s potential as a nation where opportunity and brotherhood could flourish, his journey also clipped by assasination, just two months after MLK was killed. And then EMK, who did much to translate their dreams into legislative reality (see Ed Kilgore’s post yesterday), his life ending on the eve of fulfilling his greatest dream — health security for all Americans.
It’s a huge burden the President is called to bear. Fortunately, he has the smarts and inspirational skills to lead the struggle ahead. But he will need all the help he can get, including the expertise of Senator Kennedy’s best and brightest, and especially the support of America’s progressive community. For the President, and for all who hold fast to the dream, answering this call is the great challenge of our time.

The Lion Sleeps

We knew it was coming. Yet the death of Senator Ted Kennedy nonetheless leaves a gaping wound in the Democratic Party, or more precisely in the heart of the Democratic Party. No other Senator, perhaps in all of U.S. history, fought longer or harder in behalf of the disadvantaged and for working people.
When he spoke for the powerless and downtrodden, you could feel the compassion in the tremors of his booming voice. Don’t take my word for it. Give a listen here, here and here. I heard him speak once in MLK’s church in Atlanta. The microphone was unnecessary.
Born to privilege and given to character flaws in the early stages of his life, Ted Kennedy conquered his demons and became one of America’s greatest champions of social justice and an exemplar for redemption. The showhorse became a workhorse who provided his colleagues the emblematic example of a passionate, energetic and hands-on United States Senator. He was also regarded as one of the best negotiators in Congress, a skill which is sorely-needed and much-missed at this hour. (A good DNC video tribute to Senator Kennedy can be viewed here.)
A partial list of legislative reforms passed under his leadership includes: the vote for 18-year olds; abolishing the draft; SCHIP; anti-Apartheid sanctions against South Africa; a ban on arms sales to Chile’s dictatorship; and voting against the authorization of the Iraq war — which he called “the best vote I’ve made in my 44 years in the United States Senate”. He was also the point man for: the MLK holiday, every civil rights bill that came up during his tenure; minimum wage hikes and numerous laws to protect working people from employer abuse. His endorsement of Barack Obama demonstrated vision and courage and probably was instrumental in his nomination.
As Ted Kennedy joins his brothers in eternity, we are left wondering who will carry the torch for health care, in particular, in the Senate. We’ve got some great U.S. Senators. But at this critical moment, there are no Wellstones or leaders of equivalent stature and skill to fill the void. Perhaps one will now come forward and provide the needed leadership. Having a President with powerful oratorical skills helps, and now is the time for him to pour it on, so we can enact a worthy health care bill. There can be no finer tribute to Senator Edward M. Kennedy.

From Euphoria to Real Hope

Michael Tomasky has a Guardian U.K. article, “Change is Tough. So liberals can’t just leave it to Obama,” which brings some welcome wisdom to the Democratic expectations game. Actually Tomasky’s subtitle, “For euphoria to give way to disillusionment is premature. Instead, supporters should battle for his healthcare bill,” provides a better indication of his theme, unwound in this excerpt:

…The mood is somewhat grim these days among American liberals. Some feel President Obama has already sold them out. Others are angrier at conservatives and their deliberate lies about aspects of healthcare reform. But even many in this latter cohort think the White House hasn’t been pushing back against the lies hard enough. Either way, expectations are diminished – nerves are fraying, temples are greying.
What a change from just six to nine months ago. During that period, from the wake of Barack Obama’s victory through the first 100 days, liberal optimism was higher than it’s been in this country for 40 years….I counselled that liberals should not delude themselves into over-interpreting the election results. They represented, I thought, a rejection of conservatism (for now), but not an embrace of liberalism. That would come only over time, and only if Obama and the congressional Democrats showed better results for people than Republicans had across a range of fronts. But the more common feeling was euphoria. So now, disillusionment has set in.
If Obama serves two terms, we are a mere 8% of the way into his tenure. That strikes me as a little early for people to be throwing in the towel. So the interesting question of the near future will be: can the Obama movement go from the euphoric phase, in which everything seemed possible, into a more realist phase in which people come to terms with the very difficult and far less exhilarating tasks associated with governing, and the often dissatisfying victories that result from the legislative process?

Tomasky goes on to note a stark contrast between liberals’ “deeply romantic view of political movements” to the “mundane and inglorious work” that was needed to actually pass landmark progressive legislation like the Civil Rights Act of 1964 — nine years after Rosa Parks and MLK launched the Civil Rights Movement. Now, Tomasky explains, comes the really hard part:

So now, liberals have to fight hard for something they’re not terribly excited about. A health bill will likely have a very weak public option or it won’t have one at all. But liberals will have to battle for that bill as if it’s life and death (which in fact it will be for thousands of Americans), because its defeat would constitute a historic victory for the birthers and the gun-toters and the Hitler analogists.

I’m hoping Tomasky is wrong that a weak public option is likely the best we can do. But I’m certain he is right that Democrats across the spectrum will have to fight for the Democratic health reform bill, regardless of the public option provision. To sit it out would make a mockery of even the concept of progressive unity, green-light the wing-nuts and encourage all-out GOP obstructionism on every progressive legislative proposal going forward.
Tomasky concludes with a sobering call to the long haul:

This is what movements do – they do the hard, slow work of winning political battles and changing public opinion over time. It isn’t fun. It isn’t something Will.i.am is going to make a clever and moving video about, and it offers precious few moments for YouTube. It takes years, which is a bummer, in a political culture that measures success and failure by the hour. The end of euphoria should lead not to disillusionment, but to seriousness of purpose.

As Tomasky reminds us, the greatest achievements of the Democratic Party have always been measured over years, not months. We should fight like hell for the best bill we can pass this year, and after the decisive vote, begin organizing for stronger reforms without missing a beat.

Public Wants Bipartisan Kabuki?

Eric Alterman has a perceptive post at The Daily Beast with the somewhat unfortunate title, “Obama’s Fake Bipartisanship,” which provides a slightly different angle than Ed Kilgore’s “What Price Bipartisanship?” post below. Alterman also responds to Kuttner’s question, “Will somebody please explain to me why Barack Obama is still on his bipartisan kick…What do these guys think they are getting by continuing to kiss up to the Republicans?”:

I think the answer to Mr. Kuttner’s conundrum can be found in an article, ironically enough, by one Mark Schmitt, who happens to be executive editor of, you guessed it, The American Prospect. Way back in December 2007, when supporters of both Hillary Clinton and John Edwards were pummeling Obama on what they deemed was the wishy-washiness of his bipartisan appeal in the face of so nasty an opponent, Schmitt published an influential (among liberals) argument, “The ‘Theory of Change’ Primary.” In it, Schmitt argued that liberals were “too literal in believing that ‘hope’ and bipartisanship are things that Obama naïvely believes are present and possible, when in fact they are a tactic, a method of subverting and breaking the unified conservative power structure. Claiming the mantle of bipartisanship and national unity, and defining the problem to be solved (e.g. universal health care) puts one in a position of strength, and Republicans would defect from that position at their own risk.”
…This man is, like FDR, a genuine liberal, but also a serious politician. He is not interested in moral victories or noble defeats. He wants to win. What he’s figured out, however, is that—particularly after two full decades of Bush/Clinton/Bush wars—the American people feel more comfortable with a politician who appears to reach out to the other side, who gives them a chance to play ball. This works both as an electoral strategy and a governing strategy.

if Alterman is right, and I think he is, what we have is a very crafty President, who understands that verbal gestures of goodwill and appeals for bipartisan cooperation are not necessarily the same thing as giving away the store. The public wants more civility. They are tired of what Jesse Jackson termed the “rat-a-tat-tat” of the politics of polarization. The cool hand Obama displayed in the campaign is emblematic of his approach to conflict. — a version of TR’s “Speak softly and carry a big stick.” I could be wrong, but I trust President Obama to fight for a public option, using all of the leverage he can muster, but without bellicose posturing.
Sure, Obama could also use a little more of TR’s ‘bully pulpit,’ and show more passion in advocating for the uninsured and for the public option in general. But he’s right not to get suckered into personalized attacks that make everyone involved look silly. A little dignity looks awfully good nowadays, particularly compared to the GOP’s recent side-show.
Alterman goes on to caution that Obama’s approach might not work. After all, today’s Republican party is sadly devoid of leaders like Sens. Jacob Javitz, Lowell Weicker and others who would often confound their GOP colleagues by doing the right thing. Bipartisan outreach may produce few votes across the aisle on health care. But a President who expresses a willingness to negotiate, reaches out and invites his adversaries to join him can not fairly be faulted for selling out.

Health Care Reform: ‘Low-Hanging Fruit’ Strategy Takes Shape

Jonathan Singer’s MyDD post, “WSJ: Dems Could Split Bill, Use Reconciliation,” flags an interesting ‘trial balloon’ being floated to move health care reform forward in Congress. Singer cites a Wall St. Journal report by Jonathan Weisman and Naftali Bendavid that Democratic leaders are considering “a strategy shift that would break the legislation into two parts and pass the most expensive provisions solely with Democratic votes.” Singer says,

…There is a better than even chance that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, working in consultation with the Obama administration, will move forward in this regard — passing the easier parts of healthcare reform in normal order, and passing the more difficult parts using the budget process. In such a case, the Democrats could afford to lose as many as 10 votes in the Senate (including that of Ted Kennedy, who has not been seen in the Senate for months) while still enacting the more contentious portions of reform, namely a public option.

Bendavid and Weisman report that “Privately, those involved in the talks now say there is a 60% chance the split-bill tactic will be used.”
The idea here is to cull the ‘low-hanging fruit’ provisions of the health care reform package, such as requiring insurers to cover those with pre-existing illnesses and pass these measures with a few Republican supporters, allowing President Obama to keep his campaign promise about earnestly seeking bipartisan support for reforms. The more hard-to-pass elements, like as ‘the public option; would be voted on afterward through the reconciliation process, which requires only 51 Senate votes.
One upside of the strategy is that it guarantees The President and Congressional Democrats a significant victory before they fight the most bruising battle. It could build support for the more difficult to pass health care reforms, since voters would likely be impressed that the Administration passed needed reforms, sort of a confidence-builder. Momentum can be a ‘force multiplier,’ as was clearly demonstrated by Obama’s election victory (I was one of the clueless who didn’t think Iowa would be all that important in the nominating process).
If there is a downside, it might splinter Democratic supporters into “I like this, but not that so much” camps, diluting support for the more controversial measures. It might also give some members of Congress cover: “I voted for package ‘A,’ because it made sense, but not package ‘B’ because it was too expensive.”
No one really knows how this would play out. An important health care win could build support for another victory, narrow the focus and sharpen the debate. Better if they had broken the bill down into strategically-sequenced components from the get-go, gaining momentum with each new victory, instead of betting the ranch on one huge bill. That’s how single-payer systems were achieved in most democracies that have it.
That said, if the decision is to stick with the big package after all, I’m for it. The provisions seem solid, and glitches can be corrected later by amendments and new legislation. Whatever strategy President Obama and Democratic congressional leaders chose, none who call themselves Democrats should sit this one out.

Can Co-Ops Be a Public Option?

Sorting out the pros and cons of the co-op option vs. the public option is the challenge of the hour for progressives who want real health care reform, and it will certainly be hotly debated. Most just-published articles and blogs equate ‘public option’ with a government plan. But it seems important to ask, is there any way that a co-op can be a public option? There is no shortage of opinions on the topic:
The New York Times has “Alternate Plan as Health Option Muddies Debate,” a probing article by by Robert Pear and Gardiner Harris. The authors spotlight some key problems with the co-op approach:

As the debate rages, lawmakers are learning that creating cooperatives — loosely defined as private, nonprofit, consumer-owned providers of health care, much like the co-ops that offer telephone, electric and other utility service in rural areas — will not be easy.
The history of health insurance in the United States is full of largely unsuccessful efforts to introduce new models of insurance that would lower costs. And the health insurance markets of many states suggest that any new entrant would face many difficulties in getting established.

More specifically,

The government would offer start-up money, perhaps $6 billion, in loans and grants to help doctors, hospitals, businesses and other groups form nonprofit cooperative networks to provide health care and coverage.
The co-ops could be formed at the national, state or local level. Proponents say that a health co-op might need 25,000 members to be financially viable, and at least 500,000 members to negotiate effectively with health care providers…they would need time to buy sophisticated information technology and to negotiate contracts with doctors, hospitals and other health care providers.
…In the 1990s, Iowa adopted a law to encourage the development of health care co-ops. One was created, and it died within two years. Although the law is still on the books, the state does not have a co-op now, said Susan E. Voss, the Iowa insurance commissioner.

Not a very promising prospect, according to ‘the newspaper of record.’ Worse, $6 billion is about what we spend occupying Iraq in one month. Iraq and Afghanistan are the ignored elephants in rooms where health care reform is being debated. Few would doubt that half of what we spend on these two wars annually could go a long way toward bringing real health security to America.
Columnist Bob Herbert is even more dismissive in his NYT op-ed, “Forget about the nonprofit cooperatives. That’s like sending peewee footballers up against the Super Bowl champs.”
In his Alternet post “It’s Now or Never for a Public Option: Why We Need to Take a Stand Against the Insurance Industry’s Greed” Joshua Holland explains,

In 2000, the Government Accountability Office conducted a study of the impact similar purchasing schemes had had to date. “Despite efforts to negotiate lower premiums,” the GAO concluded, “cooperatives have only been able to offer premiums that are comparable to those in the general small-group market. The cooperatives we reviewed typically did not obtain overall premium reductions because: 1) their market share provided insufficient leverage; 2) they could not produce administrative savings for insurers.”
The Commonwealth Fund did an analysis of the impacts nonprofit co-ops would have as well (PDF), and its findings were similar. Researchers found that, “with very few exceptions,” premiums offered through co-ops “have not been lower than those available to small employers elsewhere” because they “have not been able to reduce administrative costs … they have not had enough market share to bargain for discounts.”
Because of their inherent limitations, former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean told me in an interview last month that the co-op scheme is a “fake public option,” and “really not [a] serious health reform.” He predicted that if they were created, they would “be crushed just like Blue Cross was crushed. Most Blue Cross chapters are now for-profit. They’ve been taken over by the insurance industry. Any reasonable-sized insurance company can crush a not-for-profit co-op.”

And, in The Nation, Katha Pollit writes of co-ops,

…They’re untested, small, unregulated, that they exist in twenty states and that Senator Kent Conrad of North Dakota really likes them–but I didn’t discover what they actually are. I understand “public option,” and “public” has a good, strong ring to it–it says, Healthcare is a right, part of the common good, something everyone should have, and if you can’t afford it in the marketplace, the government will provide it. “Insurance co-op” speaks a whole other language, of commerce and complexity and exclusivity

Writing in the Washington Post, David S. Hilzenrath and Alec MacGillis explain:

“It’s very difficult to start up a new insurance company and break into markets where insurers are very established,” said Paul B. Ginsburg, president of the Center for Studying Health System Change. “I don’t see how they’re going to obtain a large enough market share . . . to make a difference.”
Karen Davis, president of the Commonwealth Fund, a foundation focused on health care and social policy research, said co-ops may not enroll enough people to negotiate favorable rates with health-care providers.
…Co-ops would lack perhaps the main advantage of the public option: reimbursement rates for doctors and hospitals set by federal law, like those paid by Medicare, the program for older Americans. Federally determined reimbursement rates were central to the cost-saving promise of a government-run health plan and a potentially powerful competitive advantage. They were also a lightning rod for intense opposition from health-care providers and private insurers, who denounced the public option as a threat to their financial survival…Co-ops would lack the ability to piggyback onto existing government institutions, like the ones that help administer Medicare.

On the other hand, Co-ops have some advantages and “could serve a useful purpose in health care — just as credit unions compete effectively with banks, prompting them to offer higher interest rates on deposits and lower rates on loans,” explain Pear and Harris, summarizing the views of Ann Hoyt, a University of Wisconsin economist who has written extensively about co-ops.

…Professor Hoyt said she had been a member of the Group Health Cooperative of South Central Wisconsin since 1985, and she reported that “the care is excellent.”…Larry J. Zanoni, executive director of the Wisconsin plan, said: “We are a testament to the success of a health care cooperative. But it took us over 30 years to get where we are today.”
Representative Earl Pomeroy, Democrat of North Dakota, said the proposal for cooperatives was “a very worthy idea.”…“The market here is uncompetitive,” said Mr. Pomeroy, a former state insurance commissioner. “A cooperative could provide an alternative source of insurance and some interesting competition for premium dollars. A co-op could operate at lower costs, in part because it would not need to pay its executives so generously as the local Blue Cross Blue Shield plan.”

There are plenty of co-ops already operating, note Harris and Pear:

…In a study published in March and financed in part by the federal government, Professor Hoyt and other researchers at the University of Wisconsin identified nearly 30,000 cooperatives with revenues of more than $650 billion a year. They include farm co-ops, retail food co-ops, rural telephone and electric co-ops and credit unions — entities as diverse as Ace Hardware, The Associated Press, Blue Diamond Growers (almonds), Carpet One, Land O’Lakes (dairy products), Ocean Spray (cranberries) and Sun-Maid Growers (raisins).

If co-ops are going to do any good, they must be adequately capitalized, particularly since guaranteeing coverage of pre-existing conditions is a cornerstone of Obama’s and Progressive concepts of health care reform. Also, there are more well-established ethics and accountability rules and regulations in government. And it is a fair question to ask if co-op employees would have enough of a commitment to public service, as well as the competence and resources to protect the health security of Americans. Also, how do you level the playing field, so giants like Blue Cross-Blue Shield don’t have such a potent edge over new start-ups?
Can co-ops actually be a sort of public option, performing a very similar role as does government? As Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch, quoted in The Times article, says “You can call it a co-op, which is another way of saying a government plan.” And, noting that Democratic Majority Leader Harry Reid called co-ops “some type of public option,” Chris Good adds at The Atlantic ‘Politics’ blog:

The RNC forwarded a press release/research memo to reporters today claiming that a “‘public option’ by any other name is still government health care.”…The idea is that co-ops (whether it’s one national co-op, state co-ops, or a national co-op with state affiliates) would serve the same function as government-administered health insurance, in that they’d operate as non-profits and perhaps utilize some added bargaining power or lower payment rates, thus forcing for-profit insurance companies to drive their own costs down, out of sheer economic necessity, once they had to compete with a non-profit that had some consumer cost advantages.

According to Rep. Anthony Weiner, as many as 100 members of the House of Representatives may see a bill with no ‘public option’ as a deal-breaker. In the Senate, however, Nate Silver guestimates only 41 solid votes for a ‘public option,’ compared to Chris Bowers’ 43. It’s hard to define the congressional consensus on the ‘public option’ between the House and Senate.
Is it ‘either/or’, or ‘both/and’? Might some kind of hybrid, that taps some of the advantages of both co-ops and government be possible? Much depends on whether co-op advocates can provide credible answers to these and other questions.

Time for Informed Seniors to Step Up — in a Big Way

Paul Waldman’s recent post “Health Care’s Public Perception Malady” at The American Prospect addresses a topic of growing concern among advocates of health care reform. Waldman’s post is mostly a lament about public attitudes towards government, and senior citizen attitudes toward government-provided health care, in particular. Waldman notes a major public opinion poll indicating seniors’ hostility to government and he adds:

A conservative might argue that the elderly’s antagonism toward government comes from their experience with it. But both Medicare and Social Security are hugely popular among their recipients. Think about the cognitive dissonance involved: I’m very happy with my Medicare coverage, and I couldn’t live without my Social Security, but don’t get that damn government too involved in health care!
Forty-four years after its passage, the success of Medicare — just to review, a big-government program that has provided health care to tens of millions of seniors who would not have otherwise had it, does so more efficiently than private insurance, has seen costs grow at a slower rate than private insurance, and is smashingly popular with its recipients — has not seemed to fundamentally alter the public’s receptiveness to anti-government arguments. Ditto for Social Security. Ditto for the Veterans Administration, which is the only truly socialized health-care system in America, and one that is considered by many health-care experts to provide the best health care in the country.
How do we account for this? It’s true that some people are just idiots and will believe almost anything they’re told. But more than that, it shows the enduring power of ideological rhetoric. When something is repeated often enough, and with enough conviction, lots of people will end up believing it, no matter the facts.

Waldman leaves it there, with the unstated implication that the wisest strategy might be to organize around this constituency. Indeed, the battle for support of skeptical seniors for health care reform has produced few gains in recent years. Of course, seniors demonstrate the most impressive voter turnout rates of any demographic group. Politicians know it, and so seniors wield disprioportionate clout in legislative reform debates.
No doubt there are ways of asking seniors health care policy questions, which will elicit less fearful responses. But Waldman’s point is hard to deny. Still, the only known cure for misinformation is education. Many seniors are well-informed about reform proposals, but it appears that many are not. But if there is any hope whatsoever, of making at least some inroads into the opposition of seniors, the support of their organizations is critical.
So what does AARP, the nation’s largest senior citizen’s organization (40 million members) counsel these days, as the battle for health security for America is being joined? The AARP web page debunking fear-mongering mythology about health insurance reform does an excellent job of exposing the myths about ‘death boards,’ ‘socialzed medicine’ ‘rationed care,’ patients’ decision authority, etc.
But any organization with 40 million members is going to have diverse views among its members, as one L.A. Times article, “Many seniors aren’t sure healthcare system needs repair” featured on its web pages makes clear. Unfortunately, the AARP mythology-debunking commitment, commendable that it is, doesn’t extend to mobilizing its members to speak out at town hall forums. The organization’s statement responding to President Obama’s recent town hall meeting is pretty much standard bipartisan boilerplate, skillfully avoiding statements of support for the more contentious measures. It’s a shame.
Certainly we can hope that the AARP will more aggressively address the fear-mongering in the days ahead, including use of direct mail, phone calls and perhaps public service ads, as well as web pages. When the Democratic health care reform bill is fully-fleshed out, very few organizations can do more than the AARP to secure it’s enactment. Regardless of what AARP or any Senior organization does, however, America needs to hear more from informed, articulate seniors favoring Democratic health reform proposals.

Can MSM, Progressive Activists Bring Health Security to America?

The Republicans have opened a full-scale attack against Democratic health care reform proposals, even though there is no single bill yet. Conservatives hope to weaken reform legislation before the bill is shaped and put Dems on the defensive, so media coverage will provide more ink and broadcast time to possible problems with health reforms than to the improvements in health care reforms could produce.
The lynch-pin of conservative strategy to discredit the Democratic health care reform package, in whatever shape it emerges, is to spread two key memes:
1. Democratic reforms will be funded by tax hikes on everyday working people.
2. Democratic reforms will adversely affect the health care coverage of those who like their insurance.
They are also pushing sub-memes, like Democratic reforms=Socialism, or the Democrats will set up “death boards” to deny senior citizens needed care (as if Insurance companies didn’t have faceless bureaucrats who make life and death coverage decisions) among others. But these scare tactics are designed to influence “low-information” voters, not those who care enough to do their own thinking, a much larger group, one hopes. Dems should refute these charges, but focus more on challenging the GOP’s two lead memes. That’s the battlefield that matters most.
The GOP echo chamber is already roaring at full tilt, with Limbaugh, Hannity, O’Reilly, Beck, Scarborough, right-wing radio, print and web commentators all on board with the shrill message du jour, which usually features scare-mongering memes. Lacking any credible solutions, they are reduced to knee-jerk bashing of progressive reforms, with the unspoken subtext, “What we got now may not be so great, but the Democratic reforms will make it worse.”
Are Democrats ready for the attacks? In today’s L.A. Times, Peter Wallsten’s “Obama’s grass-roots network is put to the test” provides an update on the activities of Organizing for America. Wallsten explains:

With public skepticism rising over Obama’s plan, which is still being worked out with Congress, Democrats were hoping that the August recess would provide a chance to explain the complex and, in some cases, fear-inducing legislation to a nervous public. But Republicans, talk radio and conservative advocacy groups have seized the moment, drowning out that opportunity through a campaign to disrupt Democratic town hall meetings.

Wallsten points out that the Conservative disinformation campaign is not the only problem:

Beyond the healthcare debate, the network’s troubles suggest that even a well-tuned campaign operation — with its stable of trained organizers, precinct captains and neighborhood coordinators — is not easily transformed into a policymaking force that Obama might rely on to deliver on other issues, such as global warming and immigration legislation.

On the positive side, however, Wallsten adds:

….Organizing for America, which was known as Obama for America during the presidential campaign, is quietly and deliberately building a system of professional field organizers and trained volunteers that has already inspired thousands of community events and reached millions of people…Staffers have been hired so far in 42 states, said the group’s deputy director, Jeremy Bird, and he expects to have paid workers in every state in a matter of weeks.
“We’ve been methodical, dogged and focused,” Bird said. “It’s like in the early days of the campaign, people said we needed to be louder, to have more signs. But we focused on the conversations between people and neighbors, and that’s what worked.”
Organizing for America’s website displays hundreds of upcoming events, ranging from tiny house parties to solicitations to match the conservative presence at town hall meetings. With new online tools, supporters can tell their own healthcare stories to be distributed to lawmakers, and network members can monitor their colleagues’ calls to Capitol Hill…A Democratic National Convention spokesman, Hari Sevugan, argued that the Obama network ultimately would prove more effective than the GOP approach because “grass-roots efforts are won at the doors, with neighbors talking to neighbors, not in front of news cameras with folks screaming at members of a community.”

The big TV networks have a moral obligation to provide more thoughtful coverage about America’s health care crisis and challenge the conservative disinformation/fear mongering campaign designed to discredit pro-Democratic reforms. We know Fox won’t accept the responsibility. But CNN, NBC, CBS and ABC ought to rise to the challlenge. If they don’t step up in the month ahead, it will be very difficult to educate the voters needed to get the attention of undecided members of congress. The TV networks need to hear from the health care reform movement in a big way.
It’s up to reform supporters, however, to come up with the creative ideas and actions that can compell greater media attention. In his August 5 TDS post, James Vega called for mobilizing an impressive turnout of the sick, people with disabilities and those who have had their financial assets decimated by health care costs to attend the health care meetings and sit up front. That’s a fine idea, and more such focused brainstorming is needed.
If we don’t get it a strong health care bill this time, a mass demo definitely should be considered for the next mobilization. A million plus “March on Washington for Health Security,” spotlighting the constituencies noted by Vega, for example, might help shake the rafters in congress.
Progressive philanthropists should spring for a nationwide broadcast of Michael Moore’s “Sicko,” Robert Greenwald’s “Diagnosis: Now!” and any other good documentaries about health care reform. Reform supporters should press local TV networks and stations to show health reform documentaries, and they should also arrange showings in community venues.
Most importantly of all, Democrats must not get hustled into a purely defensive posture. If there was ever a time for Dems to attack the industry and politicians who have obstructed comprehensive, universal health security for America, it has surely arrived.

Sotomayor Confirmation Bodes Well

Some interesting conclusions can be goosed from the 68-31 Senate vote confirming Judge Sonia Sotomayor’s confirmation to serve on the U.S. Supreme Court.
First, it’s a great day for our country. The nation’s high court will now look a little more like America. It’s also a moment for celebration in the Hispanic community, as well as for women, in that a Latina woman has risen to one of the highest decision-making posts in our government, and by a healthy majority. One significant step forward to making America a more just democracy.
By extension, it’s a big win for President Obama as well. It can be read as an affirmation of the President’s sound judgement that his nominee was well-qualified enough to win with such a solid majority.
I’m also grateful that no Democrats voted against her and that all of the opponents were Republicans, although 9 GOP senators voted for Sotomayor: Alexander; Bond; Collins; Graham; Gregg; Lugar; Martinez; Snowe; and Voinovich. That said, there should have been more Republicans joining the Democrats in confirming her. It should serve as a potent reminder that our party is the one that offers hope and opportunity to Hispanic Americans, one of the fastest-growing constituencies in the nation.
And it should also be a reminder that too many Democratic Senators have been overly-generous in excusing the ideological excess of Republican nominees to the high court. If ideological concerns trump experiential qualifications for most of the GOP — and Sotomayor arguably had the most impressive experience of any nominee in many decades — then they can’t credibly complain about it if Dems pull the plug on free passes for right-wing conservatives.
On the positive side for the GOP, it appears that there may be as many as 9 sane Republicans in the U.S. Senate. This is a good sign, given the GOP’s recent flirtations with nutty notions about the President’s birthplace and hysterical gibberish about Dems plotting euthanasia for senior citizens. Some of those 9 Senators might make a pretty good short list of Republican Senators who have aspirations to higher office — the ones who get it that the GOP must do better among Latinos to have a shot at winning the presidency. It’s not hard to imagine a Lugar-Graham ticket, for example, being formidable under certain economic conditions. But their relative level-headedness in the context of their Party would likely prevent such an occurrence, given the still-rising tide of the looney right.
President Obama will likely have at least one or two more opportunities, hopefully more, to nominate a Supreme Court justice. The Sotomayor nomination was a bold and brilliant stroke, both morally and politically. America will be a little more inclusive in the upper echelons of government when she is sworn in. I’m hoping that the President will nominate another woman at the next opportunity, and one who is strongly, not tepidly, pro-labor — an urgently-needed point of view on the high court of a nation in which the labor movement has lost considerable leverage. America’s workers need a vigorous champion among the Supremes.

Brewskis for Brotherhood

I’m going to go out on a limb here and argue that President Obama’s handling of the Gates arrest/Beer Summit was both klutzsy and deft. OK, a very little limb.
Klutzsy because the President’s comment that the police acted “stupidly,” however true, was politically-unwise in that he forgot for a moment that he is also the nation’s top law enforcement officer, as well as the commander in chief of the armed forces. And a commander does not diss his troops prior to a thorough investigation of the facts. Then there is the cold reality that a large percentage of Americans, probably not only “cultural conservatives,” are always going to side with the police, absent video footage indicating that they were abusive. At least one survey, though conducted just after his press conference, indicated that white respondents gave Obama low marks for his handling of the incident.
Obama’s uncharacteristicly knee-jerk comment was a mistake, forgetting for the moment that what he said was likely accurate. Good leadership does not require immediately saying something because you believe it’s true. Obama’s imprudent comment turned the incident into a huge distraction that sucked a lot of ink and broadcast coverage from the more urgent health care battle. Very important to learn the lesson here.
That said, the “Beer Summit’ was a brilliant idea. The President realized he made a mistake, quickly owned up to it, and then came up with an idea that demonstrated how grown-ups can resolve conflicts, even racial conflicts, in a way that resonates with middle class, and particularly working class Americans. Teaching by example is good leadership. It doesn’t preach; it just shows a better way.
I like the way Baltimore bartender Zach Yarosz put it in Brent Jones’s Sun article,

After working for years in several Baltimore bars, Yarosz has many times dished out alcohol to hotheads on the verge of trading punches when an argument turns personal…”They calm down if you buy each one of them a drink. It placates the situation,” said Yarosz, 27, as he sat in the Mount Royal Tavern in Bolton Hill, downing Budweisers with about 15 others as Obama prepared to host a “beer summit”…”I like the laid-back approach…”

Yes, I know, the Beer Summit looked a bit stiff and stagy. It was not a well-choreographed photo-op. And you couldn’t blame Dr. Gates for still being pissed off. But to his credit he showed with a positive spirit. Sgt. Crowley also gets creds for showing up and being positive, if not for learning the lesson that good police work does not include bullying people in their homes. Not sure what the veep was doing there — Obama might have looked more “in-charge” without him. But the President actually looked more relaxed than all of them, very FDR.
It could have been worse, the President could have done nothing, or said something lame, and his comments would then fester on indefinitely throughout the health care reform debate. The Beer Summit brought a little closure, at least as far as the President’s role in the incident is concerned.
There wasn’t going to be a Kumbaya moment, although Gates and Crowley have agreed to meet again. But the President has demonstrated a simple truth to the nation. As Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “We have to be together, before we can learn to live together.” Well done.