Sunday, February 28, 2010

By Request

Someone in comments asked me to comment on this post by Glenn Greenwald. I won't try to summarize Greenwald just go read it. Then maybe come back if interested.

The commenter also asked if I believe that Obama is playing 11 dimensional chess and playing it well, that is, do I interpret his shifting policy positions to be strategic and necessary. I'd tend to say that Obama is playing at least 7 or 8 dimensional chess. I largely disagree with Greenwald.

Greenwald notes that Obama and John D Rockafeller said they supported the public option but that it wasn't supported by 60 senators. Now that they are forced to use reconciliation, they don't support passing the public option via reconciliation. Therefore, their statements were strategic and the strategy is to defeat the public option

The Obama White House did the same thing. As I wrote back in August, the evidence was clear that while the President was publicly claiming that he supported the public option, the White House, in private, was doing everything possible to ensure its exclusion from the final bill (in order not to alienate the health insurance industry by providing competition for it).


I have two problems with Greenwald. The subject under discussion shifts from "the Democrats" to "Democrats including Rockafeller and Obama."

He does know that the Democrats in congress could pass a public option. This is plainly obvious -- they have the majority in both houses and the Senate majority has the final authority to decide the scope of the reconciliation process. He does not consider two other explanations of what is happening.

First there are not now and never have been 50 votes for the public option in the Senate. This would mean that some Democratic senators have been lying. I don't think it even means that any has lied in public. The claim that there were well over 50 votes for a public option was not based on public declarations by more than 50 senators. Rather it was a report, without naming names, of informal head counts. Assuming the head counters were honest then, some of the heads they counted belonged to un named liars.

Second, the public option might be unavailable because it is opposed by Democrats in the House. This is very possible. It is certain that passage depends on blue dogs who did not vote yes before and it is possible that they refuse to support a public option.

Note again "They pretended in public to "demand" that the public option be included via reconciliation with a letter that many of them signed (and thus placate their base: see, we really are for it!), " here "many of them" is equated with "They." This is a clear error. If only many of them did something then they didn't all do it.

Greenwald's analysis relies on their being an entity called "the Democrats" such that what is true of some is true of the group. Notably this group does not include all Democrats or even all Democratic elected officials (it does not include the progressive caucus). It includes exactly everyone who Greenwald decides is to be included. Thus the Democrats can pass a public option and are publically demanding that one be included because 50 Senators plus 217 representatives plus Obama can pass a public option and "many of them" publicly demand a public option. Those "many of them" can't do anything becuase, while they are "many" they are less than 50 Senators (forgetting the House).

Now I note, as Greenwald does in an update, that his post is about politics not policy. In the update he argues that the public option would be good policy. He does not argue that it is important. He does not distinguish between the robust public option and the level playing field public option. He does not consider the possibility that aiming for the public option might increase (or reduce) the risk of no reform at all. He doesn't compare the value of the public option to the value of the rest of reform. Most of all, he assumes that Obama and Rockafeller give as little consideration to health care policy except for the public option as he does.
This is (no links) the man who discussed the "narrow issue" of health care reform and mentioned "tiny concessions" to progressive aims in the rest of the bill.

Oh here's one for Obama, Rockafeller and Greenwald. What about medicare buy in ? All of the Democrats in the Senate (plus Sanders) signed on to that publicly. I think it would be a better policy than the level playing field public option. Why has it vanished from the debate ? I think it is clear that it has vanished because it is perceived to be a half measure -- that is because the progressives who are still fighting for the public option are more interested in bragging rights than in policy.

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