Wednesday, July 29, 2009

What Taibbi Said

The reason a real health-care bill is not going to get passed is simple: because nobody in Washington really wants it. There is insufficient political will to get it done... It won’t get done, because that’s not the way our government works. Our government doesn’t exist to protect voters from interests, it exists to protect interests from voters. The situation we have here is an angry and desperate population that at long last has voted in a majority that it believes should be able to pass a health care bill. It expects something to be done. The task of the lawmakers on the Hill, at least as they see things, is to create the appearance of having done something. And that’s what they’re doing. Personally, I think they’re doing a lousy job even of that... [Democrats] aren’t even pretending to give a shit, not really. I mean, they’re not even willing to give up their vacations.

This whole business, it was a litmus test for whether or not we even have a functioning government. Here we had a political majority in congress and a popular president armed with oodles of political capital and backed by the overwhelming sentiment of perhaps 150 million Americans, and this government could not bring itself to offend ten thousand insurance men in order to pass a bill that addresses an urgent emergency. What’s left? Third-party politics?

-- Matt Taibbi
If Obama's election was all about hope, his Presidency, so far, has been about hopelessness. It's not because I think Obama is a bad politician; frankly, I remain convinced that he is just about the best we could hope might be elected in our current political climate & system. All we are learning is how little that means.

If Obama gets through a real health care bill -- with a public option, an employer mandate, and ideally a surtax on the rich -- then maybe there will be some hope here. If not, then, as Taibbi says, what's left? Third party politics, the Democratic party -- both seem equally hopeless and useless.

This quote came to me via Ezra Klein, who also has some good things to say about the topic. He compares it to climate change:
Taibbi is right that this, like climate change, is a litmus test for our government. Both are serious, foreseeable and solvable threats to our society. One threatens to bankrupt the country. The other threatens irreversible damage to the planet we live on. Responding to such threats is the test of a political system. And our system will fail it. We will not avert catastrophic climate change. We will not protect ourselves from health-care inflation.
I actually think the two are quite different: on the one hand, you have, as Taibbi says, "an angry and desperate population that at long last has voted in a majority that it believes should be able to pass a health care bill", and the political system is too dysfunctional to respond to what the public wants (and voted for). On the other hand, you have a much worse catastrophe, which is not so strongly felt by the public (certainly not enough to make it a voting priority), but whose danger and immanence make it, in a different way, a test of the system. The one is whether the system can respond to the voting public; the other is whether it can respond to dire threats. So far it's flunking both.

I go back and forth on how much this is Obama's fault. If he'd played his hand better from the get-go -- presented us as in the emergency we were in, and tried to use the direness of the situation to push through climate change legislation and health care legislation along with (better) economic legislation with the force that FDR did in 1933 (for which ignoring the Republican minority, not courting them, would have been necessary if hardly sufficient) -- then we might have done better. Or perhaps the veto points and the inherent foulness of so many democrats is simply too strong, and what Obama is showing is that it simply can't be done.

Because, again, I think Obama is as good as we'll get. Which just means that we're totally fucked, because he ain't doing well enough in at least a half-dozen areas where things are dire and posed to get worse. If he can't do better than this, then...


I wish I had a better answer than: despair, because we're fucked. But that's what I'm feeling right now, today.

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