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Who Really Won in 2008?

BY James Thindwa

The voters who made Barack Obama’s historic election possible rightly expected far-reaching policy change. Yet what they have gotten is the same old corporate-driven politics.

Frustrated Obama supporters are told that the “machinery of Congress” grinds slowly; that only incremental change is possible; and that folks on “the left” are demanding too much and letting “the perfect be the enemy of the good.” Thus, we get a healthcare bill that rewards a predatory insurance system with millions of new customers–at taxpayer expense.

Apparently, it is paranoid to suspect that undue corporate influence might account for the rejection of demonstrably reliable governmental underwriting of healthcare. We are told the gradual degrading and then jettisoning of the public option and the proposed Medicare expansion–not to mention exclusion of single-payer from debate–is just a part of legislative deal-making.

But, delivering billions of taxpayer dollars to a monopolistic industry by forcing millions of people to purchase its product–with no option to join a public plan–is not inevitable. Nor is it good politics. How will Democrats defend forcing people to buy such tainted goods?

In recent weeks, some Democratic pundits have sought to silence the left. Instead of encouraging progressives to heed the example Obama himself once set as a community organizer, they countenance the sacrifice of core liberal principles such as reproductive rights, corporate accountability and inclusion of immigrants.

Writing in The New Republic, editor Jonathan Chait grumbled that progressives have an “irrational attachment to the public plan” and that criticism of Obama reflects the “bizarre convergence of left-wing and right-wing paranoia.”

Obama, in his September 9 address to Congress, also propagated this false parallel between left and right opponents when he decried the “unyielding ideological camps that offer no hope of compromise.” He even assigned motive to critics, saying they have “used this as an opportunity to score short-term political points.”

In other words, the President represents the “sensible center.” The left–those who demand a healthcare program that does not further enrich greedy insurance companies–are the extremists. The center is occupied by the likes of Sens Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) and Ben Nelson (D-Neb.), who would hold hostage millions of uninsured in order to protect corporate profits. The center belongs to conservatives such as Rep. Bart Stupak (D-Mich.), whose obsession with abortion trumps any concern for the 45,000 people who die every year for lack of health insurance.

By reducing left-right differences on healthcare to merely “unyielding ideological camps,” the president and his defenders ignore the deep moral divide between progressives and conservatives. The left’s push for universal healthcare is grounded in the long-held principle of social justice, the same one that produced the New Deal, gave us Medicare in 1965 and ushered in a new era in civil rights.

Instead of dismissing progressives and apologizing for the President, Beltway liberals could have led the charge to dismantle the structurally conservative elements of our political system, from the undemocratic filibuster to the undue influence of corporate money in elections. Further, since progressives, liberals, the left–whatever we are calling ourselves–support universal healthcare, let us from now on, together, create a national echo chamber around “Medicare For All.” If this had been our collective mantra for the last 15 years, we would be in a better place today, and perhaps more unified.

James Thindwa is a member of In These Times' Board of Directors and a labor and community activist.

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