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It’s Like Ron Fournier, From the Ostensible Left

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It’s not easy to turn a Republican bill that would strip 24 million people of their health insurance and use the money for a massive upper-class tax cut into a “Both Sides Do It, But Democrats Are Worse” story. But inexplicably — or perhaps too explicably — Jacobin commissioned someone to do it. And…it’s even worse than this sounds!

The Democratic leadership looks hardly different than it has for my entire adult life, a grim and aging collection of Clinton apparatchiks totally secure in their sinecures — all the more so because the only time the party ever does use what power it has, it’s to quash any discontent from its base or its leftward flank.

Sure, the ARRA, the ACA, Dodd-Frank — all just symbolic attacks on the Democratic base, which FYI consists solely of affluent white guys in Brooklyn who delcared themselves to be socialists starting in 2014.

The ACA, which may or may not die in the Senate, only ever made sense as an intermediate step toward a universal provision of health care. It was a big, ugly, ungainly, cobbled-together thing that, for all the partisan paeans to its wonderfulness and indispensability, never really worked very well.

“A statute that dramatically redistributed wealth downward, providing access to health care to 24 million people — ¯\_(ツ)_/¯” — Paul Ryan, and people who are most definitely Leftier Than Thou.

The part that did work was Medicaid expansion.

Okay, the ACA did contain a health care program for the poor that was vastly superior to the one that passed under much more favorable political circumstances in 1965. Surely, this is central to Bacharach’s point that the Democratic party is composed of useless neoliberal shills who never accomplish anything! It also would have helped even more people had the Supreme Court not re-written it, but once we start down the road discussing the institutional barriers to reform efforts we might actually learn something, and that doesn’t really work for this genre.

In other words, the part that worked was the single-payer program that the Democrats so ardently refused — continue to refuse — to endorse. Supposedly the party of incremental progress, they seem to view each increment as the final end state of civilization and history. America Is Already Great, and all that.

The idea that “Democrats” view the health care compromise that emerged from James Madison’s sausage factory as the End Point of History is an almost comically ludicrous lie. Why, even Hillary Clinton, the neoliberalist neoliberal to emerge from neoliberalism since Margaret Thatcher, ran on a public option and expanding Medicare. Kirsten Gillibrand, who is arguably the frontrunner for the Democratic nomination in 2020, endorsed single-payer running for a purple House district in 2006. Virtually nobody thinks that “the best bill Joe Lieberman would agree to vote ‘yea’ on” is optimal health care policy. The ACA is no more the end of history than the deeply compromised programs of the New Deal. And like the programs of the New Deal, it provided valuable benefits to many people.

Anyway, the thing about the health care debate, such as it is, is that while every Democrat voted “no,” no one bothered to articulate a compelling alternate vision. Republicans want to kill you! Yes, yes — look, life is a conspiracy against itself; we’re all gonna die. You become inured to this sort of thing after a while.

I dunno — personally, I find “we shouldn’t kill 30,000 people a year to pay for upper-class tax cuts” pretty compelling. So, apparently, does the public in general. But, yes, the most urgent political priority we face today is to issue self-congratulatory tweets about how if you were elected Prime Minister of the United States in 2008 we would totally have had single payer.

The specter of Democrats literally singing in the halls of Congress because they imagine that more than a year from now they’ll reap some reward from the GOP’s pettiness and failure to construct any real alternative system is just despicable. Who are these people? Even if the bill dies in the Senate, even if they take the House in 2018 . . . Liberals accuse the GOP of forgetting about people, of sacrificing public good to the cruel idols of their idées fixes, but it’s the ostensibly liberal party that is actually abstracted from the human mass; it’s Nancy Pelosi for whom this whole thing is just a career.

Look, I think the “na-na-hey-hey” singalong was misguided — as long as this can pass the Senate Republicans inflicting political wounds on themselves is nothing to celebrate. But Bacharach omits some crucial context — this is what Republicans did after Clinton’s tax increase passed in 1993. You will be shocked to learn that this did not stop Republicans from successfully pursuing an obstructionist strategy on health care or sweeping the 1994 midterms.

Anyway, using a single spontaneous event that involved a handful of frustrated legislators to stand as the sum total of Democratic opposition to TrumpCare is mind-numblingly stupid. Like, Mark Halperin stupid. To accuse Pelosi, who whatever her faults was instrumental to getting comprehensive health care passed where Truman and Clinton failed and LBJ didn’t. even. try., of not caring about the people who would be devastated by its repeal and helped organize steadfast opposition to it, is disgusting. And it’s particularly rich coming from someone doing the patented “Obamacare was worthless neoliberal crap, and the Democrats are monsters for not using unspecified magic powers available to the House minority from stopping it” two-step.

And this, at bottom, is what’s so irritating about people who think that Bernie Sanders is the first American public official to understand that other liberal democracies have better health care systems. They don’t seem to know anything about the New Deal or Great Society, and they don’t know or care about the formidable institutional barriers that protect the status quo in American politics. Anybody who actually cared about getting truly universal health care in the United States would be very attentive to these basic points. But these articles aren’t actually about single payer — “The Democrat Party are perfidious neoliberals who never accomplish anything” is the end, not just the means. What these empty, glib, know-nothing hot takes are supposed to accomplish for the American left remains beyond me.

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