Selling out: Obama, Baucus begin to see progressive backlash

In the old days, we used to call it “selling out.” I’m not sure what they call it these days, but what it meant back then was discarding progressive ideals in favor of personal enrichment, power or influence. There were as many reasons for selling out as there were people who did it. Two weeks ago this column questioned why turncoat Democrat Joe Lie-berman, I-Conn., was keeping his committee chair, why the Obama team seemed to have forgotten their campaign mantra of “change” and why Congress was continuing to follow the same patterns and reward the same bad actors as in the past. Since then, a wave of protest has swept the nation as progressives wonder why Congress and the White House they brought to power seem so willing to sell out so soon for so little.

It’s hard to know where to start, since so many have recently joined the fray, but perhaps “the flagship of the left,” The Nation, would be fitting. Christopher Hayes, The Nation’s editor, recently put it succinctly in a column titled “Left Out.”

“Not a single, solitary, actual dyed-in-the-wool progressive has, as far as I can tell, even been mentioned for a position in the new administration. Not one,” wrote Hayes. “Remember this is the movement that was right about Iraq, right about wage stagnation and inequality, right about financial deregulation, right about global warming and right about health care. And I don’t just mean that in a sectarian way. I mean to say that the emerging establishment consensus on all of these issues came from the left,” Hayes wrote. “And yet, no one who comes from the part of American political and intellectual life that has given birth to all of these ideas is anywhere to be found within miles of the Obama cabinet thus far. WTF?”

In the same column, Hayes quoted Chris Bowers, whose thoughts resounded for thousands of progressives when he wrote: “I feel incredibly frustrated. Even after two landslide elections in a row, are our only governing options as a nation either all right-wing Republicans, or a centrist mixture of Democrats and Repub-licans? Isn’t there ever a point when we can get an actual Democratic administration? Also, why isn’t there a single member of Obama’s cabinet who will be advising him from the left? It seems to me as though there is a team of rivals, except for the left, which is left off the team entirely.”

This week, political writer David Sirota chimed in with his own insights in a column titled: “The Real Rivalry In the Team: The Cabinet vs. The Campaign Promises.” Voicing what he calls “progressive unrest about the appointments,” Sirota says Obama “won with a clear progressive mandate” thanks to “huge progressive grassroots support.” Yet, he says, “there’s a perception that he’s delivering the spoils of that victory to those who embody what the election rejected.”

Some might claim these are just a few disgruntled progressives, but in truth, these are hard-core progressive writers who worked to get Obama elected every week of the campaign—and now they’re wondering why the new Obama-mobile they put in the White House is running on Clinton administration retreads with Wall Street rims and, as Sirota put it, “packed with Establishment figures.”

Closer to home, many are wondering the same thing about the policies we are being offered by the Democrats who now control the U.S. Senate, the House and the White House. More specifically, the health care proposal by Sen. Max Baucus, Montana’s senior senator and chair of the Senate Finance Committee. Far from a progressive universal coverage package, Baucus’ plan keeps the insurance industry, one of his very generous donors, firmly between citizens and their doctors.

In an excellent two-part series just published by Lee Newspapers, senior capital reporter Mike Dennison explored Baucus’ proposal and lambasted Baucus for rejecting the proven, single-payer plan used by other developed nations in favor of his plan that will mandate purchasing personal insurance coverage.

The Baucus plan was released without all the specifics or a price tag, which makes it hard to figure out who gets what for how much, but one thing seems certain—the insurance industry will benefit handsomely. But here’s the rub: No one knows if Baucus’ plan will work as the nation’s health care system and the citizens who rely on it continues to spiral downward in a crisis of unparalleled proportions.

As recent events prove, Congress can somehow almost instantaneously find trillions of dollars for waging foreign wars and bailing out banks, stock brokers, insurance companies and automakers. But not for universal health care. The solution is all around us, in every other civilized nation in the world, where citizens get basic health care as a human right. But due to political affiliations with the powerful corporate interests who so generously contribute to his campaigns, Baucus thinks we need to develop a “uniquely American” health care plan. Why Baucus thinks he needs to re-invent the wheel and launch an experiment with the health of American citizens instead of just funding what is proven to work around the world remains a mystery.

The public response to Baucus’ plan has been underwhelming. The editorial pages are not filled with letters to the editor thanking Max for mandating that we buy insurance. And really, that’s no surprise. Instead of every citizen in the United States having a medical card they simply take to the doctor when they need care, we can continue to wrestle with high insurance premiums for basic, insufficient coverage that excludes the most routine medical and dental needs and, when something is covered, deal with insurance companies that fight over every nickel they are forced to pay out.

Change is more than just a word, and change won’t happen without action. Right now, it looks like if we want the change we were promised, we’re going to have to fight for it once again.

Helena’s George Ochenski rattles the cage of the political establishment as a political analyst for the Independent. Contact Ochenski at opinion@missoulanews.com.
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