I mentioned earlier in the week how the public option fight changed the progressive movement. You had a popular, compromise measure that the public supported, where advocates did everything right, getting their pledges and using allies to make demands, and none of it mattered. It bred cynicism for future fights.
Underneath all that was a belief that the public option’s fate represented a sellout, that forces inside Washington cut a deal, whether with the hospital industry or the insurance industry or whoever, to get rid of the public option at the last minute. Tom Daschle confirmed this in a book all the way back in 2010, which he then had to walk back. And other reports have made similar claims, though nobody could nail it down.
Now, Richard Kirsch, who was the head for Health Care for America Now, the labor-backed coalition trying to pass the Affordable Care Act in 2010, admitted that the public option was traded away in the midst of the fight.
The book is Fighting For Our Health, by Richard Kirsch, who directed the advocacy group Health Care for America Now during the push for reform. HCAN is a well financed umbrella group backed by scores of liberal groups, unions, and other reformers — making Kirsch a close witness to the entire saga. He confirms that the White House treated the public option like a bargaining chip with powerful industry players, and believes that when his group became most critical of the bill mid-way through the fight, that top White House aides sought to have him canned.
“The White House had negotiated a number of deals with the health industry, designed to win their support for reform, including agreeing to oppose a robust public option, which would have the greatest clout to control how much providers got paid,” writes Kirsch, largely confirming what has become an open secret in Washington.
(emphasis added) The fact that the head of HCAN, which was easily the most compliant outside ally to the White House during the health care debate, almost got fired for “off-the-reservation” tactics shows you how viciously opposed the White House was to any outside action – right up until the point they needed those outside allies at the end to get the bill home.
I don’t know how many people have to tell this tale. The public option got traded away. Jane Hamsher reported it here at FDL early on in the fight. Maybe it got traded away because the White House believed that it ultimately could not get the votes. Maybe the sequencing is that Joe Lieberman said he could never support it and THEN the trade occurred. There are ways to be charitable about this to an extent. But I don’t know how anyone can deny that it was traded away.
And that’s why there’s a credibility gap between Washington Democrats and a non-trivial segment of the base. They don’t see political pledges and vows as having a whole lot of meaning anymore. They seek other means to make progress.
Some of those strategies have been successful: the Occupy movement has, if nothing else, occasioned a rhetorical shift in focus toward inequality and poverty and away from deficits. On a more traditional level, the SOPA strike and online activism against anti-piracy legislation has stopped something once thought inevitable. So we have not seen a disengagement from politics.
But you’re not going to see the same kind of engagement after the public option fight. That broke a bond between the progressive movement and the political establishment that had already been fraying over the years.