Tuesday, March 9, 2010

The Noseless Face

So it’s come to this on the eve of a possible passage of healthcare reform, arguably the most important and far-reaching legislation to be passed by Congress since Civil Rights and Medicare came into being in the mid-1960s.

The passage of the Senate Bill in the House hangs by the thread of Denis Kucinich’s vote, whilst celebrity blogger, Jane Hamsher, weighs in with a clarion call for the resignation of Lynne Woolsey, co-chair of the Progressive Caucus in the House and one of the most liberal members in that body.

Kucinich, who voted against the House bill, itself, siding with the Republicans, in early November, is holding out and tilting at windmills for nothing less than a single-payer program to be implemented. Hamsher’s demand for Woolsey’s resignation is a result of Woolsey, another Representative who voted with the Opposition in November, having held her nose and indicated that she would pass the Senate bill on the understanding that a possible public option might be considered on reconciliation.

She compromised, which is what a great deal of our politics – indeed, most politics in the civilised world – is all about: debate, discuss and compromise. She recognised the importance of not wimping out on the one-yard line. She accepted the fact that most pieces of important legislation begin life as a base on which better legislation can be built.

But that’s not enough for Hamsher, who’s not averse to crawling into political bed with the likes of Grover Norquist, spiritual father-confessor of the Teabagging Movement, in an attempt to kill the healthcare bill. In doing this, Hamsher naively thinks that the whole of the Congress, with the President dancing attendance, will sit down again and consider that single-payer is the only route to healthcare the country can afford to take.

Maybe it is. Maybe it’s not. I’ve lived with a single-payer system in the UK for almost 29 years. I’ve seen it at its best, and I’ve seen it at its worst. Is the quality of care comparable to anything we have in the US? Quite honestly, I have to say no – considering the private health insurance that I carried when I taught school in the States, no. Sometimes, you luck out here and get good nurses, doctors who’ll spend time with you and answer your questions and efficient bureaucracy. Sometimes shit happens.

At the moment, corporate influence is worming its way into the system in the shape and form of the genial figure of Richard Branson. Gordon Brown has allowed him to buy into however many medical practices that he can afford – and being Richard Branson, that will be a lot – becoming, effectively, a sleeping partner and investing in the running costs and salaries of officials associated with those medical practices. These will be renamed, collectively, Virgin Health (along with Virgin Travel, Virgin Money, Virgin Communications, Virgin Television and Virgin Broadband). I suspect this means that other tycoons will take over other medical practices and before you can sneeze, we’ll be paying handsomely (and privately) to see our GP, to have various and sundry tests run, which - under the old National Health – would have all been free at source.

It’s a sneaky way to cut services offered, whilst increasing the extra tax charged here to fund healthcare, the National Insurance. Everyone pays proportionate to their income. At least, Maggie Thatcher was honest enough to say outright that she was cutting dentistry and optical care out of the package.

I’m also still American enough to know that a single-payer system - indeed, any universal healthcare system – will, inevitably, mean an increase in taxes, overall – something that sticks in the craw of most Americans of any political persuasion.

Suffice it to say that single-payer is a non-starter; but that doesn’t necessarily mean that it won’t happen, for better or for worse.

Hamsher made waves a few months ago, when the Senate was preparing to pass its healthcare bill when she infamously joined forces Norquist in an effort to kill the Healthcare bill. This was grandstanding at its worst and, also, incredibly naive; for Hamsher thought that, almost immediately, this would force Congress to sit down at a table and start again from scratch with healthcare reform, effectively hammering through a single-player plan.

As if.

The last time healthcare got bitch-slapped into submission (and by a Democratic Congress) was when Bill Clinton despatched Hillary to the Hill with a fully formulated healthcare plan to place before their hallowed portals.

She got pretty short shrift, and that was almost 17 years ago.

Within the political system, itself, we now hear that Nancy Pelosi is redoubling all efforts, with the help of the President, in trying to convince a recalcitrant Denis Kucinich to support passage of this bill.

I’m not the biggest fan of Kucinich, but I admire him as a man of principle. He seems to be one of the few serving politicos who’s remained true to his core beliefs. However, this is a seminal moment in United States political history.

We are about to be presented with an actual healthcare program, which would ensure coverage of an additional 30,000,000 people, making this almost universal in concept. Is it a great piece of legislation? No. It’s not perfect, but – as everyone’s said endlessly – neither was Social Security in its original form. But it gives us a platform, a foundation upon which to build – and legislation, in the form of an amendment tacked onto an existing law, is something that only requires 51 Senate votes in order to bring it into being.

That Kucinich has now become the Lieberman of the House, holding out on a hiding to nothing in a quixotic attempt to force single-payer into the equation – single-payer not the ubiquitous public option – ceases to be harmless windmill tilting and becomes, in its stead, the proverbial straw that’s going to break the camel’s back of healthcare reform in the United States.

This begs the question, cynic that I am, of when, exactly, one’s ego overrides one’s principles, at the expense of one’s constituents? Because politicos of all persuasion, to have even arrived at the door of the national legislative body, need an ego of considerable dimensions. A situation like this would put the most milquetoast of men in a position to wield enormous power with equally enormous demands, should he choose. We all remember Joe Lieberman’s and Ben Nelson’s antics.

It’s moments like these when I think that the US Congress – and, in particular, this fractured Democratic Party – would benefit from a stronger ‘whip’ system, which is used in the British House of Commons. The political whips actually do figuratively whip their party members into a situation where they are compelled to vote the party line. To refuse to do so, for whatever principle, results in what is known as a withdrawal of the whip. Put bluntly, the recalcitrant member is unceremoniously kicked out of his respective party. He can still serve as an elected member, but the next time there’s a general election, he has to find a new group of playmates or beg forgiveness of his party leaders. It happened to George Galloway. It happened to Clare Short. No one is too big for the party.

I’ve no doubt that Kucinich is devoted to the principle of seeing single-payer firmly ensconced as a Third Rail in the American healthcare system. Bernie Sanders is also, but Sanders, a real Independent, knows that sometimes it’s mete to swallow hard and be pragmatic – one of the rules of political life you’d think a seasoned campaigner like Kucinich would know. Yet I also can’t help wonder how much this incident is Kucinich’s big moment in the spotlight, his chance to be Napoleon for the day, and which might turn into his jump-the-shark moment.

On a Napoleonic scale, he’d do well to remember that Jim DeMint, NOPer extraordinaire, has sworn to make healthcare reform Obama’s Waterloo. The House bill which passed in November did so on the strength of 5 votes, and one of those didn’t belong to Kucinich. Since that time, the lone Republican who voted for the bill has been bullied into seeing sense by his political ‘betters.’ Jack Murtha has died. Another Congressman switched parties and a fourth resigned. If the one vote that’s the difference between healthcare and health hell is Denis Kucinich, imagine the irony of this Democratic Napoleon effecting his own party’s Waterloo.

From that moment onward, Obama would become a lame duck President, and the Democratic Party would be seen to be shallow, divided and incapable (as well as unworthy) of governing.

Jane Hamsher is a private citizen. As such, she – like any other private citizen – is entitled to call for the resignation of any public official. That’s her right, just as it’s the official’s right to ignore the demand. But the demand got her the attention (and her blogsite, the clicks) she sought. With that in mind, I’d like to call for the resignation of the 5 conservative members of the Supreme Court, who have played god to create corporate personhood, my Congressman, Frank Wolf, for spending most of his spare time on his knees in the C Street cathouse, and Eric Cantor, because I don’t like the smirk on his face, as well as his politics.

But it ain’t gonna happen, is it?

It’s unfortunate that the single-payer option was never in the running to be adopted as the universal healthcare system in the US, but if the entire healthcare reform process is derailed because of the stubborn pride masqueraded and paraded as an unbending principle of a United States Congressman, then that’s more than unfortunate. It’s a totally unmitigated tragedy.

The pride of a high-profiled Leftie like Hamsher and a Democratic Congressman of Kucinich’s ilk goeth mightily before a fall of a political party, which might find itself in the wilderness of opposition for the far and foreseeable future.

At the end of the day, I hope both Kucinich and Hamsher won’t miss the noses they’ve cut off their faces much. At least, they’ll be spared the stench that comes with a Republican administration – or the smell of mooseburgers roasting on the White House barbecue.

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