Headline from the Wall Street Journal, “Rahm Emanuel: Don’t Worry About the Left,” reporting how Obama’s chief of staff conspired with Joe Lieberman to dump the public option and Medicare buy-in. The result, according to one “former Democratic official,” is White House denial about “how much trouble they’re in” and costly miscalculations about “what’s happening with progressives and the left.”
If instead progressives are right, then this jumble called “health reform” is not just bad medicine for millions, but a drone strike against hard-won Democratic House majorities. As a result, Obama’s war on progressives surged again this week, as the dark side of take-no-prisoners, obedience-is-all, Chicago-style politics surfaced. Two nasty, parallel attacks impugned the leftwing icon, Howard Dean, for logically stating his mind: this is not health reform but an “insurance company’s dream” written by the industry lobby and setting off a “Washington scramble.”
If Dean’s crazy, who’s sane?
Firing the opening ad hominem salvo was top senior adviser, David Axelrod, dismissing Dean’s protest of this instantly sacrosanct proposal as “insane.” Say what? – two weeks before inevitable House conference changes? Hours later, the ganging up was clear: Press Secretary Robert Gibbs likewise disparaged Dean’s reason: “I don’t think any rational person would say killing the bill makes a whole lot of sense at this point.” In fact, the “killing the bill” distortion misses Dean’s focus, his radical reform idea to reinstate what existed a week ago. Is this just coincidence, from guys paid handsomely to voice precisely the president’s message?
After this multiple onslaught, brace for open war against progressives, surpassing in one way Bush belligerence. For some, now adopting W.’s attack politics parallels the other conspicuous extensions by Obama of the reviled Bush era. But there’s a qualitative difference: Bush-Cheney were loathe to whack their own, certainly not attributing insanity to rightwing, evangelical or Republican dissenters. Generally, the GOP stuck to alleging fraud, dishonor and treason.
To abuse loyal Democrats for irrationality, especially an ex-DNC head still endorsing Obama, is ugly enough. But to name-call, instead of answering core objections on cost containment and competition, is worse still. Axelrod did just that, tossing off Straw Man and False Dilemma fallacies: if this bill so favors insurers, he asked, why do some industry lobbyists oppose it? Duh? Because savvy influence peddlers routinely talk both sides of an issue. Or want a better deal. This week alone, the White House contradicted a big campaign pledge, callously torpedoing the importation of Canadian drugs and $100 billion a year savings.
Then, with no logical tie-in, Axelrod shamelessly dragged his own child’s illness, justifying his outburst, as if Gov. Dean’s challenge addressed a private family crisis. Not linking the two is dishonest, but here’s the arrogant message: Dean speaks for the irrelevant left, so refutation isn’t necessary – such radicals so far off the reservation must be crazy, so why bother answering them?
What about Palin, Tea Party Nuts?
Calculated slams target not just a stray progressive, but one of the most independent health care experts, a physician free from industry payola, who successfully enacted universal children’s health care in Vermont. A while back, I asked readers to name anything Obama’s done that delights you. Now I ask evidence for one progressive idea pushed by this crew of anti-reformers. Continuity with Bush policies is defensible short-term, I suppose, but vilifying a good Democrat, whose 50 state strategy helped elect Obama, is inexcusable, an ominous omen for the next three years.
What happened to two long years of incredibly disciplined rhetoric by Team Obama, refusing to rebuke far, far nastier abusers on Obama’s race, nationality, birth or religion? What about wimpy retorts to delusional Tea Partiers, Birthers, or the “socialist-fascist-Muslim” crowd? I’ve heard no good responses to the vicious, obstructionist Party of No – and infinite patience towards Joe Lieberman or sham Democrats. Was the idiot source of “death panels” ever called “insane”? Was the broken record on “palling around with terrorists” termed “irrational”?
It’s not as if projecting outcomes of a trillion dollar program touching every American is cut and dried, and countless experts disagree on everything, especially cost. It’s not as the last two decades produced one major bill without complicated fallout. With Clinton, NAFTA, or dumping Glass Steagall, or welfare reform. Or Bush: No Child Left Behind, wholesale deregulation, Medicare drug bill, multiple screwed up invasions and counterproductive “wars on terrorism.” Often something is worse than nothing.
New lows, moral and political
So far, Obama engineered an industry-friendly credit card law, corporate bailouts, the Afghan surge, and a botched mortgage-relief program, all with huge, negative ripples. No president or political advisers control crystal balls, and all estimates are mere guesses, driven by politics, not analysis. Even the most progressive reform here represents a crapshoot, incurring scrutiny by an army of top medical insurance lawyers. Skepticism is the only rational stance.
Defamation of Dean marks a new moral low for an Obama administration already pilloried for its constant allegiance to entrenched special interests. Only the last month produced fervor for a “dumb war,” a bizarre Peace Prize ceremony that endorsed pre-emptive violence (the Bush Doctrine) and now, despite zero WH risk-taking, righteous indignation against those identifying the downsides, not just meager benefits. Tell me how this president, swamped by jobless stagnation, two bad wars, and invisible wins on energy or global warming, regains political capital by cramming through “insurance reform” that only 32% like.
The Audacity of Arrogance Kills Hope
Two big conclusions emerge: 1) empowering the right-leaning, Blue Dog Rahm Emanuel as chief of staff was no fluke; and 2) hollow rhetoric only obscures that Team Obama runs a conservative government, the masters of compromise, process and gestures. Salvos against Dean spoil the last Obama ideal standing: the elevation of stakeholders, with disagreement kept respectful and avoidance of dirty attacks. Audacity without grace here isn’t the first, and won’t be the last, anti-progressive blow.
Ad hominem attacks on trustworthy dissenters speak more to the moral bankruptcy of the belligerent than the attackee. Instead of the audacity of hope, we’re getting the audacity of arrogance which, like going rogue, inadvertently reveals itself as the repeated veto of reform by power. If betraying your own base is key to the Obama political doctrine, then mark another kinship with Bush: anything goes if re-election drives all political agendas.