Health care negotiations this summer have basically pivoted around a single question: Is Chuck Grassley acting in good faith? Common sense leads one to believe he is not. First, the Iowa senator has never been considered a moderate on much of anything and, second, there's the niggling details that he's trying to raise money by coming out against reform, while also taking time to spread the obnoxious lie that fiscal conservatism is preventing him from backing the public option -- even though the public option is designed to lower costs. The reason Grassley is being regarded as the centrist option is because there's only 40 Republicans in the senate and Max Baucus told us we had to negotiate with the GOP. Grassley suddenly became the face of bipartisan reform. Not exactly reassuring. So what have we learned over the last month? Well, a couple things we already knew:
The most important difference between America's Democratic left and Republican right is that the left has ideas and the right has discipline. Obama and progressive supporters of health care were outmaneuvered in August -- not because the right had any better idea for solving the health care mess but because the rights' attack on the Democrats' idea was far more disciplined than was the Democrats' ability to sell it.
I say the Democrats' "idea" but in fact there was no single idea. Obama never sent any detailed plan to Congress. Meanwhile, congressional Dems were so creative and undisciplined before the August recess they came up with a kaleidoscope of health-care plans. The resulting incoherence served as an open invitation to the Republican right to focus with great precision on convincing the public of their own demonic version of what the Democrats were up to -- that it would take away their Medicare, require "death panels," raise their taxes, and lead to a government takeover of medicine, and so on.
Add to that the deal the Obama administration cut with the drug industry, agreeing not to import cheaper drugs from Canada and Europe and promising not to use the government to negotiate for better prices. The insurers are winning. Hell, they may have already won. As Bill Moyers said the other night on Bill Maher (which you can watch here), what we have right now -- as the bank bailouts demonstrated -- are two parties held captive by Wall St.:
I think the reason for that is -- in the time since I was there, 40 years ago, the Democratic Part has become like the Republican Party, deeply influenced by corporate money. I think Rahm Emanuel, who is a clever politician, understands that the money for Obama’s re-election will come from the health care industry, from the drug industry, from Wall Street. And so he’s a corporate Democrat who is determined that there won’t be something in this legislation that will turn off these interests. You really have essentially -- except for the progressives on the left of the Democratic Party – you really have two corporate parties who in their own way and their own time are serving the interests of basically a narrow set of economic interests in the country.
It's obvious Obama needs to dedicate September to selling reform, especially if the public option stands a chance of being included. But there's no guarantee our cautious president is wiling to take the political risk and fight for a public option.