Defenders of the current health care legislation don't like to acknowledge how thoroughly corporate it is. In the wake of the Senate election in Massachusetts, we're sure to see a new wave of mass emails from progressive groups urging a renewed fight for a public option. But the Obama administration threw a public option under the Pennsylvania Avenue bus well before the GOP victory in Massachusetts finalized its burial.
Key provisions - such as a mandate requiring individuals to buy private health insurance without a public option - are giveaways to mega-corporations on a scale so vast that it boggles the mind.
Such a federal health care law - massively combining an intrusive government mandate with corporate power - would be a godsend to right-wing populism for decades.
Government power should be used for the common good, not for humongous profiteering. But on the near horizon is a law that would further bloat already bloated corporate coffers while undermining basic precepts of a social compact.
The mandate places legal, financial and ideological burdens on the individual for health care. In the process, at best, many low-income people would only have access to inferior coverage with plenty of holes.
Rather than affirm the principle of health care as a human right, the current scenarios for health care reform lay out limited federal subsidies for private insurance premiums - in effect, an entitlement program in political terms, sure to be vulnerable to the kind of safety-net shredding that has done so much harm in recent decades.
The current versions of health care reform, New York Times economics writer David Leonhardt noted on January 20, "are more conservative than Bill Clinton's 1993 proposal. For that matter, they're more conservative than Richard Nixon's 1971 plan, which would have had the federal government provide insurance to people who didn't get it through their job."
One of the biggest themes - repeated endlessly by pundits and meme-prone Democrats - has been the assertion that getting health care reform signed into law is essential for the political viability of a Democratic Congress and the Obama presidency. But at this point, given what's on the table under the Capitol Dome, the opposite is likely to be the case.
If Obama signs the kind of health care legislation now in the pipeline, it will be a political gift to the Republicans - and a crowning negative achievement of bad leadership for the Congressional majority.
Key House Democrats declared throughout most of 2009 that they would only support a health care reform bill with a "robust" public option. Now, the same members of Congress are saying they'll be pleased to vote for a final bill with no public option at all.
Meanwhile, at the grassroots level, many progressives are apt to buy into a false choice between capitulating inside the Democratic Party or staying away from it. But there's another option: an inside/outside strategy that involves openly fighting for progressive power within the party while also organizing outside of it.
If we want more progressive officeholders, then elections are part of the process: beginning with Democratic primaries this year. Support genuine progressive candidates - and if you don't see any, maybe you should do some recruiting. There's no time to lose.
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Norman Solomon is co-chair of the national Healthcare NOT Warfare campaign, launched by Progressive Democrats of America. He is the author of a dozen books including "War Made Easy: How Presidents and Pundits Keep Spinning Us to Death." For more information, go to: www.normansolomon.com.