Ed Kilgore has a very perceptive analysis in The New Republic about the underlying (and largely unexamined) ideological and strategic differences among progressives that are at least partially driving the rift over the health care bill. He argues — correctly — that the current debate “displays a couple of pretty important potential fault lines within the American center-left” that have manifested in other disputes as well. That was the principal point of this much-maligned Daily Kos post observing that many (but not all) of the progressive bloggers most vehemently demanding passage of the health care bill also supported the Iraq War. As the author of that post (Jake McIntyre) explicitly said, his intent wasn’t to suggest that those individuals shouldn’t be listened to because of their Iraq position six years ago (that would be an invalid and unfair claim), but simply that — as Kilgore says — there are underlying and significant differences in strategic and ideological outlook driving the health care debate that have been present for some time but are typically ignored.
Shared contempt for the Bush administration (at least once Bush and the Iraq War became discredited) largely obscured these differences when Bush was in office. The desire to undermine the Bush GOP and dislodge that movement from power subsumed all other objectives and united people with vastly different political outlooks and agendas. There is still a shared revulsion towards the Palin/Limbaugh Right, but that faction is too marginalized and impotent to serve the same function. With the unifying force of Bush/Cheney gone, the divisions Kilgore describes are now vibrant and increasingly potent. In addition to health care and Iraq, roughly the same progressive fault lines are seen over the bank bailout, escalation in Afghanistan, Obama’s economic team, tolerance for Obama’s embrace of Bush/Cheney civil liberties polices, and even the reaction to Matt Taibbi’s recent Rolling Stone article on Obama’s subservience to Wall Street.
There are many reasons for the progressive division on the health care bill. There are differences over the narrow question of health care policy, with some believing the bill does more harm than good just on that ground alone. Some of it has to do with broader questions of political power: if progressives always announce that they are willing to accept whatever miniscule benefits are tossed at them (on the ground that it’s better than nothing) and unfailingly support Democratic initiatives (on the ground that the GOP is worse), then they will (and should) always be ignored when it comes time to negotiate; nobody takes seriously the demands of those who announce they’ll go along with whatever the final outcome is. But the most significant underlying division identified by Kilgore is the divergent views over the rapidly growing corporatism that defines our political system.
Kilgore doesn’t call it “corporatism” — the virtually complete dominance of government by large corporations, even a merger between the two — but that’s what he’s talking about. He puts it in slightly more palatable terms:
To put it simply, and perhaps over-simply, on a variety of fronts (most notably financial restructuring and health care reform, but arguably on climate change as well), the Obama administration has chosen the strategy of deploying regulated and subsidized private sector entities to achieve progressive policy results. This approach was a hallmark of the so-called Clintonian, “New Democrat” movement, and the broader international movement sometimes referred to as “the Third Way,” which often defended the use of private means for public ends.
As I’ve written for quite some time, I’ve honestly never understood how anyone could think that Obama was going to bring about some sort of “new” political approach or governing method when, as Kilgore notes, what he practices — politically and substantively — is the Third Way, DLC, triangulating corporatism of the Clinton era, just re-packaged with some sleeker and more updated marketing. At its core, it seeks to use government power not to regulate, but to benefit and even merge with, large corporate interests, both for political power (those corporate interests, in return, then fund the Party and its campaigns) and for policy ends. It’s devoted to empowering large corporations, letting them always get what they want from government, and extracting, at best, some very modest concessions in return. This is the same point Taibbi made about the Democratic Party in the context of economic policy:
The significance of all of these appointments isn’t that the Wall Street types are now in a position to provide direct favors to their former employers. It’s that, with one or two exceptions, they collectively offer a microcosm of what the Democratic Party has come to stand for in the 21st century. Virtually all of the Rubinites brought in to manage the economy under Obama share the same fundamental political philosophy carefully articulated for years by the Hamilton Project: Expand the safety net to protect the poor, but let Wall Street do whatever it wants.
One finds this in far more than just economic policy, and it’s about more than just letting corporations do what they want. It’s about affirmatively harnessing government power in order to benefit and strengthen those corporate interests and even merging government and the private sector. In the intelligence and surveillance realms, for instance, the line between government agencies and private corporations barely exists. Military policy is carried out almost as much by private contractors as by our state’s armed forces. Corporate executives and lobbyists can shuffle between the public and private sectors so seamlessly because the divisions have been so eroded. Our laws are written not by elected representatives but, literally, by the largest and richest corporations. At the level of the most concentrated power, large corporate interests and government actions are basically inseparable.