What Brown Means
Apropos Mr. Brown’s victory in Massachusetts, I have already made clear my opinion that for all the endless debate and speculation surrounding this fiasco, very little will substantively change. It seems clear that the Senate will pass some version of the watered-down House bill (perhaps adding a little water themselves), and we’ll be stuck with a mandate nobody wants and uneven subsidies with which to pay for it. The “Democrats” will either tap Ms. Snowe, who has already indicated her favorable stance toward the House bill, or Mr. Brown himself will be persuaded to “flip-flop”, something which, given his voting record, is well inside the realm of possibility.
But I think the idea that Mr. Brown will do as he has hinted and bury this bill warrants consideration. The irony of Mr. Kennedy’s seat being used to block something for which Mr. Kennedy spent his life (albiet, ineffectively) attempting to achieve have seen wide discussion. But personality politics aside, this episode would lay bare the supreme paralysis of our legislative branch, its utter inability to accomplish anything substantial without the president’s intervention. This bill occupied a full year of time during an economic tsunami. It’s been stripped of much of what made it initially attractive. For it to fail would indicate beyond a measure of doubt that our elected officials are incapable of acting in the interests of their constituents.
(As a side note I want to make clear that the gutted, sham-“reform” now being debated in the Senate is precisely what Mr. Obama wanted. There is substantial evidence to suggest Mr. Obama never intended on a public option being in the final bill, and instead considered it an asset to be traded away like so many horses.)
None of this, of course, is new. Mr. Bush, you will recall, saw very little resistance from Congress in funding and prosecuting the Iraq War, massively cutting taxes to the rich, or giving himself wide authority to kidnap, wiretap, torture, etc. The “Democrats” simply went along with it, despite such actions being diametrically opposed to whatever is they believe in. Similarly, a “Democratic” president, Mr. Obama, has seen very little Republican resistance in prosecuting his wars, extending unlimited subsides to the financial industry, or enforcing a health-insurance mandate, something which he specifically campaigned against. “Republican obstructionism” has made itself felt only on issues placing popular interest above business interests, and “Democrats” quickly cave to such tactics. Of course, no anti-corporate “Democratic obstructionism” exists to counterbalance its “Republican” mirror.
So then what we have in the end is a de-facto single party system, wherein the “two” parties maintain their separateness in name only and conduct theatrical negotiations regarding issues on which there exists considerable agreement.
The “debate” over health-care reform fits this scheme perfectly. As a candidate Mr. Obama campaigned explicitly for a non-profit publicly owned health care provider (the so-called “public option”) and against an individual mandate, which would legally require all Americans to patronize our bloodthirsty private insurers. His opponent, Ms. Clinton, took the reverse position and so did Mr. McCain. Our vast pharmaceutical and insurance industry, unsurprisingly, supported the Clinton-McCain plan. Soon after election Mr. Obama reversed his position and embraced Clinton and McCain’s vision of “reform”, though he did so by degrees. Up until August he was still nominally for a public option. But we have known since then that Mr. Obama did not really favor a public option, from the moment he uttered those infamous words (“The public option, whether we have it or we don’t have it…”). The health insurance plan now on the table strongly resembles what Ms. Clinton or Mr. McCain would have preferred, and, it would seem, what Mr. Obama wanted all along.
So many bloggers and “analysts” insist on viewing this race through the traditional “Republican-Democrat” dichotomous lens, endlessly arguing over what this means for “Democrats” in 2010, why Ms. Coakley lost (it is always due to ‘party’ considerations, never due to her piss-poor candidacy), and how this will help “Republicans” further obstruct Mr. Obama’s agenda (whatever that may be). Some of the cleverer commentators have demanded a return to majority rule in the Senate and an end to the “automatic filibuster“, something with which I wholeheartedly agree. But such gossip-driven “coverage” misses, I think, the defining feature of this imbroglio, which is the vast similarity between our two “ruling parties”.
Taking such into account, “Republican obstructionism” and “Democratic waffling” quickly transform into “corporate rule”.