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Punching straw

January 6th, 2010, 04:01 am admin Leave a comment Go to comments

Under the header “Um, Pathetic,” the New Yorker’s Hendrick Hertzberg takes on left-wing critics of the health care reform bill. Notably, Hertzberg actually agrees with the substantive criticism of the health care bill.

The left-wing critics are right about the conspicuous flaws of the pending health-care reform—its lack of even a weak “public option,” its too meagre subsidies, its windfalls for Big Pharma, its capitulation on abortion coverage, its reliance on private insurance. And there are surely senators and representatives whose motives are base or, broadly speaking, corrupt.

So what’s Hertzberg’s beef?

But it is nonsense to attribute the less than fully satisfactory result to the alleged perfidy of the President or “the Democrats.”

Ah, so Hertzberg believes that progressives (especially members of what he calls “the Internet cohort”) are impugning President Obama’s motives. He singles out a weeks-old tweet in which Markos slammed the Senate health care bill as a “monstrosity” that should be killed. To Hertzberg, this is an example of “nonsense,” but such a glib proclamation overlooks the fact that when Markos made his statement, the final Senate bill was still being negotiated, and progressive pushback likely made it stronger than it otherwise would have been.

Certainly, progressives could have shouted from the rooftops about how great the bill was, but who can forget what happened when we jumped on board the Medicare buy-in compromise? Didn’t go so well, did it? At least this time, Ben Nelson was unsuccessful in his efforts to reduce subsidies, the loophole allowing insurers to cap annual benefits was eliminated, Bernie Sanders’ Community Health Centers were funded, and a loophole allowing national plans to sidestep state regulations was closed.

Would those things have happened without progressive pressure? Perhaps, but the notion that progressives made the bill worse is implausible. Still, Hertzberg has a helpful suggestion for how we can be more effective in the future:

The critics’ indignation would be better directed at what an earlier generation of malcontents called “the system”—starting, perhaps, with the Senate’s filibuster rule, an inanimate object if there ever was one.

So we should talk about the filibuster? Um, there’s been no shortage of that. On the Daily Kos front page, for example, I found more than 100 posts discussing either the filibuster and the public option or cloture and the public option. In fact, one of our Contributing Editors — David Waldman — is an expert on Congressional procedure and probably understands Senate rules better than any other political journalist in America. (David also blogs at Congress Matters.)

In light of Hertzberg’s concession that “left-wing critics are right about the conspicuous flaws of the pending health-care reform” and the fact that blogs like Daily Kos have been focused like a laser beam on the very thing that he wants us to focus on, it’s somewhat perplexing that he devoted a full column to trashing those with whom he agrees instead of looking for solutions to the substantive problems that he says we must address.

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