Yes, The Bill is a Progressive Triumph

There’s been a small but vocal critique from some elements of the left that the healthcare bill is terribly inadequate, and a slap in the face to progressives. It’s been such that even people who enthusiastically support the bill have adopted the rhetorical posture that it’s deeply sub-optimal. Something progressives have to force themselves to swallow, rather than celebrate. I don’t necessarily want to re-open this debate, but Yglesias, by reminding us of John Edwards’ healthcare plan from the 2008 election, does a good job of illustrating how ridiculous this notion is:

Key conceptual groundwork was laid by policy thinkers. And below the surface the main issue is that the SEIU was indicating that it wanted candidates with any shot at its endorsement to unveil plans for comprehensive coverage. Repeatedly throughout his campaign, Edwards served as a useful progressive foil. He was never really up there with Clinton and Obama, but he was always close enough that they couldn’t simply ignore the possibility that his efforts to appeal to the base would work. So when Edwards unveiled is four point plan for achieving universal coverage—a plan based on exactly the pillars of ObamaCare—it made a huge difference and swiftly became the benchmark by which Clinton and Obama were judged.


The see-saw of the political expectations game is such that by the Spring of 2010 many people had convinced themselves that this approach to health care was a disappointing sellout. But back in the Spring of 2007, it was considered radical—a left-wing idea by the standards of a Democratic presidential primary.

Now obviously winning a huge electoral landslide that leaves you in control of all three branches of the legislative process, including holding 59 seats (plus Arlen Specter’s switch) in the Senate is going to affect what people see as being within the realm of political possibility. But it’s still worth pointing out just how progressive this bill s relative to what the various major candidates’ healthcare plans were in 2008 and, especially, 2004. Basically, as Yglesias notes, it represents the far-left edge of what was being proposed at the time, and there’s no reason to imagine anything to the left of it could have been enacted, given that basically no major candidates have pushed anything to its left in the past 20 years or so. Progressive activists became enamored of the idea of creating a new public insurance plans in early 2009, but the bottom line is that there was no real movement base to make that a huge issue, in part because even the activists who made it central to their efforts on reform over the past year hadn’t even really been talking about it prior to 2009. And then at some point “The Public Option” morphed into less a serious policy proposal than a tribalistic identifer, especially after Blue Dogs killed the “strong” public option last summer. After that, the policy merits of the shell of the public option simply worth expending a lot of effort over, even though some of the activists had worked themselves into a lather over the idea. So when the public option was excised altogether, some of these people convinced themselves that the underlying bill was an un-progressive sellout, even though 2 years ago the same basic idea was being viewed as a solidly progressive idea. Indeed, if a candidate had proposed it in 2004, or 2000, whomever proposed t would have been looked at as though they were a slightly more serious Dennis Kucinich.

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