We need more true liberals

>> Friday, September 11, 2009

It something that's been on my mind since Ted Kennedy's passing a couple weeks ago. It's unfortunate that he became ill and passed away at a time when he could have been a significant force in the current health care debate even in his late 70s. This is an example of Ted Kennedy speaking on the Senate floor in 2007 regarding the raising the minimum wage.

Contrast it to Dan Froomkin's take on President Obama's speech to Congress this week:

What is now more obvious than ever is that Obama is not a traditional liberal. Yes, he shares a lot of liberal values -- and he expressed that more clearly and passionately last night than perhaps ever before -- but when push comes to shove, he cares more about finding common ground than pretty much anything else. Despite all the calls to issue an ultimatum about the public option -- which seems absolutely critical to achieving fundamental change -- Obama simply will not draw lines in the sand. He still wants to get as many people into the tent as possible.


Even as he fought back against the misinformation campaigns from the right, however, Obama refused to demonize Republicans generally. They didn't return the favor, of course, greeting his speech with boos and antics -- and in one congressman's case, screaming "You lie!" after Obama denied that his health care proposal would cover illegal immigrants. But on one level, it's a smart strategy for Obama. His goal, after all, is not to eliminate the opposition -- it's simply to get them to occupy reality. Perhaps by keeping an open hand, he can still lure a few of them into that tent of his -- or at least get credit for trying. Your average non-crazy Republican voter might even appreciate it.

Obama most definitely did not do what many of us had called upon him to do, and that was come down firmly on one side or the other regarding the public option. As it turns out, that's just not in his DNA. At least he was explicit about what the public option really means, explaining: "I have no interest in putting insurance companies out of business.... I just want to hold them accountable." And he did issue an ultimatum of sorts, saying: "I will not back down on the basic principle that if Americans can't find affordable coverage, we will provide you with a choice."

It's just that we still have no idea what specific proposals he will ultimately conclude satisfy that basic principle -- or how he will reach that conclusion. And there's reason to worry. For instance, last night he continued to describe the proposal that such an option be administered by "a co-op or another non-profit entity" as a "constructive idea" -- even though it is, by almost all accounts, a laughably preposterous and incoherent one.


But in a conference call with bloggers after the speech, White House spokesman Dan Pfeiffer was unable to say which bullet points in the plan as published might be negotiable, and which might not. "The principles the president laid out in the plan are not negotiable," Pfeiffer said. He just wouldn't say as much for any of the specifics. (He also said the White House has not decided yet whether to send its own version of the bill to the Hill, rather than try to work with the versions emerging from the five different congressional committees.)

And one very important thing was entirely missing from Obama's speech: Any explanation of what he's been up to in his backroom deals with health industry titans. This demonstrated a real lack of transparency, honesty, and courage on Obama's part, and until he addresses this issue full-on, the man continues to have a not inconsiderable credibility problem.
President Obama may have quoted Ted Kennedy's letter to him in his speech, but if Ted Kennedy was still alive and kicking, as he was in the video above from 2007, he'd probably be on the Senate floor specifically hammering away at the Republicans, being specific about the necessary changes for health care reform such as a robust, public option to keep health care costs down and insurance companies honest.

As we all have observed, Obama is a brilliant speaker. But a take-names-and-kick-ass kind of guy he is not. Obama has no problem going along with Rahm Emmanuel's strategy of securing 2010 campaign money from the health care industry rather than enacting lasting reform.
Because the #1 goal of the guy calling the shots (Rahm Emanuel) was to keep all the stakeholders (AHIP, PhRMA, AMA etc.) at the table and their checkbooks out of Republican coffers, the unbreakable compact of the Baucus Caucus was: you don't advertise against us, we don't advertise against you. So where there should have been a big bogeyman in the form of guys like Stephen Helmsley, the CEO of UnitedHealthcare who owns $744,232,068 in unexercised stock options, you got "bending the cost curve."


The goals of the Baucus Caucus -- which represent the true objectives of the White House -- were so at odds with the public face of the health care debate that the dissonance, the mixed messaging, created tremendous public anxiety. There were so many vague expressions of "support" for this or that, without any firm commitment to anything, and the idea that the Republicans were responsible for what was happening just never made any intuitive sense.

You can't implement the biggest economic change program since the New Deal without public trust. The White House tried to sell trust in a man -- Obama -- at a time when that trust was breaking down in the wake of the banking debacle, which as Krugman says created tremendous populist discontent across the board. Remember that this was where the teabaggers got their start, where their messaging took root, and it was the result of the same Rahm Emanuel calculus: buy off big business with taxpayer dollars and keep them from funding the Republicans.

It's an unbelievably cynical message that underscores everything coming out of the White House and it's at complete odds with what Obama stood for in the election. It fundamentally violates what people think they voted for.
Damn fucking right. It violated what I voted for and campaigned for in Colorado. Obama campaigned on the public option. It shouldn't be kosher for the White House to waffle on whether or not there should be a public option. The Obama Administration has already caved on so many things since January such as the state secrets privilege, civil liberties, Blackwater contracts in the State Department, Bagram and Guantanamo. Things that Obama campaigned on. Things that are unconstitutional such as "preventative detention."

Just for the hell of it, here's another video of Ted Kennedy. This time kicking John Ashcroft in the collective rear on Abu Ghraib torture photos.

If a liberal senator can stick to some basic principles, why can't President Obama even stick to ones he campaigned on? Hell, Obama won't even support true liberals/progressives in his administration who come under Glenn Beck's fire as seen by the Van Jones incident. More significantly, Obama will allow Rahm Emmanuel to punish liberals/progressives who fight for their causes.
The Politico’s Jonathan Martin reported this morning that Rahm Emanuel warned leaders of liberal groups in a private meeting this week that it was time to stop running ads attacking Blue Dog and “centrist” Dems on health care.

I’m told, however, that Emanuel went quite a bit further than this.

Sources at the meeting tell me that Emanuel really teed off on the Dem-versus-Dem attacks, calling them “f–king stupid.” This was a direct attack on some of the attendees in the room, who are running ads against Dems right now.
Oh look, here's Rahm Emmanuel not only dictating policy, but telling his boss's own supporters to shove it. What an ass. And what an idiot. Because when people are required to buy shitty insurance, as the health care reform bill being pushed through will mandate given there likely will be no public option, Obama will be remembered for this thing being so crappy. It will be attached to his name forever. And when people start campaigning on having to pay tribute to Blue Cross, Wellpoint and United Health, it's going to come back and bite him in the ass. Emmanuel is apparently too dumb to think beyond 2010.

It figures that the current Secretary of Health and Human Services, Kathleen Sebelius, is not woman enough to stand up to Rahm and fight for the public option.
I've heard that privately, Sebelius tells people how horrible this whole thing is, how she hates being the pitchman and that this isn't what she got into politics for.
Ironic that she hates how horrible it is, yet acts powerless about stopping it or knocking some sense into Obama. Just goes to show why the White House did not want Howard Dean for that position. Because on health care, Dean has been telling it like it is. That a strong public option is absolutely necessary.
In some ways the doctor’s wanderings can be seen as an extended book tour for Howard Dean’s Prescription for Real Healthcare Reform, a sharp critique of, among other things, private health-insurance companies and their slavish devotion to Wall Street, and an impassioned argument for taxpayer-funded health care available to all.

“I was going to do this no matter what—whether I was in the administration or out of the administration,” Dean tells me. “When I took the DNC chairman’s job, it wasn’t because I couldn’t wait to see a Democratic president. It was because I couldn’t wait to see major reform happen in America, and I knew there was no possibility of that with a Republican president. When Barack Obama became president, it was the beginning, not the end.”

Dean has been exhorting, even hectoring, Democrats in the House and Senate to pass a health-care overhaul without Republicans, arguing that bipartisanship is unnecessary and unattainable. A man known more for blunt talk than diplomacy, Dean went on CBS’s Face the Nation on Sunday to call the “pull the plug on Grandma” musings of Iowa’s Chuck Grassley—the ranking Republican on the Senate Finance Committee and someone the president has singled out for praise—“despicable.” Days earlier, on MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow Show, Dean had lectured Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus, a conservative Montana Democrat, that it was time to stop dithering and drop Grassley and other Republicans over the side.
Yup. Cutting to the chase and just trying to get the job Americans want done, i.e. health care reform. Calling Republicans on their bullshit, which Obama says he will do, but has yet to do so.
Obama’s chief strategist, David Axelrod, was equally derisive, once slamming Dean—who’d referred to the GOP as “brain-dead”—for “gratuitously insulting 50 million Americans who call themselves Republicans, some of whom we hope will vote Democrat.”
Uh huh. Because one thing Republicans respect is those who have balls. They may indeed be "brain-dead" as Howard Dean noted, but they'll have more respect for someone who stands up for what they believe in rather than this wishy-washy shit Obama has now perfected.

Dean is far more a true liberal than Obama has demonstrated himself to be.

I completely believe that Howard Dean has a long-term political future. He turns 61 this year. I can totally see him becoming president in 2016.


Some other videos of or regarding Ted Kennedy.

Speaking at Liberty Baptist College (now Liberty University) on church-state separation on Oct. 3, 1983:

Rep. Joe Kennedy's speech at memorial service:

Sen. Chris Dodd's speech at memorial service:

Edward (Ted) Kennedy Jr's speech at funeral:

Rep. Patrick Kennedy's speech at funeral:

President Obama's eulogy:


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