As we approach the endgame of the health care reform debate in Congress, an idea has been floated recently that might be the worst one I have yet encountered. Yes, in my book it tops out mandates without a public option, taxing health care policies, triggers, and co-operative plans. The idea is to have a strong national public option but to allow state governments individually to opt out of allowing their residents to make use of it. This idea has picked up steam in the “progressive netroots community” (bloggers), with a surge in support on flagship blog Daily Kos, among others.
It is a truly horrible idea, though, and it just goes to show that bad ideas do not only come from Blue Dog Democrats or Tea Party Republicans. Self-described “progressives” can have them too.
“Progressive” Activists Betray the Legacy of the Civil War: A United U. S. A.
This is far from the first time that “progressives” have advocated Balkanization of the United States and the breakdown of the federal government in favor of a loose alliance such as that proposed by the Articles of Confederation. In the lead-up to the American Civil War, many Northern progressives said “Let the South go” rather than fighting militarily to bring seceded states back into the U.S. These 1860s-era progressives did not really care about the human rights issue of slavery. Many of them believed that slavery would collapse under its own weight and the South might voluntarily choose to return. Obviously, history did not take this path, so we do not know how it would have turned out if President Lincoln had followed this advice and war had not broken out. However, we do know one thing: African Americans would have remained enslaved for far longer than they were. Not just living under the iron heel of Jim Crow laws, but actually enslaved. We also know that, though some aspects of Reconstruction were extremely broken, when that process ended by the “corrupt bargain” of the 1876 election, Jim Crow laws were immediately forced into effect. That’s what happened when they “let the South go.” Human and civil rights in the South were eroded.
The legacy of the Civil War was not just the abolition of slavery and the enshrining in the Constitution of voting rights to people (men, at the time) of any race. Another part of the legacy was the principle that there are certain things individual states cannot do. The War settled the question of secession and nullification. If states are part of the U.S., they abide by the laws of the U.S. and cannot deny their residents the protections of the Constitution, the United States Code, and federal programs.
Of course, if a health care reform bill is signed and it allows states to opt out of a robust national public option, this would blow a hole right through that ideal. Legally, of course; there is nothing in the Constitution that says Washington cannot enact laws with an opt-out clause for states. But the very existence of this hypothetical opt-out would go against one of the legacies of the Civil War, just as surely as it would go against the legacy of abolition if the U.S. somehow overturned the Thirteenth Amendment through legal means. For progressives to be advocating this idea is a monumental betrayal.
Death by Popular Vote
It’s not just a betrayal of E Pluribus Unum, either. This idea is a betrayal of every person in a Republican-dominated state who is in favor of a public option. It is saying to us that we don’t count. Here is a direct quote from a popular Daily Kos diary in support of this idea:
(…) I really love the idea of an opt-out public option.
Not because it’s the best idea by any means. A robust single-payer plan would be the best idea. Not because tens of thousands of real Americans won’t die and go bankrupt in states with morally bankrupt legislators. They will.
Our lives are meaningless, then, to the “progressive netroots community” except as political pawns. The message absolutely could not be clearer.
I know what the residents of my state would probably vote for. I certainly know what my governor and Legislature would do. And while I would indeed apportion blame to them if Mississippi denied its residents access to a national public option, I would apportion a great deal more to the ivory tower blue coast “progressives,” and any members of Congress who voted for such a thing, for making it possible and legal for them to do it.
People in the South and other Red areas will die because of this, if it passes, whereas they would not die in Blue states. This means that a state’s populace would be allowed to sentence people to death, permanent indigence, or bankruptcy by a popular fiat. Have we sunk so far? There was massive outrage—MASSIVE, I say—about the idea behind California’s Proposition 8 and the fact that 50% + 1 could deny court-established civil rights to people. Where did the outrage go? Or was it only ever present because LGBT people are generally a liberal-oriented group and California was a blue state?
I am a former Democratic Senate staffer, actually, but I would NOT forget that it was the progressive community and Democrats in Congress who allowed townhallers, teabaggers, and insura-cons in my state to sentence people like me to death or bankruptcy. Want my vote in the future? Want the votes of any left-of-center Southerners in the future? Too bad, suckers. If this idea ends up passing, we will remember exactly who it was that sold us down the river. We would expect no less from our troglodyte state governments, whom we do not vote for anyway, but we depend on Washington to keep their harmful ideologies somewhat in check. This idea won’t turn the South blue. All it will do is royally tick off Southern Democrats and liberal-inclined people. (Yes, I am a civil libertarian oriented liberal, not that cowardly weasel-word “progressive.”) It will send the message loud and clear that our lives, health, and finances do not matter because of where we live, that we are not worth fighting for, that we have no inherent value, but are only useful as a body count to make a political point.
I’ve suspected this for some time about the “progressive” community’s real opinion of Hurricane Katrina’s victims, and this idea does not do one thing to dispel this suspicion. It only reinforces it, in fact. Apparently, if you live outside of a Blue area, your only value to this part of the “netroots community” is as a part of a body count that they can use to advance a political agenda. Even if it’s an agenda that you otherwise would agree with, nobody wants their entire worth to be dependent upon their being dead.
In truth, this whole scheme gives the impression of being revenge politics. If you are at all familiar with the left-wing blogosphere, you’ll know that there is a huge amount of resentment over the fact that the South gets more money from the federal government than it pays in. The people who hold this resentment ignore that the entire purpose of social programs and such is to assist the poor, and the South is the poorest region in the country. To them, no one in the South deserves anything because a majority of Southern voters would vote against their having it. They are no different from anti-tax Republicans in that they only want to see “their” tax money go to projects and places that they personally like, and they have a massive grudge against the Southeast. This opt-out idea looks very much to me like they simply love the idea of “getting back at the South” for the tax money that it “stole” from them.
Passing a law with this in it would also send the message that health care is not a fundamental human or civil right in the United States. If it were either, it would be the responsibility of the federal government to require every state to offer the same health care exchange across the borders. With the exception of the death penalty, the federal government does not defer to states in the arena of human or civil rights (and it is truly a major problem with the DP that the same crime can get a different sentence not based on the judge and jury, but based on where it was committed). By letting states opt out, this continues to send the message that health care is a privilege rather than a right. This is not the message that we want to send! That is the opposition’s message.
It will not turn the teabag crew in favor of the Democratic Party. Their people are dying at the hands of insurance gangsters, too; it doesn’t seem to penetrate their skulls. If anything, all it will do is cement their ideology. “We don’t have socialism in this state!”
Denying—or letting governors and legislatures deny—people the right to use a social program is not going to turn anyone in favor of that program. The only thing that will is to deploy it and let people see through experience, either their own or that of people they know, that it is not such a bad thing. Every parent knows that sometimes they must force a stubborn child to do something, even if the child stamps his foot and DOESN’T WANT TO, because it is good for the child and the child will be grateful for it in the end.