According to the New York Times, the only way for Democrats to achieve meaningful healthcare reform is to placate the Blue Dogs, a group of 52 moderate and conservative Democratic Party members of the House of Representatives, and the roughly dozen conservative Democrats in the Senate too cowardly to actually call themselves "Blue Dogs." The Times states that the Democrats "must still reconcile the views of moderate and conservative Democrats worried about the cost and scope of the legislation with those of more liberal lawmakers determined to win a government-run insurance option to compete with private insurers" as though repeating an axiom -- some universal truth upon which we can all agree -- like the law of gravity or drunk-dialing being a terrible mistake.
This essentially means that a minority faction of the Democrats is taking the entire party hostage. Worse still, this means the Blue Dogs are blurring the distinction between Democrats and Republicans, a supposedly important distinction that has helped keep the political process balanced in this country for over two hundred years.
The Times printed this Blue Dog ransom demand ("Compromise, or the healthcare bill gets it") because many Americans have accepted the often repeated mantra that Obama can't exert political pressure on the Blue Dogs to adopt more progressive reform because he needs their votes. This claim fails to acknowledge that Obama is already exerting political pressure on progressive Democrats, who actually represent what the majority of Americans want -- a serious public option.
This White House-supported, forced subservience isn't unique to the healthcare debate. In June, the White House threatened freshmen representatives who refused to vote for a war supplemental bill. Lynn Woolsey of California, a leader of the antiwar Democrats, said the White House threatened to withdraw support from freshmen who opposed the bill, saying "you'll never hear from us again." Woolsey also stated that House leadership was targeting the freshmen. "It's really hard for the freshmen," she said. "Nancy's pretty powerful." Once again, Progressives were forced to acquiesce to moderate Democrats' demands, and it is likely that the White House is exerting the same kind of political pressure on Progressives during the healthcare bill debate.
Additionally, while Progressives are told to toe the line and vote with their more conservative brethren, Blue Dogs are offered protection by the White House, which includes pit bull Rahm Emanuel, who called an attempt by liberal groups to advertise the Blue Dogs' woeful track records on healthcare "fucking stupid." I think that watering down healthcare legislation that 72 percent of the populace wants and making back room deals with the pharmaceutical industry is also "stupid," or worse "devious," but that belief is one of many reasons I'm not the White House Chief of Staff.
While Emanuel has probably always hated progressive Democrats, Obama claimed to have sympathized with them in the past. Back in 2005, Obama wrote a diary entry over at Daily Kos where he wrote "In order to beat [the Republican Party,] it is necessary for Democrats to get some backbone, give as good as they get, brook no compromise, drive out Democrats who are interested in 'appeasing' the right wing, and enforce a more clearly progressive agenda." Yet, instead of keeping the yapping mongrel Blue Dogs on a short leash, Obama has made them his favored pets.
The most obvious explanation for why President Obama shields the Blue Dogs and bullies Progressives is that conservative Democrats (like Republicans) represent the interests of Big Business. In the case of healthcare reform, Blue Dogs represent Big Pharma and Big Insurance, two gigantic industries that represent millions in campaign donations. By representing Big Money, Blue Dogs have secured the loyalty of the White House, and by working in concert, the White House and Blue Dogs then create the illusion of fair compromise even as a majority of Americans scream that they still want a strong public option. The mainstream media then repeats the lie -- that Progressives are extreme, need to be controlled, need to compromise, and toe the party line.
The result will be a watered down public option, or some kind of half-assed attempt at insurance cooperatives that are too small, under-regulated, and not at all the kind of "Change" Americans are looking for.
Cross-posted from Allison Kilkenny's blog. Also available on Facebook and Twitter.