August 28, 2009
The health care debate-16: Health reform Kabuki theater
(For previous posts on the issue of health care, see here.)
In this post in this series, I want to look at the political gamesmanship that is going on in health care.
As I have said repeatedly, the US is a pro-war/pro-business one party state with two factions that differ on some social issues. However, people would revolt if they realized the extent to which so many of their elected representatives of both parties are the servants of corporate interests. In order to disguise this fact, whenever an issue that involves corporate interests arises, one sees an elaborate Kabuki theater performance in which the elected officials play assigned roles, one of which involves pretending to have a major fight over some peripheral issue, while the final outcome is never in doubt.
The massive bailout to Wall Street interests was a case in point. Remember the big fuss over bonuses? Regulations? Corporate jets and other perks? That was pure Kabuki theater, the equivalent of the circuses that Roman emperors put on to amuse the people and appease their blood lust. Once a few executives had been excoriated in public and made their public penance, once the media spotlight shifted to other things, the looting of the public resumed. The big Wall Street banking interests were ultimately left alone to make huge profits and hand out big bonuses, which is exactly what is happening right now.
It is the same with health industry reform. Matt Taibbi of Rolling Stone argues persuasively that Obama was, from the beginning, in the tank with the health insurance/drug/physician/hospital industries and was never serious about making the kinds of far-ranging changes that would improve health care, if those measures went against the interests of those industries. Jonathan Cohn already had pointed out that Obama cut a deal with the drug industry not to seek lower prices. But he did want to create an image of himself as a serious reformer and use fixing the health care system, which is obviously broken, as a vote getter. So he played his Kabuki role.
Obama started out on the campaign trail talking about the virtues of the single-payer system and then falsely asserting, without any argument, that because the employer-based system was already in place, single payer cannot be implemented now in the US, despite evidence to the contrary. This enables him to rule out, right at the beginning, single payer systems as one among the mix of options to be discussed in his health care reform panels.
Then later he says that what is most important to him is not getting good health care reform passed but that it must be bipartisan. Why on earth should bipartisan acceptance be more important than good policy? That statement was the confirmation of my suspicions that Obama was not serious, because that appeal to bipartisanship immediately put him at the mercy of the Republican Party and those in his own party who were never interested in any reform, who then went on to play their Kabuki roles of objecting to any meaningful reform proposals. Obama of course had to know that they would do this. He is not stupid. This predictable opposition enables him to act as if he is being forced to compromise more than he wants to, thus preserving his reformist credentials while abjectly serving the interests of the health industry. As Glenn Greenwald says, "There is one principal reason that Blue Dogs and "centrists" exert such dominance within the Party: because the Party leadership, led by the Obama White House, wants it that way and works hard to ensure it continues."
Then Obama starts signaling that he is willing to abandon even the limited public option. All this is to lead up to the final scene of the Kabuki theater in which he finally agrees to a system that the health industry would love, such as mandating that everyone buy insurance from the private, profit-seeking health insurance industry with the government paying the premiums of those who can't afford it, while the insurance companies are given the freedom to continue the treatment-denying policies that is at the heart of their business model.
White House threats that "you'll never hear from us again" are issued to defiant progressives only. Not only are such threats never issued to "centrists" and Blue Dogs who are supposedly impeding the President's health care agenda, but the White House does everything it can to protect those ostensible obstructionists and further entrench them in power. Isn't all of this fairly strong evidence that the White House knew, accepted and likely even desired from the start that -- despite the President's public assurances to progressives -- the "public option," understandably despised by the insurance industry, would be dropped from bill?
The very idea that Obama is valiantly struggling to cleanse the party of its corporate and centrist dominance, yet is just haplessly and helplessly unable to do so, is ludicrous beyond words.
Former insurance industry insider Wendell Potter also sees quite clearly how Obama playing his role in this Kabuki play.
Not only is Obama clearly ready to throw the public option overboard, he is embracing the requirement that we all be forced to buy insurance from private insurers. That means your tax dollars and mine will be used to pay subsidies to the big insurers to provide coverage to people who can't afford to buy their policies, because the big insurers charge far more than they should because Wall Street investors demand that they do.
During his speech in Montana, Obama talked a lot of trash about the insurance industry. Don't be fooled by that tough talk. It's all part of a strategy to try get us to believe we'll get the reform he promised during the campaign. Industry leaders are in fact delighted he's denouncing their behavior, because they believe most of his supporters -- who were hopeful the stars might finally have aligned for real reform -- will be fooled into thinking the reform bill that reaches his desk will benefit them more than the special interests with their armies of lobbyists.
That final scene hasn't been arrived at yet because there is one group that is not playing its designated role and is thus threatening to disrupt the performance. These are the progressives in Congress whose role is to be cheerleaders for Obama because he is allegedly one of them. There are hopeful signs that the progressive members of the public and Congress are seeing through this charade. They are getting angry at this sell-out on a fundamental campaign issue and they are warning Obama that they will revolt if he abandons meaningful reform.
I hope they are successful in pushing back against Obama's sell-out.
POST SCRIPT: The Onion on health reform deadlock
As usual, it is the comedians and parodists, not the news media, that sees through the Kabuki façade.
After months of committee meetings and hundreds of hours of heated debate, the United States Congress remained deadlocked this week over the best possible way to deny Americans health care.
"Both parties understand that the current system is broken," House Speaker Nancy Pelosi told reporters Monday. "But what we can't seem to agree upon is how to best keep it broken, while still ensuring that no elected official takes any political risk whatsoever. It’s a very complicated issue."
"Ultimately, though, it's our responsibility as lawmakers to put these differences aside and focus on refusing Americans the health care they deserve," Pelosi added.
The legislative stalemate largely stems from competing ideologies deeply rooted along party lines. Democrats want to create a government-run system for not providing health care, while Republicans say coverage is best denied by allowing private insurers to make it unaffordable for as many citizens as possible.
That is about as succinct a presentation of how the pro-business one party state in the US works as you will find anywhere.