Monday, November 23, 2009

Dissed Again

Doyle McManus is one of those Los Angeles Times columnists who makes me crazy. I usually don't like what he has to say, but I almost always have to agree that he's right. His latest opinion piece is a perfect example of the discomfort he causes in me.

The great healthcare debate hasn't been a triumph of mass politics on either side. Congress isn't being stampeded by the public into passing a bill -- and it's not being stopped by the public from passing one, either.

Instead, the debate has turned out to be a battle of old-fashioned special interests and parochialism. The most important players have been the insurance industry, the American Medical Assn., labor unions and the AARP, the senior citizens lobby. As for parochialism, last week's most blatant action may have been Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid's insertion into the bill of a $100-million Medicaid bonus for Louisiana, whose senior senator, Mary Landrieu, has been one of the holdouts.

One reason for this resurgence of backroom politics is simple: Polls show the public to be fairly evenly divided on healthcare reform and understandably confused by its details. But there's also a deeper reason. In modern American politics, with its professional lobbyists and millions of dollars in campaign advertising, public opinion isn't always the most important thing. ...

For members of Congress who anticipate tough reelection campaigns, what's most important is not what voters think of healthcare proposals today, but which interest groups will spend money in their states to shape voters' perceptions next year. Groups on both sides, from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce to the unions, have already announced millions of dollars in planned advertising spending to do just that.
[Emphasis added]

Now, I'm not certain that Mr. McManus is correct about the polls showing that people are evenly split on healthcare reform. They might be split at this point on the watered down, weak-for-consumers, great-for-insurers bills which are currently being offered, but I suspect that more than half of the American public desperately want health care to be less expensive and more accessible than it is right now. In other words, Americans want some of that change President Obama promised during his campaign for the White House.

That's not what we are going to get. The promises of a grass-roots level campaign for important issues were just that, promises. We should have expected that once President Obama turned over his email lists to the national party. We also should have expected that after the president invited the insurance companies, pharmaceutical companies, and medical equipment providers to the White House for their input at the very start of the process. They got the first and largest bite.

Lawrence R. Jacobs of the University of Minnesota's Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs has an assessment that pretty well sums up the process:

"This is not being fought by the White House as a grass-roots campaign," Jacobs noted. "Civic engagement at the community level has largely been bypassed. . . . The Obama strategy has been to neutralize the stakeholders so they don't block a bill -- so they don't pull a Harry & Louise," a reference to the insurance industry advertising campaign that helped sink then-President Clinton's healthcare reform proposal in 1994.

In other words, it's politics as usual from the White House and the 111th Congress. The sad part is that we let them get away with it.

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Anonymous Michael L said...

Came here from Talking Dog. Great blog and now I've got another one to check in on a daily basis.

6:47 AM  
Anonymous DeanOR said...

"In modern American politics, with its professional lobbyists and millions of dollars in campaign advertising, public opinion isn't always the most important thing. ..."

This is exactly the conclusion I have come to. Politicians are not as concerned about public opinion, even at at election time, as we might expect. I think they believe that with enough lobbyist money for campaigning, they can manipulate public opinion to win an election through mass advertising, no matter what their record is. What they are concerned with between elections, then, is building and maintaining their most lucrative relationships with lobbyists, which allows corporate lobbyists to determine each step of the legislative process. This was clear when they took single payer off the table in the health care "debate", not even allowing discussion of something that insurance corporations are opposed to, for the sake of protecting their profits.
I suppose some possibly well-intentioned politicians would say that if they don't get the campaign money, their opponent will get it, and then they would lose the election and wouldn't be able to achieve anything at all, so they compromise. And compromise some more, and compromise even further.
We need Fair Elections Now.

12:58 PM  

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