by Jan Baughman
(Swans - April 5, 2010) I have a souvenir, a [form] letter I received from Senator Barbara Boxer in December 2009 in response to my appeal for real change and my accompanying cartoon on (R)evolutionary Health Care Reform. In that letter, I was assured that in this "important moment for our country," if "you don't have health insurance, you'll be able to get affordable coverage through the exchange, which includes the public option." Another broken promise from our Democratic Congress and president, who capped-and-traded a guarantee for all Americans to have access to health care for a guarantee of insurance company profits. This opportunity for reform, we are told, only comes about once in a generation, so you have to take what you can get. Sure, there are restrictions on insurance companies' worst practices, but the majority of the bill's mandates don't take effect until 2014. What will be the cost of those mandatory policies by then, and how do progressives exert influence on any future reform?
A Rand Health analysis of the health care reform bill projects that insurance premiums for young adults, the least risky in the pool, could rise 17% -- other groups predict a 50% increase. The reform bill limits the cost ratio of older to younger insurees to 3:1, down from the typical 6 or 7 to 1 ratio. Hence, companies will raise the price for the young to guarantee profits from the old. See Gilles d'Aymery's recent article for a real-life look at the rise of insurance costs, and imagine what will ensue over the next four years.
Even the token "progressive" Democrat, Dennis Kucinich, opted for the lesser-evil vote, abandoning his single-payer insistence for this watered-down bill with the rationale that doing something was better than doing nothing. If we vote him out of office for his compromise, we lose a "progressive" voice; if we vote him back in, we send the message that his compromise was acceptable. A political Gordian knot.
Moving from health care reform to energy policy, President Obama recently announced that the U.S. would build the first new nuclear facility in 30 years (thereby creating jobs), and on March 31 he revealed a new energy policy that includes "clean" coal and the opening of the east coast to off-shore drilling. Understanding the objections that would follow, he asserted that, "But what I want to emphasize is that this announcement is part of a broader strategy that will move us from an economy that runs on fossil fuels and foreign oil to one that relies more on homegrown fuels and clean energy." So we'll pave the way to clean energy by building another nuclear power plant (sorry, Iran -- you can't have it, too) and expanding the oxymoronic "clean" coal and opening up new, vulnerable ocean sites to off-shore drilling. Progressive, indeed. It was fitting that Obama made this announcement at Andrews Air Force Base, since "The US Department of Defense (DoD) is the largest oil consuming government body in the US and in the world." By definition, reducing the size and scope of the US military would have the single greatest impact on reducing America's dependence on oil -- foreign or otherwise -- but that would require tampering with the economy on a scale that would make health care reform seem like child's play and would further inflame the well-armed reactionary militias that are proliferating in defense of our Darwinian culture. Meanwhile, we are expanding our military presence in Afghanistan and increasing the rhetoric for an attack on Iran. Global War on Terror; War for Oil; we are sustained by both.
I walked away from the Democratic Party in 1992 to join the Green Party, and ultimately left them as well due to their failings, diving into the sea of independent voters with barely a voice, and that voice is becoming fainter by the minute. I still write regularly to my "representatives" to oppose their positions, and in response I receive those form letters justifying their stance while ignoring the nature of my complaint. It is taxation without representation, which should rile us all into a tea-bagger frenzy -- without guns.
Does a progressive movement still exist, or has it been completely marginalized? The latte-drinking "coffee party," formed in response to the tea baggers, will be ignored by the mainstream media until it takes up arms in a made-for-television battle. So what can progressives do in the meantime to express dissatisfaction with the direction in which the country is headed? Join the Republicans, with the hope that the Democrats will then re-evaluate their platform and move to the left? It appears to be the only remaining option, given that the powers that be have ensured that third-party candidates are forced out of the system since they represent a threat to the status quo on both sides of the aisle.
I don't have the answer, but I sure do have a lot of questions. To start, what's left for progressives in these politically turbulent times, and how do we influence change we can believe in?
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