'Intelligent discontent is the mainspring of civilization.' -- Eugene V. Debs

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Random Observations on Health Care Reform and the Dysfunctionality of Government 

On Tuesday, Montana Senator Max Baucus released his proposed Senate Finance Committee health care reform bill. Of course, it's an atrocity, a bill that exploits the health care crisis as yet another opportunity to transfer wealth from workers to finance capitalists. People will be forced to purchase policies that are useless in the event of a serious health problem, despite inadequate subsidies and non-existent cost containment. Furthermore, there is the additional prospect that individuals fortunate enough to have good policies through, say, collective bargaining agreements, will find themselves forced to pay a 35% surcharge in 2013 to help fund the program.

In other words, we face a looming social and political catastrophe, one in which the middle and lower classes are even more impoverished as a result of conscious government policy than they are today. Progressives are also prognosticating a wipe out for the Democrats in the mid-term elections of 2010, and, possibly, a defeat for President Obama in 2012. But this underestimates the peril. It goes beyond political partisanship and economic hardship to the legitimacy of the political system itself.

California is a bellwether for what is likely to come. As a consequence of a distressed economy, a legislature riven by partisan conflict, an unwillingness by legislators to make any decisions that would place their salaries, per diem and car allowances at risk and a governor who substitutes vapid public relations gestures for policy, the public holds the political system in complete contempt. Both the governor and the legislature are extremely unpopular. It is impossible to generate public support for any measures that would resolve the fiscal crisis and preserve essential public sector programs.

Everyone, and every public institution, is quite literally, on their own. If the Congress puts through health care reform on terms dictated by health insurance companies, pharmaceutical companies and health care providers, and Obama signs it, this is what we can expect nationally. A collapse in progressive support for the political process, resulting in, at best, gridlock, and, at worst, the passage and implementation of more and more regressive social measures. Combine the passage of such a miserable health care reform bill with possibly as many as 40,000 additional troops for Afghanistan, and we will see the ascendency of an irrational, emotionally driven right wing populism that will escape the boundaries set by Rahm Emanuel and other conservative Democrats, and go beyond preventing the passage of any progressive measures during an Obama administration, to destroying his presidency, and perhaps, the existing social fabric of the country.

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