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

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Goodbye, Dennis the Menace (Part 1) 

I've never thought much of Dennis Kucinich. Nice enough person who says, and often does, the right thing, or, at least, tries to push the political dialogue in the right direction. But I've never thought he was serious when he ran for President. He wasn't particularly effective at creating a grassroots organization, either for himself or the social issues that he espouses. In Congress, he has a safe seat, and therefore has the latitude to do what he does, as long as he doesn't cause discomfort for the leadership. He primarily serves the purpose of providing a a safety valve that keeps liberals and some leftists in the Democratic Party, perpetuating the illusion that the party remains a plausible vehicle for social change.

Until today. After loudly condemning the Senate health care bill, criticizing it for its lack of a public option and the constraints that it places upon states that might be inclined to implement a single payer system, he crumbled like a cardboard box when Obama flew into his district and criticized him for refusing to vote for the bill. And, he did this after accepting thousands and thousands of dollars of campaign contributions from people who want a public option. To his credit, he, unlike many other purported progressives, has agreed to return the money, although, given that the filing deadline for a primary challenge has already passed, that's not nearly as much of a sacrifice as it appears.

Overnight, Dennis the Menace became Dennis Who?, just another congressional cipher who does what Pelosi and Obama tell him to do. He may not have had a huge following, but his supporters were committed. They appreciated the hearings that he called on a myriad of progressive issues that no one else would touch. They exhalted him as a truth teller in Congress, alone in a sea of corruption. So much for that. His press releases and e-mail announcements are now going to promptly find their way into garbage cans, both real and virtual.

But why was it so essential to destroy the public reputation of Dennis Kucinich? He did, after all, serve a very useful function, as noted at the beginning of this post. Radicalized liberals and progressives now understand that the Obama administration and its elite allies brook no dissent from the left, and that the political process in DC has no place for them, in marked contrast to the hospitality shown the right. Of course, the simple answer is that Democratic congressional leadership needed his vote to get the Senate health care bill onto Obama's desk. That's true. But I believe that there is more to it.

Obama and the congressional Democrats know that the bill is unpopular. They understand that many people will be forever outraged over the mandate they purchase insurance, the excise tax and the lack of any cost containment. Or, to put it more bluntly, they will remain angry about being forced to buy insurance provided on terms designed to preserve the maximum profitability of health insurance companies, health care providers and pharmaceutical companies. In such a situation, it is essential to not only get the bill passed, but eliminate any credible liberal opponents around whom people could coalesce. Hence, the hardball tactics used by the White House to coerce the AFL-CIO, MoveON and specific Democratic representatives into supporting the bill in the most embarrassing way that exposes their powerlessness. Now, the way is open for Obama, consistent with his Chicago School of Economics perspective, to even more aggressively restructure the US economy for the benefit of capital.

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