The Guns of August
By Debra Kozikowski
When push came to shove the left cried uncle, and to make matters just that much worse for some folks, they tried to save face by saying a public option in the health care package wasn’t “essential” to reforming health insurance coverage. It wasn’t the hard right that took the heart of reform, ripped it out and stomped on it – no, not at all. It was the White House in the form of HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius.
Some trial balloon.
It’s more like playing the toy tug game with my grand-dog, a lovable non-confrontational Bishon Frise named Amalie. Pull a little harder and she’ll drop the toy – quite unlike a bull terrier or a pit bull in training for a career in the dog fighting ring. The right smells blood and they’re playing for keeps – to quote the ever quotable Donna Brazile, who said of Republicans: “They start the next campaign the day after an election, win or lose.” Some of us are worried that Democrats are headed for the O.K. Corral where it’s getting harder and harder to see what’s really happening through the haze of heavy gunfire coming from the right.
There’s no doubt about it, the hard right has more than the defeat of health care reform in their sites—they’ve said all along that what they want is so crushing a blow the Obama administration will be brought to its knees, saddled as inept, incompetent, ineffective. In short, the Republicans are putting their eggs in the same basket as they used circa 1993. Crush health care reform and wrestle back control of Congress and the White House starting with next year’s elections.
They’re going for the kill … again.
And don’t let anyone kid you, it’s not just happening in Blue Dog territory. Seemingly normal people in places perceived as ultra-left like Massachusetts are standing up and asking ridiculous questions. Congressman Barney Frank, openly gay, Jewish and representing a hotbed of liberals, found himself facing a woman in a sundress waving a photo of our president defaced to resemble a caricature of Hitler and claiming that to support health insurance reform is akin to supporting Nazi tactics. Just who are these people and who is giving them their marching orders?
The hard right is in lockstep, and has been from the beginning of this battle. So much so that when a Republican strategist named Alex Castellanos issued a memo outlining the battle plan, the Republican National Committee chair Michael Steele gave it nearly verbatim as a speech to an audience at Washington’s National Press Club. An attempt to take Steele off script and get a spontaneous reply on health care reform was met with a curt, “I don’t do policy.”
Discipline and the firm belief that all they have to do is fire away.
It doesn’t matter if the bullets find their mark, all that matters is to get enough smoke in the eyes of their opponents and they’ll give in. Now big business has stepped up the attack too, their lobbying and advertising guns blazing. The Chamber of Commerce spent a fortune on print and Internet ads to crush the White House plan for a competitive public option allowing consumers to choose between a government plan and private health insurance. And from all appearances they’ve succeeded. It’s on to the main event.
In key states where Democratic members of Congress remain on the fence, insurers are blasting away with commercials aimed at shifting public opinion away from any change that might threaten profits. In an attempt to counter, President Obama has scheduled calls nearly every day this week with anyone willing to call in a conference call code and listen to his next round of plans to reject the Republicans’ Waterloo slime and hopefully mount a new grassroots counteroffensive to bolster his plans. But the President is running into booby traps of his own making and minefields laid by his own White House by raising that white flag on the public option. Spin only gets you so far with disappointed and confused supporters. They are difficult to rally and the one thing that single payer supporters were holding onto as worth fighting for was a public option – something to keep the insurance industry honest that was out of the insurers’ control.
In the White House’s determination to get a bill — any bill — passed by Congress, too many supporters worry it will have been so compromised, so geared to ease the qualms of big business that it will be nothing more than a hollow victory — a watered down, steady weakening of change they had hoped for and worked for in last year’s elections and that most Americans said they believed in until the hard right gun slingers pulled out their six shooters and aimed at Democrats, now looking like wounded cowpokes instead of Western heroes. Health care reform has lost ground with average Americans desire for fundamental change and proponents of scrapping the current health care system find themselves staring gloomily down the barrel of a gun in a fight where the problem is bigger than the resolve of what the hard right is fighting against, it’s that the White House doesn’t seem to have figured out what it is that they’re fighting for.
The American people want to believe, Mister President. Tell us why we should.