Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Ben Smith Argues That Liberal Support For Health Bill Vindicates Rahm Emanuel

Apparently, Rahm Emanuel's media buddies could not resist the urge to write another love piece. Today, Ben Smith of Politico asserts that a new poll which shows that liberal voters support healthcare reform vindicates Emanuel. Emanuel has argued that the White House should not make concessions to liberals because they would come around eventually.

Smith's article, however, is too simplistic as an analysis of contemporary politics. First, the passage of reform legislation cannot vindicate Emanuel since, as numerous articles report, he favored a much slimmer bill and feared that a large one would not pass. If anything, the passage of this bill -- though smaller than what many liberals wanted -- proves Emanuel wrong.  Emanuel argued that comprehensive reform would not pass; he -- not the liberals -- was wrong.

Second, Smith misunderstands the debate among liberals regarding healthcare reform. Liberals have always favored reform, and many liberals always favored the Senate bill. Many liberals, however, were angry that the White House did not do enough to support more progressive and sensible measures like the public plan option. The public plan represented the most rational argument regarding cost containment (other than a single-payer system). Although President Obama advocated it during the campaign, he never forcefully backed it as president. This angered liberals, causing some people to argue that Congress should abandon the Senate bill and start the process again.

But after the "kill" option evaporated, liberals -- contrary to the White House line -- accepted compromise. The fact that liberals now support this good yet flawed bill actually proves Emanuel and the White House wrong.  White House staff circulated a narrative that portrayed liberals as unforgiving and unwavering ideologues (also known as "fucking retards"). Obama, on the other hand, was portrayed as the smart pragmatist.  The mainstream narrative about liberals was clearly inaccurate.

Finally, Smith makes the mistake of equating one battle with an entire war. The struggle over healthcare reform has emboldened many liberals.  Labor unions have threatened moderate Democrats with primary challenges.  MoveOn has promised the same. Even Obama has shown some needed spunk and told on-the-fence Democrats that he would not raise money for them if they voted against the bill. Liberals have always wanted a fight. The fact that they accept this mixed victory does not vindicate Rahm Emanuel in any way, shape or form. It simply shows that liberals can cut their losses and move forward when appropriate. It does not mean, however, that they have become a doormat for the White House or Rahm Emanuel. Perhaps, Smith's analysis is merely wishful thinking.

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