R.I.P. Public Option?

The signals from the White House today don’t look promising:

Bowing to Republican pressure and an uneasy public, President Barack Obama's administration signaled Sunday it is ready to abandon the idea of giving Americans the option of government-run insurance as part of a new health care system. Facing mounting opposition to the overhaul, administration officials left open the chance for a compromise with Republicans that would include health insurance cooperatives instead of a government-run plan. Such a concession probably would enrage Obama's liberal supporters but could deliver a much-needed victory on a top domestic priority opposed by GOP lawmakers.

*** In one of DSA’s most viewed documents, our “What is Democratic Socialism?” flyer, the last question is the one that is most frequently posed by liberals. It reads, “If so many people misunderstand socialism, why continue to use the word?”  The response in the pamphlet is an articulate one:

[…] no matter what we call ourselves, conservatives will use it against us. Anti-socialism has been repeatedly used to attack reforms that shift power to working class people and away from corporate capital. In 1993, national health insurance was attacked as “socialized medicine”  and defeated. Liberals are routinely denounced as socialists in order to discredit reform. Until we face, and beat, the stigma attached to the “S word,”  politics in America will continue to be stifled and our options limited.

Hopefully a similar lesson will be learned by well-intentioned liberals who abandoned principled support for single-payer in favor of the more “pragmatic” public option.  This stance, shared by many members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, Move On and the editors of The Nation, limited the spectrum of debate and made this scenario possible.

Populist anger that should be directed against HMOs and the corporate bureaucracies that truly are death panels -- denying care and access without concern for any quotients besides for profit -- have been directed at social services, unions and other segments of the progressive movement.

We don’t know what was promised during Obama’s closed door meeting with the health care lobby. What we do know is that no such meeting occurred with the representatives for the millions-strong popular lobby for genuine, socialized health care.  The best case scenario right now is a watered-down public option.  Not very good considering even a full-fledged public option would hardly be an alternative to single-payer. Outrage should be festering not on the Right, but on the Left.

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