It’s bound to happen, any time progressives have the audacity to demand brave leadership from a Democratic Party that asks for our money, our votes and our volunteer labor. The cry goes up from the self-proclaimed level heads of corporate media: You impractical, self-defeating lefties! Stop whining and let the adults run things! And so, as the leadership debacle that was health reform reaches its climax, it’s little surprise that those of us who won’t stop fighting for true reform are once again told to shut up.
Time’s Joe Klein is perhaps the most apoplectic about the "idiocy" of the "left-wing blogosphere." Klein’s selective reading leads him to reduce progressive criticism of the Senate health bill to its lack of a public option, which he dismisses as a "tidbit" in meaningful reform policy. Klein is of course beating up on an ahistorical straw man. What most progressive reformers called for was single-payer; we were adult enough to accept and fight for the compromise Obama proposed — that "relatively minor provision called the public option."
But Klein’s straw man allows him to set up a familiar, false equivalency between left and right, positioning those level-headed "moderates" as the good folks holding our polity together. He writes, with a peevish tone fit for the lefty blogosphere he’s conjured:
Hilariously, as we stagger from one awful decade into the next, there has been a coagulation of these extremes — a united front against the turgid ceremonies of legislative democracy, like compromise, and disdain for the politician most responsible for nudging our snarled checks and balances toward action, Barack Obama.
Huh? When did "legislative democracy" become defined by a handful of small-state Senators holding the majority hostage? When did "action" become caving in to the demands of a single senator who plainly neither understood nor cared about the actual policy debate?
Meanwhile, over at the New Yorker, Hendrik Hertzberg lectures with the gravitas of 1856 philosophy. Hertzberg invokes John Ruskin’s "pathetic fallacy" (yeah, I know, it’s the New Yorker) to argue that progressives have no right to criticize Obama for the reform process’ failures; blame instead lies with the inanimate, apparently ungovernable government.
The American government has its human aspects–it is staffed by human beings, mostly–but its atomized, at-odds-with-itself legislative structure (House and Senate, each with its arcane rules, its semi-feudal committee chairs, and its independently elected members, none of whom are accountable or fully responsible for outcomes) makes it more like an inanimate object. In our sclerotic lawmaking process, it is not enough that the President, a majority of both Houses of Congress, and a majority of the voters at the last election favor extending health care to all citizens.