Eighty-three percent of MoveOn members say the organization should join the fight to pass the health reform bill being advanced by President Obama and Democratic leaders in Congress, despite the fact that the measure falls short of the sort of reform for which the powerful progressive group had campaigned.
That's an important message for Obama and the Democrats, who will need strong support from progressive activists during the final push to pass reform legislation--and during the 2010 election cycle when much of the political debate will continue to focus on questions of how best to address issues of health-care access and cost.
The MoveOn result means that one of the savviest and most effective progressive organizations in the country will be a part of that process.
What should be encouraging for Obama and congressional Democrats is that this is not a case of insiders in Washington--like the folks at the Democratic National Committee or groupings that developed out of the Obama campaign--making a call to fall in line with the president. MoveOn's members, while surely sympathetic toward Obama and the Democrats, have always wanted a bolder reform than what the president is promoting.
But, now, in a vote that was democratic and national in character, MoveOn activists have indicated that they are prepared to back a compromise bill--although the 17 percent "no" vote was certainly worthy of note. (As author and activist John Stauber, the former director of the Center for Media and Democracy, noted: "I'm impressed that even among MoveOn's voters almost one in five give Obama Care the thumbs down.")
By most measures, however, the better than 4-1 MoveOn vote suggests that there remains a significant measure of good will for the president among progressives.
MoveOn announced the vote earlier this week, when the online activist community, which played such a critical role in building opposition to the Bush administration and in paving the way for its replacement by the Obama administration, asked members to weigh in on whether they now support President Obama's final push for health-care reform.
The MoveOn "team" admitted in an email to the group's roughly 5 million members that Obama's proposal is "definitely not the bill most of us hoped for at the start of this fight." But, they added, "it does do some important things."
That was a reasonable assessment, as was the review of comments from MoveOn members who support and oppose the reform legislation as it currently stands.
A sampling from the "pro" side:
We all know if this bill doesn't pass, Congress won't be starting over; our choices are this bill now, or no health care reform at all for the forseeable future.--Robert B. from East Haven, CT
Don't let the good be the enemy of the perfect--I concur. No legislation is perfect the first time. This bill will significantly improve health care - insurance and drug firms behavior...once it is passed and we see results...more change can occur. For me it's a life decision...pass it now....--Sheila L. from , CA
A sampling from the "anti" side:
Without a public option, open to everyone, the bill functions as a massive, COMPULSORY (since we will be REQUIRED to buy in) giveaway to the insurance industry.--Katherine A. from Madison, WI
This bill is a windfall for private insurers. It is a mistake to confuse health insurance coverage with health care, if insurance is mandated people will choose the cheapest they can afford which means high deductibles and really no care at all. The only real solution is single payer...--Eithne D. from Boulder, CO
As I noted when the vote was announced, I would have preferred a little more variety in the list of "helpful links" provided as background for MoveOn voters, which was limited to an overview of the president's proposal from the WhiteHouse.gov site, a CNN report on the highlights of Obama's health care proposal and a ThinkProgress article on the president's proposal and the differences between it and the Senate legislation.
It would have been terrific, for instance, if MoveOn had featured something from Congressman Dennis Kucinich, D-Ohio, who has raised concerns about the legislation from a progressive perspective.
"If the White House is ready to go back and have a robust public option...then we have something to talk about," Kucinich said in an interview Monday night on "Countdown with Keith Olbermann." Without it, the congressman concluded, "I just don't see this bill as a solution."
Kucinich dismissed the bill as "just a giveaway to the insurance companies."
With all this said, it is significant--and good--that MoveOn conducted this vote. And the results are telling.
The MoveOn community is savvy and engaged.
There can be little doubt that they would have preferred a bolder bill--ideally a single-payer measure, but certainly a plan with a robust public option.
Thus, the overwhelming support for the president's plan suggests a significant willingness to compromise on the part of progressive activists who want as much reform as they can get--and who, presumably, want Obama to be able to rack up a victory.
If health care reform becomes a reality, the task for progressives will be to monitor the progress of the initiative and to press for the strengthening of its public service and public interest components.
MoveOn's role will be critical.
This survey's results send a significant signal.
Hopefully, MoveOn will keep conducting surveys--and keep advocating for real reform.