From Ezra Klein’s weekly chat this week:

Hoboken, NJ: I’ve been reading articles on both Huffington Post and DailyKos by progressives that insist that health care reform without the public option is just a giveaway to the insurance industry and would make things worse. I know you do not agree with this, but what is the argument (with evidence to support it) that this isn’t true? Thanks, as always, for your insight.

EK: I’d ask the opposite: What’s the evidence that it is true? You could argue it’s a giveaway to the insurance industry, in that they get new customers so long as they cease discriminating. But on that count, so what? If they start acting better, then it’s good that 35 million people suddenly have insurance. The bigger question is whether this will “make everything worse,” and I think that’s just unbelievably wrong. Progressives thrill to Alan Grayson saying that people die from lacking insurance and then are willing to trash an opportunity to prevent those deaths? (emphasis mine)

I think part of the reason you see progressives saying that is because they think private insurance is intrinsically bad. It isn’t. All private insurance is is a mechanism, and like any other mechanism, it can be used for good or for evil.

I’m not a fan of the insurance industry. Like Ezra said, if you reform the industry and suddenly 35 million people have access to health care because they’re insured, I fail to see how that’s a bad thing.

Here’s the thing: those progressives and Ezra are talking past each other, and Ezra knows it. The public option fight isn’t a policy fight, it’s a political proxy fight over whether progressives have political agency and power in America.

Some will take that as a criticism of the folks organizing on the public option. It’s not. There’s no chance to win if you don’t play the game. But constructing liberal influence and power is a project with a longer time horizon than health-care reform. It’s not going to happen before this bill is passed, and I disagree, strongly, with those who think it will profit from this bill’s failure. (emphasis mine)

Like Ezra, I believe that that’s a war that’s going to be fought on a much broader scale than just a policy that, even now, 3 out of 5 Americans can’t define at all. To assume otherwise is to mistake a pine tree for the whole damn forest, and anyone who assumes that defeat on a policy point means you’ve lost the war is not anyone I want fighting alongside me.

Like, for example, this guy I just linked above, who according to his profile, is “no less biased than Rush Limbaugh, but considerably more accurate than most politicians and many economists.” (emphasis mine):

If, as reported, the Democrats have dropped the public option, they have abandoned any attempt to improve the health care in the United States in favor of increasing health-care insurance profits. This is good for the economy, as ever more jobs will be created in medical claims processing. Also, delivering 40 million new (taxpayer subsidized) premium-payers to the insurance companies to pretend to cover the currently uninsured will certainly drive up health insurance stocks. But nothing in the bill will actually improve heath care nor lower the cost of what passes for healthcare in the US. The war is over, the people lost. (emphasis mine)

Riiiiight. Because, you know, reversing forty fucking years of conservative misgovernment and rhetoric was something that would be done in ten months.

People like him fundamentally misunderstand politics. As an aside, how arrogant do you have to be to think that you’re more accurate than most politicians and many economists? And the thing is, even though he probably tells folks this as a joke, he probably believes it.

Anway…politics isn’t composed of grand satisfying gestures, a la The West Wing or The American President. It’s made up of millions of frustratingly small steps, one in front of the other, taking up lifetimes to travel down the path of human progress.

Thing is, each step leads to another, and then to another yet again, until we’ve set up Social Security. Or Medicare. Or, in this case, health care reform.

Put it another way: politics isn’t a cold, lifeless performance of mythic, heroic deeds. It’s a warm, messy, living give-or-take among people, all wanting to perfect the country we love.

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