This is somewhat yesterweek’s news, but I wasn’t keeping a blog then, so suck on it topicality! So…health care reform and the public option. (Right? We all want to hear about that some more, right?) The “Kill the Bill” noise sure has quieted down. Perhaps that’s because the liberals who wanted more progressive legislation have given up—after all, the Senate passed their bill and all that remains is conference between those two groups of mostly white men who talk to the lobbyists. It’s a done deal, so why bother?
Well, for one thing, if they really thought the bill sans-public option was a net negative for the country, then wouldn’t they still be protesting (i.e., angrily blogging)? Once congressmen begin the messy process of merging the two bills (hint, first get the House bill drunk then make sure the Senate bill pays for dinner), FireDogLake and suchlike may well reemerge with voices raised in all-caps righteousness.
I get the impression, though, from the liberal rags I read, that the bill-killing passion has largely waned. Perhaps proponents have realized the shallowness of the position—that it was in large part a political/rhetorical tactic, not a belief they truly held deeply. (Or perhaps I’m just projecting my own shallowness.)
My take is that the public option came to be largely a form of ideological shorthand—it meant “progressive.” With a ridiculously complicated bill with something like five gajabillion pages (rounded up), its “meaning,” to the general public, even to relatively engaged citizens, is kind of fuzzy. I’m guessing not many passionate progressives read the whole thing. For them, “public option” meant “close to single payer” which meant “FDR-style social programs.” It meant progressive. “Public option” is a lot easier to read (you just did it!) than a labyrinthine tangle of clauses, sub-clauses, and dick jokes snuck in by Chris Dodd.
What I noticed was that, for all the sound and fury on Daily Kos and Huffingtonpost about the bill’s failings, those progressives most likely to be policy wonks, i.e. most likely to have read more than the “public option” twitter version of the bill, saw a lot of good things worth passing: I’m talking about dudes like Ezra Klein, Nate Silver, Matt Yglesias, and that little ball of sunshine, Paul Krugman.
Not all of us can muster the sheer nerditude to wade through all that legislative muck, as much as we would like to be engaged, so “public option” became a short hand for the kind of thing we wanted our government to do. Granted, this is not to say that the public option was meaningless—but it somehow came to “mean” everything, which was, at the very least, a distortion.
Lest I become a pot criticizing kettle hues—of course “public option” isn’t the only such shorthand we lazy idealists rely upon. There’re also such things as, I don’t know, “Democratic politician” or “not-George-W-Bush-politician,” or even the term “progressive” itself, and I’m as guilty as anyone of such intellectual laziness. And sometimes it’s not really even laziness—it’s just a consequence of an astonishingly complicated world—ideological shorthand is often necessary to take any position whatsoever. A little awareness, though, is a good thing. Otherwise, you can get attached to a name—or a policy—with little real meaning outside of your emotions.