Sunday, August 10, 2008

The Audacity of Opposing Obama

Yesterday's post to The Beat, John Nichols' blog for The Nation began with some pretty depressing words:

The Democratic Party's draft platform offers little in the way of a serious promise of health-care reform.

The document reads as if it was written by the insurance industry rather than advocates for people who need health care.

My immediate reaction was to recall a question I had raised last May about whether Barack Obama's "personal 'platform of issues'" might run into conflict with the document produced by the Platform Committee for the Democratic Party. Today's post, however, revealed that yesterday's depressing condition could well be attributed to Obama himself:

Obama's camp, which dominates but does not entirely control the platform-writing process, wanted to avoid talk of guarantees. It also wanted language that was friendlier to the insurance industry. Progressive Democrats for America, working in conjunction with a number of Pennsylvania organizations and Democratic leaders that support single-payer health care, pushed for a deeper commitment to health-care reform.

Thus, once again we see that there is less to Obama's progressivism than meets the eye and that, once again in that dialectical opposition of elevated goals and base political machinery, his roots in the latter have trumped his "audacity of hope."

The good news (as Nichols observed) is that, at least as far as health care, the Progressive Democrats for America are doing all they can to make sure that this particular elevated goal does not get trumped:

PDA collected signatures from almost 500 convention delegates – including backers of Obama and his chief rival for the nomination, New York Senator Hillary Clinton – urging the platform committee to commit the party to:

* "Guarantee accessible health care for all."

* "Create a single standard of high quality, comprehensive, and preventive health care for all."

* "Allow freedom of choice of physician, hospital, and other health care providers."

* "Eliminate financial barriers that prevent families and individuals from obtaining the medically necessary care they need."

* "Allow physicians, nurses and other licenced health care providers to make health care decisions based on what is best for the health of the patient."

PDA brought a key Obama backer, House Judiciary Committee chair John Conyers, D-Michigan, along with Donna Smith, a "star" of the Michael Moore documentary "SiCKO," to Pittsburgh to appear with Pennsylvania single-payer activists in Pittsburgh to promote the package.

Bob Remer, a Clinton delegate from Chicago who is a member of the platform committee, introduced the PDA language as a proposed amendment Saturday.

The activists did not get all the language they wanted, and they certainly did not get the commitment to single-payer that Democrats should be campaigning on six decades after Harry Truman ran and won on a promise to develop a national health-care program. But PDA and its allies did force the Obama camp into negotiations that resulted in the addition of stronger language to the official document.

Also added, at the behest of Clinton backers, was a statement that, "There are different approaches within the Democratic Party about how best to achieve the commitment of universal coverage."

Conyers, the sponsor of HR 676, the United States National Health Insurance Act, called the language shift "huge."

Tim Carpenter, the national director of PDA, said, "We were happy to discover the level of support among committee members for guaranteed health care and are pleased that a compromise was reached, but we won't be satisfied until HR 676 is passed by Congress."

Both Conyers and Carpenter are right.

The real work within the Democratic party and in Congress remains unfinished.

But the strengthening of the platform language is significant. It shows that the Obama campaign, which is often too rigid for its own good, is willing to listen to the left – and even to bend a bit. That's the good news from the fight over a platform that is, by and large, a tepid document.

Thus, because of the PDA and in spite of Obama, there will be at least one plank in the platform that makes serious note of an issue that continues to plague most of our country's electorate!

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