Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Krugman Calls Out Fake "Centrists" But Fails to Follow Through

Something that's always bugged me in American political discourse is that politicians can get away with calling themselves "centrists" or "moderates" if their point of view is way to the right of the American people. In many ways, the use of those two words are used by public officials who want to distance themselves from popular points of view that they feel need to be marginalized. They'd much rather say they're "centrists" who are going to try to "compromise" with the point of view of the right-wing instead of simply saying they are right wingers or conservatives.

Finally someone in the mainstream press is calling bull on this. Krugman steps up to the plate in yesterday's op-ed:

The real risk is that health care reform will be undermined by “centrist” Democratic senators who either prevent the passage of a bill or insist on watering down key elements of reform. I use scare quotes around “centrist,” by the way, because if the center means the position held by most Americans, the self-proclaimed centrists are in fact way out in right field.

What the balking Democrats seem most determined to do is to kill the public option, either by eliminating it or by carrying out a bait-and-switch, replacing a true public option with something meaningless. For the record, neither regional health cooperatives nor state-level public plans, both of which have been proposed as alternatives, would have the financial stability and bargaining power needed to bring down health care costs.

Whatever may be motivating these Democrats, they don’t seem able to explain their reasons in public.

My one point of disagreement with Krugman here is that he doesn't seem to be willing to explain what's motivating Democrats like Kent Conrad and Ben Nelson. The closest he has to an explanation is this:

Honestly, I don’t know what these Democrats are trying to achieve. Yes, some of the balking senators receive large campaign contributions from the medical-industrial complex — but who in politics doesn’t? If I had to guess, I’d say that what’s really going on is that relatively conservative Democrats still cling to the old dream of becoming kingmakers, of recreating the bipartisan center that used to run America.

Unfortunately, he doesn't quite get it.

But I'm not a Times columnist, I'm a blogger!

So I'm more than willing to demonstrate exactly why these Democrats are so tepid about this.

I think the insurance industry has invested well in Ben Nelson. And Kent Conrad's no slouch, either.

While it's true that the Democratic Party as a whole is reasonably friendly to the health insurance industry -- that's why they virtually kicked single-payer off the table -- Democrats in these states don't have much of an organized citizenry, like labor unions or civic groups, meaning that there is no sort of countervailing lobbying force. That's what Krugman doesn't understand. It's basically the big medical-industrial lobbies facing off with...no one in these states.

What this basically means is that we have Democrats who are essentially acting as kingmakers for the insurance industry. Krugman isn't quick to throw around explanations for why bad policy happens, but this is it in a nutshell.

There are ways to handle this broken and corrupt way to finance campaigns, however, and he'd do best to start writing about them.