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Posted by: Doug Henwood | March 22, 2017

Never demand.

Matt Bruenig already wrote about this (now deleted) tweet from Paul Waldman, which was a response to one from Bernie Sanders…

Waldman tweet

…and before typing any more, I must confess to feeling guilty about writing a second blog post (god knows there are probably more) about a tweet. But, onwards.

As Bruenig writes, “The difference between Obamacare and AHCA is 24 million uninsured people while the difference between single-payer and Obamacare is 28 million uninsured people.” Obamacare, with all its omissions and cost-shifting, isn’t innocent of monstrousness.

There’s a point about political strategy here worth drawing out here. Waldman, who self-identifies as “Washington Post blogger. Columnist for The Week. Senior Writer at the American Prospect.,” was on the Cabalist, a secret listserv for liberal pundits which I strangely spent two or three years on. (I assume he still is, though I can’t know now that I’m off the thing.) I was invited on, I suppose, for ideological diversity, but left as what most members probably saw as an annoying provocateur.

Waldman’s tweet reflects a consensus on the list that one must never make demands or express ambitious political goals in the way Sanders’ tweet does. All we can do it defend what we have, because the right holds all the cards. I never could convince them that this was a doomed strategy—that, principle aside, if you don’t make big demands you can’t win even small victories, or that without radicals pushing things in threatening ways their wimpy appeals to compromise will have no audience. To your modal Cabalister, to push for single-payer would be to “relitigate” (a favorite word of theirs, reflecting I suspect their preference for litigation over actual politics) Obamacare, and so expose it to repeal. That was their line a couple of years ago, when no one could have imagined President Trump. Now that it is under the threat of repeal, it’s more urgent than ever to assume a defensive crouch.

You can see this sort of thinking behind the Democrats’ responses to Trump. They’re still stuck in the Hillary mode of treating him as an anomaly, something different from a “normal” Republican. They obsess about his alleged Russia ties, but offer nothing as a serious alternative to the Trump (or Ryan) agenda.

Obamacare has never been so popular now that it may go away. Millions of people have gotten something good out of it, as flawed as it is. Imagine how popular a program that offered everyone full coverage would be.

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Responses

  1. Isn’t that really the liberals’ fear, though, that a program that offered full coverage for everyone would be immensely popular? Or rather, that a campaign for such a thing would catch on, thus alienating a large set of the party’s major corporate contributors?

    Sanders has said the Dem leadership would prefer to have first-class accommodations on the Titanic rather than avoid the iceberg altogether. I think his intention was to suggest that they’re just stupid, but I disagree. Rather, they seem not to mind losing so long as they maintain their big-money connections for big payoffs once they leave public office. In fact, they may prefer to lose so they can strike a happy balance that allows them to sound progressive on key economic issues while avoiding the expectation that they follow through.


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