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Are Liberal Netroots Groups Helping Obama Fail?

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I've started deleting them as spam.

I'm not talking about the enlarge-your-penis emails or "You've Won the Lottery" notices.

I'm talking about the increasingly-urgent emails coming for weeks from liberal Netroots groups calling for a "public option" for healthcare "" a government insurance plan citizens could choose to PAY FOR instead of private insurance.

Never has so much passion been so misdirected. If what these liberal groups ultimately wanted out of President Obama and corporate-funded Democrats in Congress was a topnotch public plan to compete with the first-rate private plans, the wrong way to get it was to make that THE demand.

Especially of a President whose instinct is toward conciliation and splitting the difference with big business and the rightwing.

Sure, Obama was a community organizer once. That was decades ago when Russia was still our mortal enemy, Nelson Mandela was still an official State Department terrorist threat and the White House was still funding Islamist fanatics in Afghanistan.

For the last dozen years Obama has been a politician "" and a consummate compromiser at that. Have we failed to notice?

Activists must recognize the surest way to get a strong public option that could compete with the Cadillac of health plans. We needed to mobilize millions of Netroots people, almost every union and 150 members of Congress to endorse a maximum demand: National health insurance . . . enhanced Medicare for All. In other words, a cost-effective single-payer system of publicly-financed, privately-delivered healthcare that ends private health insurance (and its waste, bureaucracy, ads, sales commissions, lavish executive salaries, profiteering).

Had liberal groups sent out millions of emails building a movement that posed an existential threat to the health insurance industry, Sen. Baucus and Blue Dog Democrats and their corporate healthcare patrons might well be on their knees begging for a comprehensive public option "" to avert the threat of full-blown Medicare for All.

As things stand now, as writers like Bob Kuttner and Norman Solomon have warned, a weak public option would institutionalize a two-tiered system with healthier, wealthier citizens getting the best (private) plans, and sicker, harder-to-treat people getting an inferior (public) plan. Newt Gingrich couldn't dream up a better scenario to discredit an enhanced government role in healthcare.

To win serous reforms, we need activist leaders who are tough-minded progressives making maximum demands for reforms that truly address our nation's problems. Leave the inside-the-Beltway deal-making to the politicians, properly frightened and moved by the roar of mass movements.

We need activist leaders who have a clearer idea of who Obama is. He's not one of us. He's one of them "" a politician bent on placating corporate interests. We knew all we needed to know about his current worldview from all the corporatists he put in top jobs.

And from the fact that he felt the need "" six weeks into his administration, after the middle-class bailed out Wall Street "" to call up the New York Times and assure the world that his policies were NOT socialist but were "entirely consistent with free market principles." At a time the corporate greedsters and free-market ideologues had been exposed as having threatened the economic well-being of the world, they weren't the ones on the defensive. They weren't doing the apologizing. Obama was on the defensive; he was apologizing to them!

When Democratic leaders start borrowing rightwing rhetoric, we know our activism has not been strong or progressive enough. At the AARP townhall Tuesday, Obama described a public option as "controversial, I understand people are worried about that." He went on to assure his audience that "nobody is talking about . . . government-run healthcare" or "a Canadian-style plan." At one point, he further assured seniors that no "bureaucratic law in Washington" would interfere in their healthcare decisions "" seeming to adopt the faux-populism of anti-government rightists. Yet he seems incapable of anti-corporate populism, even with despised industries like Wall Street and health insurance.

I have huge respect for the smart young activists who built up the Netroots, unleashing all sorts of progressive possibilities for our country. But I'm bothered by their often ineffectual, Beltway-originated, halfway demands.

I became active during the Vietnam War. We might still have troops in Vietnam if "" instead of militantly demanding "All Troops Home Now" "" we'd organized behind polite Beltway initiatives like: "Let's begin negotiations" or "Let's set a timeline for phased withdrawal."

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Jeff Cohen is the founding director of the Park Center for Independent Media at Ithaca College. He founded the media watch group FAIR in 1986.

For years he was an on-air pundit on CNN, Fox News and MSNBC-- as well as senior producer of MSNBC's primetime Donahue show, until it was terminated three weeks before the Iraq war. This is adapted from his new book, Cable News Confidential: My Misadventures in Corporate Media.

Jeff Cohen is also former board member of Progressive Democrats of America and founder of the media watch group FAIR.

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If we thought Republicans were bad now, wait until... by Kevin Gosztola on Thursday, Jul 30, 2009 at 11:45:55 AM
Yes, single-payer is the ideal. But a strong publi... by Don Smith on Thursday, Jul 30, 2009 at 12:30:29 PM
In an interview with Keith Olbermann, Howard Dean... by Don Smith on Thursday, Jul 30, 2009 at 2:25:55 PM
He gets all the help he needs from his circle of a... by Samuel Bryan on Thursday, Jul 30, 2009 at 5:13:00 PM
Wishing that others' who disagree with you would j... by Steve Windisch (jibbguy) on Friday, Jul 31, 2009 at 7:42:23 AM
The only way to get anything done of a progressive... by liberalsrock on Friday, Jul 31, 2009 at 9:43:10 AM
Obama is doing quite well on his own.... by John Hanks on Friday, Jul 31, 2009 at 7:29:32 PM