The Democratic victory is no guarantee of success for the progressive agenda. Many speakers cited the Obama win as only the beginning - the opening of a door we must push through. Once again, the conference was at the Omni Shoreham, but it feels different this time. The turnout is smaller, the perks fewer and far between - no tote bags for the press, no catered lunch yesterday. Is it the economy? Or do many feel our fight has been fought and won, and we can be confident that Obama will pursue the progressive agenda?
Radio talk show host Ed Schultz spoke to us members of the press last night. I was wowed by his combination of wit and straight talk. He praised the alternate media, for doing what the mainstream press has refused to do. He also stressed the importance of this very narrow window of time - 2009 - to get key legislation passed: health care reform and the Employee Free Choice Act [EFCA]. According to his sources, after this year ends, campaigning for 2010 will begin, and all bets are off. It only gets worse as we near 2012.
Incidentally, Schultz is a proponent of the single payer option for health care. He says that in every town meeting that he has held across the country, single payer was the hot topic. He can’t understand who the folks inside the Beltway are talking to when they shun the topic as if it were the plague. (Can anyone say private health care and Big Pharma?) Many doctors have come around to it, too, because of the huge number of man-hours they waste on the phone or dealing with paperwork and obstruction from those who have no medical training and whose bottom line is profit, not patient care.
At every session on health care, single payer was brought up, often by members of the audience, if it was not first addressed by the panel. The Dems may have abandoned single payer without a fight, but the issue has clearly not gone away. Remember the Harry and Louise TV ad campaign used to derail the Clinton health care plan in 1993/4? We saw a slide of Cartoonist Tom Toles’ take on the subject. When the GOP comes to enlist Harry and Louise’s help again, Harry shouts out the window that Louise has died and that he is in line for a kidney transplant. Clearly, neither of them has fared well with the health care status quo.
The conference is hardly over but the message is already pretty clear. This is not the time to lean back and relax. We must carry the progressive message back to our home networks and agitate, loudly and often, for what we want. It will not come automatically or easily, if at all. Schultz called the alternate media “warriors on the front lines”. The same could be said for activists in general. There is so much to be done.
We actually have a double incentive to push the progressive agenda forward. We don’t know how long we have, and we know clear well what can happen when power falls in the wrong hands. It’s hard enough when it falls in the “right” hands. Obama may be good people, but he won’t pursue the progressive agenda without a lot of prodding and persuasion, gentle and otherwise. So, let’s roll up our sleeves and get started. Especially if Schultz is right about that small window.
The American people may ultimately have to ‘settle’ for the public option, but it may be premature to pronounce single payer dead. And it’s hard to give it up without a fight. As Howard Dean pointed out, fear is no longer a factor. We’re familiar with the public option. It’s what everyone over 65 enjoys - Medicare. And it seems to be working pretty well, thank you. Schultz suggests that we overwhelm our Congressional reps with our message that despite their reluctance, single payer is what the public wants. Keep those calls and email coming.
Carpe diem, fellow warriors.