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Stopping the Circular Firing Squad: Can the Left Succeed without a Charismatic Leader?

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There is widespread public support for progressive health care reform involving either a single-payer plan or a strong public option having many of the benefits of single-payer. But Democrats in Congress are struggling to deliver even a watered down public option.

Part of the problem is the Republicans, who are adamantly opposed to any public option and who spread lies and disinformation, and the "Blue Dog" conservative Democrats.

Another part of the problem is the corrupting influence of money. The medical-drug-insurance complex has donated big bucks to Democratic and Republican lawmakers and continues to lobby aggressively.

A third part of the problem is the mainstream news media, which inadequately educates the public about the options. OpEdNews, HuffingtonPost, AlterNet, TruthOut, The Nation, DailyKos, and numerous other blogs and websites are part of a burgeoning progressive news media that may someday be strong enough to overcome the corrupting influence of money on mainstream news.

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A fourth, related part of the problem -- and the one that we have perhaps the most control over -- is that the Left is divided and uncoordinated, with the result that there is confusion and acrimony about the correct approach. There is division between the "strict" progressive Left (Progressive Democrats for America, the peace and justice movement, and Nader) and the "centrist" Left (liberal Democrats in Congress, MoveOn, Democracy for America, and Organizing for America). This is despite that fact that almost everyone on the Left wants a strong public option -- ideally, some sort of single-payer system. Even President Obama has indicated that single-payer is the ideal. and

Now, don't get me wrong. I acknowledge that many Democrats in Congress are corrupt and often they support bad policies. President Obama has continued too many Bush policies. But there are many truly progressive Democrats, both nationally and locally. And the grassroots members of the Democratic Party and of groups like MoveOn and DFA are in fact quite progressive.

And not just on health care! On issues like women's rights, gay rights, environmentalism, economic justice, accountability, and an end to militarism, there is broad agreement among strict progressive, centrist progressives, most grassroots Democrats, and many Democratic lawmakers.

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In Washington State too, I notice that the grassroots Dem Party activist tend to be quite progressive. The lawmakers tend to be less progressive; some of them are Democrats in Name Only.

A concrete manifestation of the confusion and division on the Left is the pair of health care rallies that were held in my hometown (Bellevue, WA) on Thursday. See

One rally, held by, was in favor of a strong public option and against insurance companies. The other rally, held across the street from the MoveOn rally, was by conservatives opposed to any public option at all.

There was a similar MoveOn rally two weeks ago:

The MoveOn members rallied in favor of a "strong" public option -- meaning a public plan strong enough to both compete successfully with private plans and to begin to control costs. MoveOn's talking points tend not to use the word "single-payer" they say "strong public option" or R.E.A.L (Right Away, covers Everyone, Accountable, and Large enough to lower cost see but if you speak with MoveOn members -- I did -- they mostly want single payer.

Now, aside from MoveOn, there are scores of local progressive groups, involving thousands of activists, ranging from far left anti-war groups to Democratic Party organizations; almost all activists are eager to support single-payer or a strong public option. But the MoveOn rally was completely separate from the rallies of other groups.

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In general, the various progressive groups -- and there are scores of them were I live, near Seattle -- don't coordinate very well. Too often the various groups fight among themselves, both on tactics and on ownership and control. Though I'm on several progressive email lists, the MoveOn rally wasn't promoted widely. Though there have been other rallies by other groups, as well as town-hall forums, the number of these, the participation, and the media coverage have been low. There's no standard progressive blog or news source locally. (BTW, should OpEdNews have city-specific subpages?)

As Rodney King would say, "Can't everybody just get along?"

In this regard, I am disturbed by the results of a recent poll on OpEdNews. The poll asked "Are the Democrats as bad as the Republicans?".

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DFA organizer, Democratic Precinct Committee Officer, writer, and programmer. My op-ed pieces have appeared in the Seattle Times, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, and elsewhere. See and for my writing, my (more...)

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