Thursday, March 11, 2010

Dennis Weary

Back in the late 80s, Florida's governor was a Republican named Bob Martinez. He accomplished a couple of inarguably laudable goals while in office, but about half-way through his tenure he kind of seemed to go off the rails. In addition to implementing a controversial new tax -- which as we all know is strictly verboten under the GOP charter -- he fought to restrict abortion, tried to go on an execution spree to indiscriminately clear out Florida's death row, and, most memorably, pushed to have 2 Live Crew's idiotic album As Nasty As They Wanna Be declared obscene and therefore outlawed.

Needless to say, Martinez was swiftly run out of office the first chance voters got.

Here's the thing, though: While I strongly disagreed with just about everything Martinez did, and did just about everything I could to get him replaced, I had to sort of respect him. Once he began going really far-right, his approval numbers plummeted, and yet in spite of this he persevered -- he just kept right on pushing forward with his astonishingly unpopular and ideologic agenda. He did this, I have to assume, because he truly believed in it. (Either that or he ran out of medication two years into his term and couldn't find an open Walgreens.) For Bob Martinez, doing what he considered to be right was the most important thing -- even if it meant career suicide.

Now before anybody mouths off and starts lobbing questions as to why I can respect somebody like Martinez for sticking to his convictions while berating, say, George W. Bush for ostensibly doing the same, it's because there wasn't a moment that I can remember when Martinez didn't accept full responsibility for the unpopular stances he was taking; Bush on the other hand did everything he could to have it both ways -- to pull all kinds of repugnant demagoguery, then obfuscate, misdirect and generally pass the buck in an effort not to take responsibility for the shit-pile he'd created.

The point of all of this, though, is that standing by the courage of your beliefs is important; it's typically the simplest form of nobility.

But it's equally courageous to recognize when those beliefs are bearing no fruit whatsoever and are, in fact, doing more harm than good.

Which brings us to Dennis Kucinich.

I realize that right now many on the left are really ganging up on poor Kucinich (the right, meanwhile has always laughed him off, maybe with good reason) because of his stand against the current Democratic health care reform bill. Kucinich is pushing to scrap the bill because, in his mind, it simply doesn't go far enough in achieving the Great Progressive Utopia he and those like him believe this country can and should one day be. I've said quite a few times recently that this form of black-and-white, all-or-nothing politics from either side does little to actually benefit the country, since the political process itself has always been about a certain amount of compromise: One side pushes, the other side pushes back, the two sides meet at some reasonable proximity to the middle with the knowledge that some satisfaction is better than none at all.

This couldn't be more true than when it comes to the health care debate -- when millions of lives are at stake. Holding out for perfection, accepting nothing less, will get people killed this time around. Kucinich should realize that. Yes, you have to be a guy with ideals -- but you also have to be effective as a legislator.

As Salon points out today, Kucinich is really only one of these.

This is from his bio:

"In Congress, Kucinich has authored and co-sponsored legislation to create a national health care system, preserve Social Security, lower the costs of prescription drugs, provide economic development through infrastructure improvements, abolish the death penalty, provide universal prekindergarten to all 3, 4, and 5 year olds, create a Department of Peace, regulate genetically engineered foods, repeal the USA PATRIOT Act, and provide tax relief to working class families."

Notice how not one of the above pieces of legislation ever came to fruition. In fact, as Salon goes on to describe, of the 97 bills Kucinich has sponsored in the past 13 years, only three have become law. One of those was a bill "to designate the facility of the United States Postal Service located at 14500 Lorain Avenue in Cleveland, Ohio as the 'John P. Gallagher Post Office Building.'" Important stuff, obviously.

I've talked about this lately to the point where I'm blue in the face: An extreme point of view is typically its own worst enemy. It doesn't matter how noble your cause may be -- it's absolutely meaningless if you can't actually do anything about it. Ideals without results of any kind are essentially worthless.

And when it comes to this particular issue -- reforming our broken health care system -- it's not just impractical and unthinkably stupid to stand in the way of major progress in favor of holding out for some legislative Shangri-la; it's flat-out immoral.

As with Bob Martinez all those years ago, I can respect Kucinich's stand, but there's no way in hell I can support it.


drater said...

Dennis isn't rejecting this bill because it isn't perfect. He's rejecting it because it's worse than the status quo (mandatory health insurance?) and lets Democrats pretend to have accomplished something when all they've done is given the insurance lobby a nice big windfall.

Kucinich has never been afraid to point out that the emperor has no clothes. Yeah, that doesn't make him very popular, but I consider that an indictment of Congress, not Kucinich.

VOTAR said...

I was about to say what drater said, but then drater said what drater said.

So, yeah. What drater said.

Chez said...

I agree that the bill is far from perfect. And that it gives too much to the insurance industry -- but it will save lives and provide decent health care to millions, and that has to be the above-all concern. Scrapping the whole thing will do far more harm than good, particularly since you're not likely to get much better than this.

And Salon's really good point -- why it singled out Kucinich is that his principled stands have rendered him completely ineffectual. He lives in a fantasy world that's been proven time and time again will never exist in his lifetime. Sorry, but it's a fact.

Schwa Love said...

I liked Kucinich for a while, until I realized he was the congressional equivalent of the guy in his mid-forties bragging about how he, "Never sold out, maaan," while he's hopping from job to job, usually losing them over something stupid like refusing to wear a hairnet.

Jester said...

There was a terrific analysis piece a few weeks back in Time (I believe) that compared Obama and Bush in terms of getting their legislative priorities pushed through Congress.

It basically stated that Bush was successful and Obama to date is not because Bush would start with these ridiculously, ludicrously far-right proposals and would "compromise" to something strongly right-of-center after much argument and whining. Meanwhile, Obama *starts* from something just barely left-of-center, and has nowhere to compromise to except to center or to right-of-center.

The piece suggested that health care reform would have been much more successful *and* would have looked more like what Obama wanted it to look like had Obama *started* the process by proposing something ridiculously socialist and only "compromising" down to something more like what he actually started with. Instead, he started with what he really wanted.

If that's the case (and it was an intriguing theory to me), maybe Kucinich as President wouldn't be all that bad.

Bush: "I want to invade Iraq and I want to feed the invading soldiers with 100,000 barbequed babies."
Congress: "Whoa! Whoa! Whoa! You can't do that!"
Bush: "Fine. I'll compromise. Take out the part about the babies."

Obama: "I want a reasonable health care system where people have a fall-back if insurance companies refuse to cover them."
Congress: "Whoa! Whoa! Whoa! You can't do that!"
Obama: "Uhhh... please?"

Imaginista said...

A. Fecking. Men. Chez, I could not agree more. It's been overused of late, but it definitely applies to this post, "Perfect is the enemy of good."

Vermillion said...

That does make a frightening amount of sense, Jester. As we know, most, if not all, people in Congress just want to look like they are doing something. So of course they are going to shout down just about anything that doesn't fit their talking points perfectly. It is like target shooting: you know gravity is going to pull down th bullet over time, so you aim high enough to compensate.

Obama really would have been more effective if he was even half as bad as Fox new...sorry, Fox Opinion makes him out to be.

But the sad part is that he wouldn't even have to do that if the party he threw in with could realize that it is okay to win every once in a while.

MPP said...

The lesser of two evils is still evil!


Mart said...

I am with drater & Jester. Blue Dogs and Obama are center right. As a result; single payer - what seems to work best for the rest of the world, was off the table at the git go. Why not back a Kucinich bill, then compromise for a strong single payer. They score the best from OMB. Instead we end up with no public option, let alone single payer. Also, not so sure any bill is better than no bill. I think this bill will stink things up more than cleans up. Put dems out of office and kill all social programs for 20 years if true.

VOTAR said...

I was about to say what Jester said, but then Jester said what Jester said.

So, yeah. What Jester said.

C.L.J. said...

The bill as it is, is worthless. It will not do anything to actually reduce health care costs. Nada. Zip.

Instead, it forces everyone to dump their limited means into a system that they still won't be able to afford to use.

Me, I spent three years working in a hospital, billing insurance companies and trying to meet contractual obligations while settling patient's claims, and I can tell you that until we have a national health care system, we're not going see any drop in costs.

Ref said...

I always have to laugh at the "Department Of Peace" idea, which gets surprising amounts of support on the left. You propose a new cabinet department to do...what? It's to do the things that State, Commerce, and Defense do when you have a rational set of humans in the White House doing the appointing. People on the left seem to assume that said department will be theirs forever, never imagining what kind of narrow-minded, nepotistic hacks a George bush would fill it with.

Clay said...

I'm with drater, Votar, Jester and CLJ...

This bill is the equivalent to firemen rushing into a burning house, tossing around some gasoline, then gesturing towards the door. Yeah, sure...thanks a lot, but you made the problem fucking worse, and I'm still not guaranteed to get out.

The "fix it like Social Security" argument doesn't work, either, because the formation of SS didn't hand over $70 billion a year to an industry whose survival depends on it never getting any better.

What's really curious to me about all of this is: why on earth is the Democratic establishment is so determined to pin this on Kucinich if it goes down in flames? It'll take 38 House Democrats voting against it for it to fail, so why not focus all that rage on the other 37, like the Stupak bloc, who are opposing for reasons that are completely contrary to (allegedly) Democratic positions? Fascinating, that.

Clay said...

Oh yeah, forgot to add:

The extreme view is vital, or the spectrum gets skewed. No one could argue that we certainly have a pants-load of extremists on the right; without people like Kucinich, the goalposts keep moving rightward until the Texas BOA declares Reagan a communist.