"I now officially hate all politicians."
This was my first thought yesterday when I read the news flash on The Huffington Post that Rep. Dennis Kucinich had reversed his position and would now vote "yes" on the health insurance reform bill now making its torturous way to the House floor for passage or deeming or anointing with oil...whatever the Democrats have decided to do to get the damn thing to President Obama's desk in the next few days.
It occurred to me last week when I posted "In Praise of Dennis Kucinich" that, even as I was praising his principled opposition, he might well change his vote.
Fearsome pressure is being brought on hold-out Democrats, and Kucinich in particular was the recipient of some of President Obama's special brand of attention, spending a couple hours with him on Air Force One on the way to a health-care reform rally pointedly held in Kucinich's Ohio district last Monday. Whatever was said, whatever has happened in the intervening days, it was enough to turn Kucinich to the "yes" column...even as he continues to say he's unhappy with almost every aspect of the bill.
Upon careful consideration, I can say I have no cause to be surprised. Politicians are party loyalists above all, both because they believe in the party's basic ideology and because it is only with major party support that they can achieve and remain in office. And most politicians are absurdly deferential to the guy at the top. These forces were clearly at work on Dennis Kucinich.
In his press conference, Rep. Kucinich said he was retracting none of his voluminous criticisms of the plan, but he was still going to vote yes.
(He did tacitly retract earlier comments about President Obama's argument that Democrats would fix the bill after it was passed. “Fix it later, are you kidding?” Kucinich told Benjamin Sarlin of The Daily Beast in an interview last week. “If you don’t get it in the bill up front, it’s not going to happen.” Last night, he told Larry King "I will work with the president in getting this bill passed and the president has committed to work with me in seeing further health care reforms after this bill is out of the way.")
One of the reasons he cited in his press conference? "The transformational potential of his presidency, and of ourselves, can still be courageously summoned in ways that will reconnect America to our hopes for expanded opportunities for jobs, housing, education, peace, and yes, health care." he said in his statement. "We have to be very careful that the potential of President Obama’s presidency not be destroyed by this debate. And I feel, even though I have many differences with him on policy, there’s something much bigger at stake here for America, and that’s what I’d like people to think about,” he amplified during the post-statement Q&A.
So there it is: Dennis Kucinich isn't voting for a health care bill he hates; he's voting for the (thus far unseen) potential of the Obama presidency.
Now, it's anyone's guess as to why the Democrats are convinced that the passage of this bill will save their sorry behinds in November or elevate Barack Obama to the pantheon of the greats. Public opinion polls in recent days have shown that while most Americans agree with a few individual provisions, they don't like much of what they've seen or heard about the whole package, and are less than wowed by the way the process has unfolded.
Still, the Administration and the Democratic leadership believe that we'll all just forget all the bad stuff about 20 minutes after the final bill is signed into law and remember only that Democrats saved us all from dying in the streets when Election Day rolls around.
Or, maybe they don't really believe this. Maybe they're looking at the polling and figuring they're screwed and that this may be one of President Obama's only legislative achievements, so, no matter what obtuse parliamentary procedure they have to pull out of their collective rumps, they just have to get it done.
Whatever the case, one can't help but feel that this has long since stopped being about providing top-notch health care to all Americans at not-bankrupting prices. For the wrongs this bill package seeks to right, it nevertheless perpetuates the biggest wrong of all: a system that has already proven itself unworthy of the desperately ill people who seek care within it.
Instead, it's become about protecting a party and a presidency that are looking increasingly like they're heading towards life support.
Yup. I now, officially, hate all politicians.