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The Progressive Paradox


In the election of 2008, the Democratic Party swept into power in one of the most amazing electoral sweeps in American history.  Not only capturing the White House and simple majorities in Congress, the Democrats, if unified, could override virtually any attempt by the Republicans to delay or stall their agenda.  Therein, however, lies the problem.  Unlike the Republicans, the Democrats have never really managed to unify their party or their party officials.  That trend continues in Washington today, and has been made abundantly clear during the recent debates and negotiations over health care reform.

The paradox faced by the progressive elements in American politics is an interesting one.  Progressive doctrine generally calls upon logic and reason, making changes and policies that are focused on domestic problems.  Progressives call for environmental protection, green energy, enhanced educational programs and health care, among other things.  The Republicans (and Neoconservatives) tend to focus on national security issues, foreign and military affairs.   The general public can usually be swayed with emotional arguments regarding the need for military action and policies theoretically aimed around national security, especially in the post-9/11 era.  Neoconservative demagogues have used that emotional appeal to pass enormous amounts of legislation and create huge national deficits.  Those deficits are now being used as arguments against items on the progressive agenda.

Where the progressives have failed, and are continuing to fail, is in the area of properly framing the debates in Washington and in the general public.  The Democrats in Congress (and the White House) are falling into the conservative trap, allowing them to frame the debate on health care reform in terms of budgets and the economy, instead of in the philosophical realm where the debate really belongs.  Health care for all Americans isn’t, and shouldn’t be, an issue of economics.  It is an issue of what is morally correct.  At the point of its inception nobody questioned the billions of dollars spent on the war in Iraq nor did they question the trillions of dollars that have been spent on “Homeland Security” over the past 8 years.  Following 9/11 Americans felt fear, and the neoconservatives used that fear to propel their agenda through an easily manipulated public.

The fiscal debate that is bogging down the effort to reform health care in this country is a political sham, and the conservative elements of the Democratic Party are fueling that resistance by playing into those factors.  There are two issues that should be addressed in the health care debate:  First, should every American have access to affordable, quality health care?  Second, how should we deliver that?  The answer to the first question is an unequivocal YES, and to the second, it is obvious that the free market has failed in this regard.  In order to ensure quality health care for all Americans, government action is necessary.

If the progressives currently in office truly wish to enact the reforms they espouse, they need to appeal to the American people on a more philosophical premise.  Most Americans believe that everyone should have access to affordable, quality health care.  That should end the debate.  Reform is necessary, start the process of enacting that reform.  The progressives need to take a page out of the conservative playbook and sell their reform on the idea of it, and get away from the trap of fiscal debate.