[As a courtesy to our guests, please keep comments to the book. Please take other conversations to a previous thread. - bev]
Jerome Armstrong, Host:
Don’t Hope– Get Mad and Do Something!
The Progressive’s Guide to Raising Hell might struck you first, as it did me, as a sort of ‘path not taken’ over the past political cycle, but its also a path forward. Jamie Court understands the political landscape, exactly what happened, and how it could have been avoided. This is not a book that wallows in being right, but instead focuses on where to go next. Ballot measures play a large role. Many of the activists here, having just come out of activist participation in the Marijuana initiatives, will gain from the insights of this book.
How To Win Grassroots Campaigns
The main thrust of the book is to provide the reader/activist with the understanding of political tactics that work. How to win the battles over public opinion. Though Court comes at this from a progressive viewpoint, the truths and tactics he presents are non-ideological in their application and success. For this alone, for activists looking to make an impact, the book is worth studying as a textbook.
In short, Court provides the antagonist with tactics that have proved successful. There are tables and systematic approaches laid out (here’s one example that I blogged about recently ), such as “five steps necessary for any campaign to succeed at creating change” and “ten rules of populist power” that turn the tables against a powerful opponent. Court provides from his own experience for examples; most of that happens in California.
Tipping Point: How Obama lost the popular support
Healthcare is not the only focus of the book, but its a big one, and though Court talks about a lot of other issues, his insight around the healthcare issues is the passion. There’s been a lot of print about how in the world Democrats managed to lose popular support this past political cycle. Court points to the mandatory purchase of corporate healthcare as the tipping point. It was a tin ear moment when Democrats sided with the corporations over people– the ‘third rail’ of populism.
Following Scott Brown’s victory in MA, partisans embraced the unpopular mandate with a maddening suicidal tribalism. Obama had stridently campaigned against the unpopular mandate, but now it was necessary “to save Obama’s presidency” they argued. And to make their point, they threatened exile to naysayers and a primary to any obstructionists.
Not the Change We Voted For
This is the most anti-corporate environment in modern history, and yet the health insurance industry has occupied a central seat at the table on both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue. The industry’s demand that all Americans be forced to buy private health insurance policies turned President Obama against his campaign promise of not imposing such a mandate to purchase private policies. The insurers demand that the public not even have choice on their purchases, of a public option to the private market, won over the Senate, and President Obama. Insurers are the enemy. Public opinion polls prove it. Obama lost a lot of public support for his healthcare position because he spoke out of both sides of his mouth. Public Enemy No. 1 cannot be tarred and feathered in the court of public opinion, then allowed to write the reform plan in the back rooms of Congress and the White House. Its not authentic, and the public has perfect radar for the lack of authenticity.
Polls consistently show Americans have been very clear in their resolve for strong reforms of the insurance industry and a public alternative to it, but not for being forced to buy private insurance. My consumer group polled Americans on whether they should be required to buy health insurance, and less than 15 percent supported the notion. Somehow, though, this is the centerpiece of the new federal law.
There is some interesting background information on Candidate Obama exploiting the popular opinion against the mandate, that begs a lot of questions, given the flip-flop. Writes Court:
“California was on the cutting edge of the debate, and some of my arguments in a Los Angeles Times op-ed about the parallel to mandatory auto insurance laws later became the basis for Obama campaign statements. Obama said, “The reason people don’t have health insurance isn’t because isn’t because they don’t want it, its because they can’t afford it.” Obama had a platform. We had a populist message. The public had a strong opinion that turned out to be a defining difference in who became the Democratic nominee.
Flash forward to January 2010… the populous campaigner had given in… while he railed against the power of Washington on the campaign trail, he bowed to the big money donors at pivotal moments once he occupied the Oval Office. These critical turning points not only guaranteed healthcare reform, as written by Congress, would not be cost effective, but confirmed for the watchful public that Obama was not an authentic reformer.”
In hindsight Obama looks the candidate driven to win no matter what he has to say, and was willing to co-opt a progressive message because it was a winner. Hoping for change from Obama is pretty hopeless.
Left with that reality, Court proposes, as an alternative to candidate-driven politics, bringing about reform through ballot measures.
A Direct Democracy Toolkit: Ballot Box Laws
Court has been doing ballot measures for many cycles now, and he’s boiled a winning strategy down to 15 pages in a chapter entitled Direct Democracy (what a terrific name). If you ever want to get involved in a ballot measure, or give concise yet fantastic strategic input to one, then get a hold of this chapter. The “Rules of the Ballot Box Road” are given, “How to Write and Pass Your Own Ballot Box Law” are explained, and “The Five Steps for the Art of Change” are detailed.
Court’s solution to the healthcare debacle is to take up the issue of health insurance reform in 2012 and beyond, through ballot measures. He states that he is currently working on a public option ballot measure in California, two year prior to the mandatory health insurance laws taking effect.
The precedent he cites, for reforming healthcare, is the mandatory car insurance laws that were passed in the 1980′s, and the successful California ballot measure in 1988 by Harvey Rosenfield. Proposition 103 was a populist ballot measure that rolled back excessive rates, enforced refund checks to consumers, required insurance companies rates to conform to regulation thereafter, ended zip-code based auto insurance, and subjected the industry to anti-trust laws.
“Two dozen states with ballot measure processes offer Americans a similar opportunity to reign in private health insurers now that a national discussion of their vices has been aired, and mandatory, private health insurance will be the law of the land in 2014.”
Jamie doesn’t spell out beyond that, what sort of language and policy that such a ballot measure would take, so I’d be interested in hearing how he’s progressed along those lines.
I’d also like to point out that the analogy to car insurance is often made by proponents of the law, as a means of stating precedent. Libertarians though, will point out the obvious that owning a car is a choice, but becoming an adult is not. In Congress, Democrats argued that the individual mandate was not a tax, however, Obama’s administration, in attempting to argue the constitutionality of the law against its many challengers, now argues that it is a tax, enforceable by the IRS. The notion that a person will be succumbed to being taxed, merely by becoming an adult citizen, is certain anathema in the arena of popular support.
Its tough to guess how this Supreme Court comes down on the individual mandate, but that also is a major question mark of the law. On the other hand, establishment Republicans in Congress might just as likely be counted on to defund the measure from of its progressive taxation, while maintaining the individual mandate to buy corporate insurance. Obama’s already signaled his willingness to re-approach the law with Republicans to ‘make it better’ so, at least Court has the same thing in mind.
Repeal of mandatory health insurance is something that Court believes that progressives need to consider an option. He doesn’t bring it up in his book, but did in an email to me and in this Consumer Watchdog blog post. As a regressive taxation, it it the least popular provision of health reform, with between 70-80% in some polls showing opposition. I doubt Obama would have the stomach to veto such a repeal, but wonder if Republicans in Congress, or SCOTUS, really want to repeal that specific pro-corporate portion of it either.
I’m looking forward to hearing about the ballot initiatives, and in particular, hoping that Jamie has an update on the ballot process he’s embarked upon for 2012. He’s blogged recently on this issue, by pointing to the California election in 2012, where progressive populism won the day.