The Public Option vs. the Ghost of Jefferson Davis HR 3962

Senator Harry Reid (D-Nevada)

Senator Harry Reid (D-Nevada)

“The spirit of Jefferson Davis lives in the 1984 Republican Platform” – Segregationist Senator Trent Lott (R- MS)

I’d like to say that progressives have won a great victory with Harry Reid’s decision to include a public option in the bill that will go to the floor of the Senate. Having made phone calls with Organizing For America encouraging citizens to call their Senators and pressure them not to accept anything less than a bill containing a public option with “no triggers, no co-ops, no delays”, I guess I’m also supposed to say that it’s a major victory that this version of the bill does not contain Olympia Snowe’s “trigger”. But in considering what compromise measure Reid DID include in the bill to make it more acceptable to the right, and to attract votes that he isn’t going to get and doesn’t need, I am deeply disturbed by the way that we chose to identify this “trigger” as the deal-breaker at the expense of fighting something else which is indeed wholly unacceptable.

To be perfectly honest, and I know I’m going to make many of the people reading this angry, I never understood what the real danger was of accepting the trigger in the spirit of bipartisanship if that’s what it took to get the votes of a few Senators like Snowe. Yet so long as Democrats held 60 Senate seats, there was no apparent need to get a weaker bill in exchange for votes they didn’t need, so I kept it to myself until now. But with the acceptance of an alternative compromise of an “Opt-out” provision that can allow right-wing governors not just to delay, but forever kill the public option against the wishes of millions of their uninsured and under-insured constituents, I can hold my tongue no longer.

Let’s look at how these two potential compromises measure up. In his September 9 speech, the President emphasized that it was not the creation of the public option that would be a nonnegotiable line in the dirt, but the principle that if private insurers could not provide affordable insurance then the government was going to step in and give people a choice. The trigger may weaken the bill, but it is consistent with this principle. The opt-out provision is not.

Most progressives, myself included, would prefer to say that “when” (rather than “if”) private insurers fail, the public option will kick in based on the trigger. But suppose we’re wrong. If the public option is not triggered, it will be because the simple threat of its kicking in has been hung like the Sword of Damocles over the heads of the private insurers forcing them to do what only the public option (or its threat) can make them do: cut their profits. Either way, those Americans who need an affordable option win.

But what if the compromise is to allow individual states, rather than individuals, to decide whether people get to participate? Isn’t it rather obvious what will happen? The millions of Americans who need it, but have the misfortunate of living in a red state, will have this option forever taken away from them by the right-wing confederate leaders.

Why can’t Harry Reid see this? Is he unaware of the extent of the Republican Party’s veneration of the confederate interpretation of the Constitution? That it has escalated past Trent Lott’s determination that America would be a better place if we’d elected Strom Thrumond President in 1948, and reached the point at which it is no longer just the confederate view of race, but also of secession, that is being openly preached by governors like Rick Perry in Texas ? Or is he simply misinformed enough about history to believe that it has vindicated John Calhoun’s theory that “states’ rights” are what make individuals free from tyranny?


Whichever one it is, the opt-out provision has got to go. I’d be the last person to advocate going for a weaker bill if we’ve already got the votes, but if the trigger is the cost of eliminating a wholly unacceptable provision that exists in the present bill being hailed as a “victory” by progressives, then so be it. Not wanting to wait for the public option to be triggered is one thing, but we can’t let it be forever killed by the ghost of Jefferson Davis that is so openly worshipped by today’s Republican Party.

For more information on this legislation go to

Mark Bowen
Long Beach Community College District Board

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