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Howard Dean Is a Genuine Hero: Taking on Corporate 'Centrists' Like Lieberman

Dean's attacks on the Lieberman-gutted health insurance "reform" bill are creating the political space for the final version to be better and more progressive.

I want to take a moment just to recognize what has been recognized before, but needs to be recognized right here and now one more time: Howard Dean is a genuine hero.

In coming out against the Lieberman-gutted health insurance "reform" bill, Dean is leveraging every shred of power he can muster to create the political space for the final bill -- whether passed now, or later after going back to the drawing board -- to be better and more progressive. He has made a compelling case that the bill "would do more harm than good," as he says in his Washington Post op-ed today -- and in doing that he has made the power struggle between Joe Lieberman's Palpatinian forces of insurance/drug industry darkness and the progressive movement far more symmetrical.

Before Dean's move, the fight was asymmetrical, as Chris Hayes noted in my interview with him on my radio show yesterday. Before Dean's move, Lieberman had the upper hand in that he was the only one who didn't seem to care whether he alone killed the bill by joining with Republicans for a filibuster. Now, though, Dean has said to progressive members of Congress that they should be OK killing this bill if that's what taking a stand for a better bill means. And you see some of them potentially starting to follow.

This is why the White House and the Beltway media is now publicly freaking out at Dean in a way they never freaked out on corporate Dems (Lieberman, Baucus, Nelson, etc.) who were previously obstructing the bill: Because Dean is threatening to change the dynamic that the Beltway was always counting on -- a dynamic that relied on progressives ultimately capitulating to the Joe Liebermans, the Rahm Emanuels, the insurance industry and the drug lobbyists. That dynamic only exists if progressive members of Congress -- and the larger progressive movement and general public -- believes passing the bill is more important than killing it to make it better. If they and we don't believe that, as Howard Dean doesn't and as new polls show we don't, then suddenly progressive members of Congress and the progressive movement can feel free to be as cutthroat as Lieberman himself.

We can feel free to risk sending a bad bill down to defeat in the cause of making it better -- because we know that the bill in its current, non-improved form is bad. And from that stand, we may get more progressive concessions before this thing is finally done. Just as the old dynamic was based on buying Lieberman's vote with insurance/drug industry concessions, this new Dean dynamic could means progressives forcing the leadership and the White House to, say, add back a public option back into this final bill as price for progressive votes.

Of course, there's debate about whether or not we think Dean is right on the substance -- about whether the bill is good or bad. I happen to think Dean is right -- I happen to believe that passing this awful bill is not worth it even if this awful bill has a few good things in it. Why?

Because we have the same president and the same Congress for at least another year and they will be forced to go back to the drawing board.

There is certainly a substantive rush to pass reform, what with thousands dying every year for lack of insurance. But there is not the political rush that seems to be the assumption in DC right now. That's a manufactured bullshit assumption -- the same one we heard when the very same set of bought-and-paid-for politicians used a financial crisis to rush through a Wall Street bailout with the very same "must pass it immediately" rationale. Now they're trying to use a health care crisis to rush through an insurance industry bailout.

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