How to Talk About Health Care

John McCain will be spending the week promoting his health care scheme. The crux of the plan is to abolish employer-based health insurance and throw middle class working Americans to the wolves. It is market fundamentalism at its worst.

But I'm not here to talk about the policy details. I want to discuss message framing. During an election campaign, when our ultimate audience is persuadable voters, how do we talk about health care?

Let's first understand McCain's frame. His campaign understands one crucial fact (if nothing else): About 95 percent of the voters in the 2008 general election will be insured -- the uninsured don't tend to vote. Extensive polling and focus group research has shown, without a doubt, that people who are insured are more interested in preserving and improving their own coverage than in covering the uninsured. Americans want "quality, affordable health care." But of the two concepts, they are more focused on affordability than on quality.

McCain is trying to convince voters that Democrats are all about covering the uninsured while he, on the other hand, is all about lowering health care costs. Understand that this is a good strategy because it fits voters' stereotypes of Democrats (and is fairly true). To our credit, we focus on "universal" or "single-payer" coverage, "Medicare for all," "Canadian-style" health, and the like. But this is not good message framing for the 2008 election.

"Single-payer" makes persuadable voters -- the swing voters who will decide this election -- think of bureaucracy, inefficiency, and bad service (like the "typical" department of motor vehicles). You'd think that one way to sell health coverage would be to refer to one of our nation's great success stories -- Medicare. Unfortunately, Americans have become wary of Medicare, in large part because the Bush administration botched Medicare Part D, the prescription drug benefit.

And unfortunately, many Americans have a negative impression of the Canadian health care system. More important -- because it applies to more than just health care -- Americans are not persuaded by comparisons to other nations. If they were, we'd already have single-payer health care, strict gun control, and voting rights for ex-offenders, and we would have abolished the death penalty and signed the Kyoto treaty on global warming years ago. Americans want an American solution. (You're going to hurt your eyes if you roll them like that.) This is politics; just go with the flow. Evoking national pride helps us enact programs that benefit our fellow citizens -- so just do it.

But, you respond, these voters are wrong! We need to educate them about the merits of single-payer, Medicare, and the Canadian system, you say. I'm sorry, but politics doesn't work that way. You can't change people's minds in the course of a campaign -- that takes years and there's not enough time. No, our goal is not to change minds, it is to convince voters that they agree with us already.

We do that by starting from a point of agreement -- where polls show that persuadable voters are on our side -- and lead them to see that our solution fits their preconceptions.

In the case of McCain's proposal, the key fact is that the tax provisions will encourage companies to drop health insurance as an employer-provided benefit. Fortune Magazine points this out by quoting an expert in the field: "I predict that most companies would stop paying for health care in three to four years," says Robert Laszewski, a consultant who works with corporate benefits managers.

Put another way, the McCain plan will cause businesses to drop health care benefits like a rotten egg from a picnic basket. The argument for McCain depends on the idea that once they cut health care benefits, corporations will increase our salaries to offset our loss! And no persuadable voter in America will believe this. So if you're middle-class in America, this plan should scare the sox off of you. This is Bush economics on steroids!

But also, look at it this way. There may be no more important ammunition in the fight against McCain than his health care scheme. If on Election Day voters truly understand this proposal, McCain will be defeated in a landslide.

So let's reframe the health care debate. It's not about Democratic coverage versus Republican cost-cutting. It's about McCain's radical scheme to dump our employer-provided health insurance coverage into a ditch.

McCain Shows Us How to Kill an Army

John McCain, who from the early 1980s worked hard to establish himself as one of the Senate's shining champions of Vietnam veterans' issues, completed his betrayal of the Iraq-era troops today. Brandon Friedman of has the details:

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What We Can Learn from Conservatives About Winning in Politics

Make no mistake: When the conservatives set out to take over America 30 years ago, they were working off of a well-thought-out plan.

The plan was put in place by a wide variety of thinkers -- but three of the main strategists were Howard Phillips, Richard Viguerie, and Paul Weyrich, each of whom wrote important books and papers laying out the goal of creating a conservative America, and showing specifically how the movement could make that happen.

The ideas in these plans went through various iterations through the decades; but their essential goals and intentions never changed much. And, as it turned out, they didn't have to: the plan worked so well and kept the conservative base so focused and engaged over the long term that it didn't need much more than an occasional refresher, or the odd subplan elaborating on how the main ideas should be applied in some specific domain.

Reading these plans now, as a progressive, it strikes me: We're now living in an America in which every institution is dominated by these guys. Every facet of our looming disaster was dictated by bankrupt conservative ideas; yet our very ability to visualize fresh alternatives has been constricted by the frames they deliberately laid around our language and discourse. Most of the country finds it hard to even contemplate or discuss our predicaments in anything but conservative terms. It's clear they've done more than merely mess up our country; they've also, quite intentionally, messed with our minds.

As it turns out, messing with our minds wasn't just one part of the plan; it was the essential goal of the entire plan of conquest. They used sociology, social psychology, linguistics, and a subtle understanding of human motivation to get into our heads and change the way we processed reality itself, in ways that made it impossible to question all the other things they were up to.

Ending conservative dominance will require us to undo the vast memetic and ontological damage they've wrought on two entire generations of Americans. We have no choice but to fight this fire with fire of our own. And the first thing we need to do is understand, very specifically, how they did it. Fortunately, this isn't hard: the basics are all laid out in their original written plans.

Last year, over at Talk2Action, Bruce Wilson dug up one of the most recent rewrites of Weyrich's version of the plan -- a 2001 manifesto published by the Free Congress Foundation, written by Eric Heubeck that concisely summarized and updated the essentials of the plan Weyrich had been promoting since the early 80s. Wilson rewrote the document -- mostly by replacing the word "conservative" with "progressive" and sprinkling in a few liberal philosophical points. The results are worth a careful reading, because in Heubeck and Weyrich's complaints and solutions, Wilson found a great deal of wisdom we can use about how to build a lasting progressive majority.

Over this and the next two posts, I'm going to revisit Weyrich and Heubeck's Free Congress manifesto, and lay out the specific lessons progressives can draw from the plans and strategies that drove 30 years of conservative movement-building. We'll get the map to the the battlefield they're really fighting on; and what it will take for progressives to engage them there and win. The same strategies that allowed them to take control of the country and change the shape of American history may, with some adaptations to our own liberal values, allow us to undo the damage as well.

The first post addresses the role ideas -- which ones they specifically chose to promote, and why -- played in the conservative renaissance, and should play in the coming progressive era as well. The second one will discuss the details of how these ideas are presented to the public. The last one discusses specific tactics that the conservatives used -- and we might consider emulating -- to embed their desired memes in the mass culture, ensuring their continued dominance of the discourse.

Many Tactics, One Goal: Promoting the Progressive Worldview

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Smirk of the Union

A small and beaten man spoke to Congress and the nation last night, convinced in his own mind he's a hero. Snoopy battling the Red Baron. Walter Mitty, imagining himself dying bravely before a firing squad.

For those who missed it, here's the Big Con run-down. Let me start with the facial expressions. Because, more than any of the words, they told the sad story.

The entrance: He raises both eyebrows puckishly, like the frat boy he is. Introduced by Speaker Pelosi, he reacts curiously to the wave of applause: he blushes. He actually thinks this applause is for him--they love me!!--and not a perfunctory gesture of respect for the office. He still thinks he is a great man, and that others think he is a great man. He looks about a thousand years old. He begins: "Seven years have passed since I first stood before you at this rostrum." Or that's what the transcript says he said. If you missed it live, what he actually said was, "...stood before yuh at this rostr'm...."

John Wayne taking on the desperadoes.

Then, the arrogant bastard, he makes a joke: "These issues"--he's named "peace and war, rising competition in the world economy, and the health and welfare of our citizens"--"deserve vigorous debate. And I think history will show we've answered the call." He gives the chamber that famous smirk, to let them know it's OK to laugh, even amid all the pomp: get it? These people keep insisting on debatin' with me. Washington! Bicker, bicker, bicker.

Then, he obliquely announces the speech's theme, also with a smirk: Bush's greatest hits. A golden trip down memory lane. He says, of public servants' job to "carry out the people's business," that "it remains our charge to keep." Dog whistle: this is the Methodist hymn that by which entitled his campaign book. Because remember: George Bush is a Christian Unleashing the "armies of compassion." Or it it this "army of compassion"?

Which brings up one of the creepiest features of the speech: "more than 2,600 of the poorest children in our Nation's Capital have found new hope at a faith-based or other non-public school. Sadly, these schools are disappearing at an alarming rate in many of America's inner cities." I didn't know--and perhaps the Constitution has something to say on this--it was the job of the U.S. government to fret over the disappearance of "faith-based" institutions. Well, our president now proposes we shore them up with "Pell Grants for Kids." Senator Clayborn Pell, a great man, now unfortunately suffers from Parkinson's disease, and probably lacks the wherewithal to slap the president in the face for the insult to his great progressive legacy.

I suppose we should also attend to the words, because this pathetic washout happens to be the most powerful man in the world, so the words he uses are important.

He repeated the Great Republican Lie of 2007, implying that the Democrats in the 110th Congress is obstructionist--"Let us show them that Republicans and Democrats can compete for votes and cooperate for results at the same time," he piously intoned.--when it's really himself and the Republican minority who are willfully obstructing, with an aggressiveness unmatched in modern history. He still trumpets his own disastrous Ownership Society rhetoric (How disastrous? See here) and barely acknowledges the massive economic pain Americans are feeling and our about to feel -- and only then to issue one more obstructionist threat, on the stimulus package: "The temptation will be to load up the bill. That would delay it or derail it." Mafia words: my way, or else.

But back, again, to the facial expressions. The most fulsome smirk came, I think, winding up to his promise, "If any bill raising taxes reaches my desk, I will veto it." He said something interesting, perhaps referring to the remarkable poll results consistently showing a majority of Americans believe Bush's tax cuts were not worth it, or that they would be glad to pay higher taxes if it meant healthcare for all Americans. Such national maturity--indeed any occasion to call Americans to some higher sacrifice--can only but be mocked by the smug bastard running our country. He said this: "Others have said they'd be happier to pay higher taxes. I welcome their enthusiasm. The IRS accepts both checks and money owners."

Cheney joins his smirk.

What else? There was his promise of an executive order canceling earmarks not voted out in the open--because, of course, now that the Democrats run Congress, procedural irregularity and pork-barrel spending has suddenly become a national crisis.

There was some fairy dust about making "health care more affordable and accessible for all Americans. The best way to achieve that goal is by expanding consumer choice, not government control." The Republicans' barks of approval at that one are guttural. He add that medical decisions must be "made in the privacy of your doctor's office, not in the halls of Congress."

About medical decisions made in callous insurance company cubicles, of course--which is to say, most medical decisions--he has nothing to say.

"Six years ago, we came together to pass the No Child Left Behind Act, and today no one can deny its results." No one can deny they suck. Read this.

"To keep America competitive into the future, we must trust in the skill of our scientists and engineers and empower them to pursue the breakthroughs of tomorrow"? Only if those breakthroughs accord with conservative dogma. Read this.

Perhaps later, I'll give you more on the fairy tales he's propounding our nation on its place in the world. I'll leave you with this one peace of jargon: "protective overwatch mission." That's the new Bushism for "We're staying in Iraq for ever." You'll be hearing it much more in the days ahead.

EPA Spews Auto Industry Propaganda

The recent holiday season is a reminder that among the most vile of creatures is the religious hypocrite on the taxpayer dole.

There are no doubt numerous examples that could be cited within the Bush administration, but top of mind this week would be Steve Johnson, administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency.

Ignoring all legal and technical evidence -- and the advice of his career experts -- Johnson sided with the car industry and rejected the request of California to enforce the state's landmark greenhouse gas standards for motor vehicles. (No fewer than 19 other states have already adopted these standards or are considering them, representing about half the U.S. population.) In fact, Johnson took action that his own legal team said was probably illegal.

To top things off, when it appeared that the story was about to leak (thanks to excellent reporting by The Washington Post), Johnson abruptly called an evening news conference by telephone to put his "spin" on the situation.

In the process, Johnson lied through his teeth to the media. Among other lies, Johnson claimed approving California's request would create a "confusing patchwork of state rules" (No, this is just auto industry propaganda. There would only be one standard that other states could adopt. So many had either done so or contemplating adoption, that it could have become a de facto national standard.). Johnson claimed that the standard would save less gasoline than the new fuel economy standards in the energy bill. (Another lie. The car companies opposed the California standards because they would require them to do more.) And the EPA chief gushed over his "world-class professional staff" at the same time that he froze them out of the decision-making process.

Instead, Johnson did what the White House wanted him to do, which was give a giant Christmas gift to the car industry, which had lobbied various White House agencies and even Vice President Cheney in an effort to kill the California request.

This compulsion to lie might be considered normal in a standard politician, but Johnson has postured that he is a devoutly religious man -- in fact, he even taped a promotional spot for an evangelical proselytizing organization known as Christian Embassy.

In that video tape, Johnson states that "I can't imagine doing this [job] without the Lord."

He also claims he meets with the group at his office early in the morning to "have a Bible study." (It's worth noting that Johnson claimed he was "too busy" to meet with Senator Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., before announcing the California decision.)

Ultimately, Johnson will be exposed for his mendacity in this matter. Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., is demanding all the internal documents and other relevant material -- and has warned EPA to "preserve all documents" related to the issue. And California and 15 other states are suing and likely will eventually win in court.

But it's worth pointing out that it's not the first time this EPA head has blatantly lied about a critical decision that helped polluting industry. In order to save industry money, last year Johnson set weak national standards for airborne soot -- a decision that will lead to many thousands of premature deaths. Even the mild-mannered head of EPA's science advisory board noted Johnson was "a little disingenuous" in claiming there was scientific doubt about what to do.

And soon Johnson will make yet another decision that could either save -- or take -- lives, since he is under a court order to announce a decision by March on new national air quality standards for ozone, or smog.

Last year, Johnson proposed a slight tightening of the standard -- though not as tight as unanimously recommended by his science advisers -- because scientific evidence is overwhelming that the current standards don't adequately protect the health of kids with asthma and many millions of other Americans.

But with a final decision looming, polluting industries have ramped up their lobbying activities. Prompted by the National Association of Manufacturers, 11 governors wrote to the EPA head, urging him to make no change in the current standards.

The lobbying blitz so alarmed Senator Tom Carper, D-Del., head of the Senate clean air subcommittee, that he sent Johnson a handwritten note urging him not to cave under political pressure.

Maybe Carper should have sent a Bible along.

The GOP Has Become the Party of Moral Depravity

Democratic Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan wrote a groundbreaking paper back in the 1960s about the alleged weaknesses of often female-headed African-American families. He described a culture of loose morals and indulgent self-destructive behavior which the right successfully demagogued into a decades long, thinly veiled racist attack on government welfare programs. The common wisdom was that welfare institutionalized and rewarded failure leading to an immoral social order. Throughout the period there were sustained conservative attacks on those who defended such programs and participated in the vast cultural transformation of the era, characterizing these behaviors as "moral depravity."

As recently as the early '90s, Moynihan himself was busily coining snappy slogans to illustrate liberalism's essential immorality, the most memorable being "defining deviancy down":

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The Art of the Hissy Fit

I first noticed the right's successful use of phony sanctimony and faux outrage back in the 90's when well-known conservative players like Gingrich and Livingston pretended to be offended at the president's extramarital affair and were repeatedly and tiresomely "upset" about fund-raising practices they all practiced themselves. The idea of these powerful and corrupt adulterers being personally upset by White House coffees and naughty sexual behavior was laughable.

But they did it, oh how they did it, and it often succeeded in changing the dialogue and titillating the media into a frenzy of breathless tabloid coverage.

In fact, they became so good at the tactic that they now rely on it as their first choice to control the political dialogue when it becomes uncomfortable and put the Democrats on the defensive whenever they are winning the day. Perhaps the best example during the Bush years would be the completely cynical and over-the-top reaction to Senator Paul Wellstone's memorial rally in 2002 in the last couple of weeks leading up to the election.

With the exception of the bizarre Jesse Ventura, those in attendance, including the Republicans, were non-plussed by the nature of the event at the time. It was not, as the chatterers insisted, a funeral, but rather more like an Irish wake for Wellstone supporters -- a celebration of Wellstone's life, which included, naturally, politics. (He died campaigning, after all.) But Vin Weber, one of the Republican party's most sophisticated operatives, immediately saw the opportunity for a faux outrage fest that was more successful than even he could have ever dreamed.

By the time they were through, the Democrats were prostrating themselves at the feet of anyone who would listen, begging for forgiveness for something they didn't do, just to stop the shrieking. The Republicans could barely keep the smirks off their faces as they sternly lectured the Democrats on how to properly honor the dead -- the same Republicans who had relentlessly tortured poor Vince Foster's family for years.

It's an excellent technique and one they continue to employ with great success, most recently with the entirely fake Move-On and Pete Stark "controversies." (The Democrats try their own versions but rarely achieve the kind of full blown hissy fit the Republicans can conjure with a mere blast fax to Drudge and their talk radio minions.)

But it's about more than simple political distraction or savvy public relations. It's actually a very well developed form of social control called Ritual Defamation (or Ritual Humiliation) as this well trafficked internet article defines it:

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Neocons Embrace Islamic Terror Group

During the week of October 22-26, an official announcement effuses, "The nation will be rocked by the biggest conservative campus protest ever - Islamo-Fascism Awareness Week, a wake-up call for Americans on 200 university and college campuses." Ringmastered by David Horowitz, this circus will be performing under the tent of something called the "Terrorism Awareness Project."

The purpose of this ballyhoolooza, we are told, is to confront the "Big Lies" of the Left regarding terrorism and militant Islam. Worthy subjects, to be sure. Indeed I would like to help the sponsors of the "wake-up call" promote awareness of them. Toward this end, let's consider the American Right's "special relationship" with one group of terrorists.

The U.S. State Department officially considers the Mujahedeen-e Khalq (MEK) a Foreign Terrorist Organization. While those honors date back to 1994, they've been renewed during the Bush years. Indeed in 2003 Foggy Bottom went further, including the National Council of Resistance of Iran -- an MEK alias -- under the terrorist designation. (The MEK is also known as the People's Mujahedeen.)

To make a long and bizarre story short, the MEK got its start in early 1960s Iran, helped overthrow the Shah in 1979, but quickly turned on the revolutionary government it helped bring to power. Employing an ideological blend of Stalinism and Islamism, the tactics of a paramilitary guerilla faction, and the organizational structure of a cult, the group went into exile, eventually making their home in Iraq in the mid-1980s. Not only did Saddam give the organization cover: he armed, funded, and utilized them for a variety of ends over two decades.

The group's wicked political brew was on spectacular display on the old MEK flag (since abandoned), with its sickle and Kalashnikov positioned beneath a Koranic verse. (Not -- to state the obvious -- that the mere presence of a Koranic verse in and of itself implies Islamist political commitments, but in this case the shoe very much fits.)

Here you have virtually everything the Right claims to oppose all rolled into one: Islamism, Marxism, terrorism, and Saddam. Naturally, then, neoconservatives would utterly deplore the MEK and everything it stands for, right? The MEK would in fact make an ideal target for Islamo-Fascism Awareness Week and Terrorism Awareness efforts, no?

Well, no. At least one of the carnival's acts, it turns out, is rather fond of the Islamo-Stalinist-terrorist cult group, and has repeatedly argued for the removal of the MEK from the State Department's list of terrorist groups and indeed urged the U.S. government to embrace it. Daniel Pipes, who will be speaking at Tufts on October 24th as part of the Horowitz high jinks, has made the MEK a recurring theme in his writings going back several years: here, here, and here.

Pipes has also gone to bat for the MEK right in the pages of Horowitz's house organ.

But Pipes is far from alone on the Right in championing the MEK. He co-authored the first piece linked to above with Patrick Clawson of the right-wing Washington Institute for Near East Policy. Right-wing commentator Max Boot has argued not merely for the removal of the MEK from the terrorist list but for funding and unleashing it to do battle with Iranian forces -- this while casually acknowledging that it is a "political cult." (More on Boot's disfigured views here.)

In some cases the MEK plays a stealth role in the media machinery of the American Right. What the FOX News Channel tells viewers about Alireza Jafarzadeh when he appears on its airwaves is that he is an "FNC Foreign Affairs Analyst." What you have to go to the FOX News website to discover, however, is that Jafarzadeh served "for a dozen years as the chief congressional liaison and media spokesman for the U.S. representative office of Iran's parliament in exile, the National Council of Resistance of Iran." But it is scarcely known that the sonorous-sounding National Council of Resistance of Iran is in fact a front name for the MEK.

Now, it's true that Jafarzadeh discontinued his post with the National Council of Resistance of Iran--but only when (and only because) its Washington office was forced to close in 2003 as a result of the State Department decision about it being a front for the MEK. It's not like he had a change of heart.

If you attend an "Islamo-Fascism Awareness Week" event, you might want to ask the speakers about this terrorist cult and whether they condemn it. Some of them might -- not all neoconservatives agree on the MEK. (See here and here for examples of right-wing criticism of the outfit -- though the lines of argumentation are sometimes bizarrely convoluted.)

But the fact that several prominent American conservatives have cozied up to an Islamist-Stalinist cult that was on Saddam's payroll and the State Department considers a terrorist organization -- this raises serious questions (to put it mildly) about the Right's bedfellows and the calculus that determines them.

It suggests the need for a little more terrorism awareness.

The Right Plays to its Nativist Base

So Republican candidates were busy finding better things to do this week than appear at a forum where they could debate minority issues. Rudy's excuse was the best: he had to go off and hobnob with Bo Derek.

Digby's right, as usual: It's not just that the no-show reveals the undercurrent of racism that runs through the conservative movement like an ancient underground sewer -- the snub also played an important role in sending a signal to the conservative base.

We've known for some time that the GOP's fake inclusiveness -- hosting black children onstage at campaign events, trotting out big-name minorities in key public positions -- isn't actual minority outreach. It's part of its strategic appeal to fence-sitting white voters as somehow racially sensitive, while continuing to empower and indulge in wink-and-nudge racial politics that sends coded messages to the more naked racists in their base. It also gives them cover even as they pursue policies that reduce civil-rights enforcement on a broad scale.

A big part of playing that game is to keep the signals going to the base. Sometimes it's plain old race- and gay-baiting, couched in ways that let them erect flimsy facades of deniability. At others, it's making subtle snubs like this week's to make sure no one's deluded into thinking that defending white privilege isn't the first and most important job on the right's agenda.

So in the meantime you get a broad range of right-wingers, from Rush Limbaugh to Glenn Beck to Bill O'Reilly,, and all points in between, finding themselves increasingly comfortable coming out and saying things that no one in their right mind would have found acceptable or reasonable as recent as a decade ago. And the troops are taking note; they're even openly frothing along with their icons at the very thought of an African American running for the presidency.

The big opening for this shift in the dialogue towards near-open acceptance of old-fashioned bigotry is the immigration debate:

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Getting to the Bottom of the SCHIP Debate

The State Children's Health Insurance Program battle -- soon to heat up once Bush vetoes a bipartisan compromise and attention turns to the politically tenuous House Republicans -- is about two things.

One, of course, is the children themselves: 6 million currently covered under SCHIP (less if conservatives get their way) and 9 million still uninsured.

Without more health insurance, more kids will get sick and die. Period.

Conservatives, being compassionate and all, will swear up and down they don't want more sick kids. They just don't want "big government" to deal with them.

Now, I could give you some defensive arguments to insist SCHIP really isn't "big government." States take the lead in implementing the program. Private insurers generally deliver the coverage.

Which would be true. But that would leave out a critical part of the program's success: our federal government.

We all chip in and fund children's health insurance through our federal government. And we make sure the coverage is decent by regulating the private companies involved.

In return, we all save money and strengthen our economy as kids get more preventative care, instead of waiting for grievous illness to take them to the ER.

This is not theory. While more and more adults have had to go without health insurance, SCHIP has increased the percentage of kids with health insurance.

It is simply a proven success.

And local media has begun introducing their readers to kids who are alive and well thanks to that success.

None of this was happening, or would happen, without government -- without us citizens calling on our federal government to invest our taxes and set ground rules to solve this problem.

Having said that, this is not really a debate of government versus no government.

This is a debate between good government and bad government.

As I wrote in an earlier post:
Bush and fellow conservatives are just fine with government subsidies to prop up Medicare Advantage private plans, even though they cost taxpayers more than the traditional Medicare public plan.
They are just fine keeping the children's insurance program, so long as we underfund it and millions remain uninsured.
As Robert Borosage commented earlier: "faced with a choice of providing children with health care or protecting the profits of private insurance companies, the president chooses the latter."
Conservatives fear losing the SCHIP debate because they fear losing the entire health care debate. This fear is unchanged from 1993, when they decided they had to kill universal health care, because "[i]ts passage will give the Democrats a lock on the crucial middle-class vote and revive the reputation of the party."

Politics over policy. Party over people. Bad government over good government.

SCHIP is not health insurance for all. It's just a rare bright spot in our overall inefficient, convoluted, patchwork, private-sector dominated health care system.

Expanding SCHIP does not automatically get us to quality, affordable health insurance for all.

Nor does defeating SCHIP -- and further upsetting the public by worsening our health care system -- ensure conservatives (despite their delusions) that they can stop the momentum for universal health insurance. Perhaps the opposite.

And that bigger debate is rapidly coming, as Sen. Hillary Clinton's new health care proposal joins plans from Sen. Barack Obama and former Sen. John Edwards.

To address the myriad of domestic problems that Americans want solved, including our shoddy health care system, we need effective government.

To win these debates with the public, we need to be able to propose solutions that involve our government.

That means when we have a program where our government has shined, we must praise it for that very reason.

The fundamental question that is always before the public is: whose people and which philosophy knows the difference between good government and bad government?

We must make it clear: if you're against SCHIP, you don't know good government. And you can't be trusted to lead on the challenges we all face.

More information on the State Children's Health Insurance Program »

Happy Holidays!