"Of all the forms of inequality, injustice in health care is the most shocking and inhumane." -- Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Pressured by progressive activists who objected to the tepid language in a draft document prepared by the Barack Obama campaign, the Democratic platform-writing committee reworked the party's official agenda Saturday to include a clear commitment "that every American man, woman and child be guaranteed to have affordable, comprehensive health care."
The official draft, which was adopted at the platform committee's gathering in Pittsburgh, will now be submitted to the Democratic National Convention for approval.
The platform is likely to adopted without a fight at the Denver convention where Illinois Senator Barack Obama will be nominated for president.
What is significant about the platform committee's endorsement of language calling for guaranteed health care for all is that the statement goes a good deal further than the Obama campaign would have preferred.
Obama's camp, which dominates but does not entirely control the platform-writing process, wanted to avoid talk of guarantees. It also wanted language that was friendlier to the insurance industry. Progressive Democrats for America, working in conjunction with a number of Pennsylvania organizations and Democratic leaders that support single-payer health care, pushed for a deeper commitment to health-care reform.
PDA collected signatures from almost 500 convention delegates - including backers of Obama and his chief rival for the nomination, New York Senator Hillary Clinton - urging the platform committee to commit the party to:
* "Guarantee accessible health care for all."
* "Create a single standard of high quality, comprehensive, and preventive health care for all."
* "Allow freedom of choice of physician, hospital, and other health care providers."
* "Eliminate financial barriers that prevent families and individuals from obtaining the medically necessary care they need."
* "Allow physicians, nurses and other licenced health care providers to make health care decisions based on what is best for the health of the patient."
PDA brought a key Obama backer, House Judiciary Committee chair John Conyers, D-Michigan, along with Donna Smith, a "star" of the Michael Moore documentary "SiCKO," to Pittsburgh to appear with Pennsylvania single-payer activists in Pittsburgh to promote the package.
Bob Remer, a Clinton delegate from Chicago who is a member of the platform committee, introduced the PDA language as a proposed amendment Saturday.
The activists did not get all the language they wanted, and they certainly did not get the commitment to single-payer that Democrats should be campaigning on six decades after Harry Truman ran and won on a promise to develop a national health-care program. But PDA and its allies did force the Obama camp into negotiations that resulted in the addition of stronger language to the official document.
Also added, at the behest of Clinton backers, was a statement that, "There are different approaches within the Democratic Party about how best to achieve the commitment of universal coverage."
Conyers, the sponsor of HR 676, the United States National Health Insurance Act, called the language shift "huge."
Tim Carpenter, the national director of PDA, said, "We were happy to discover the level of support among committee members for guaranteed health care and are pleased that a compromise was reached, but we won't be satisfied until HR 676 is passed by Congress."
Both Conyers and Carpenter are right.
The real work within the Democratic party and in Congress remains unfinished.
But the strengthening of the platform language is significant. It shows that the Obama campaign, which is often too rigid for its own good, is willing to listen to the left - and even to bend a bit. That's the good news from the fight over a platform that is, by and large, a tepid document.
While the 51-page draft platform document is somewhat more poetic than the uninspired Democratic document of four years ago, it is no more of a fighting manifesto.
But, thanks to PDA, Conyers and their allies, grassroots Democrats will be able to say that their party is committed to health care for all.
John Nichols' new book is The Genius of Impeachment: The Founders' Cure for Royalism. Rolling Stone's Tim Dickinson hails it as a "nervy, acerbic, passionately argued history-cum-polemic [that] combines a rich examination of the parliamentary roots and past use of the 'heroic medicine' that is impeachment with a call for Democratic leaders to 'reclaim and reuse the most vital tool handed to us by the founders for the defense of our most basic liberties.'"
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