Late last week, Firedoglake highlighted this stunning exchange between activist Mike Stark and retiring GOP Rep. John Shadegg over health care:
SHADEGG: Both the House and Senate bills contain mandates that compel, or would compel you and I as individual Americans to buy insurance from Americas private insurance industry. I think America's private insurance industry is the problem...
STARK: So are you for a public option?
SHADDEG: Well, you could better defend a public option than you could defend compelling me to buy a product from the people that have created the problem. America's health insurance industry has wanted this bill and the individual mandate from the get go. That's their idea. Their idea is "look, our product is so lousy, that lots of people don't buy it. So we need the government to force people to buy our product. And stunningly, that's what the Congress appears to be going along with. Why would they do that?...The notion of forcing Americans to buy a product they don't want to buy from companies that aren't doing it right right now is goofy...Making the IRS the bill collector for Aetna and the rest of America's insurance companies...Blue Cross/Blue Shield and United...isn't the way to do it.
Let's first get the issue of Shadegg's integrity out of the way here - he's obviously a hypocrite. This is a lawmaker who could have voted for the public option that he suggests has value, and could have voted for much stronger overall health care reform bills in the past.
However, hypocrisy by a politician is hardly interesting in an age when President Obama has broken so many explicit promises it's hard to even count them anymore. What is far more notable is the substantive argument Shadegg is voicing - it's both accurate and politically telling.
Shadegg is absolutely correct that "America's private insurance industry is the problem." He is also correct that this legislation is exactly what that industry wants - not, as the Orwellian White House spokesholes insist, some great victory over that industry. And Shadegg is right that compelling people to buy an expensive (and faulty) product from a private corporation without giving people at least the choice of a public product is unprecedented and grotesque.
If the health care bill is not improved, this is exactly the kind of argument the Republicans will make in the 2010 and 2012 election. And I say that not just because one lone GOP congressman is making the argument, but because you are starting to hear a similar case being made by top Republican Party officials.
Case in point is the interview I did last week on my AM760 radio show with Colorado Republican Party Chairman Dick Wadhams. You can listen to it here - and specifically, listen to him rail on the insurance industry.
Again, it's obviously disingenuous coming from Republicans as the GOP has been shilling for the insurance industry for years. However, that doesn't mean it won't be powerful. It will be - and it will be precisely because the Democrats - in weakening the health legislation - have allowed Republicans to potentially outflank them (at least image-wise) as the populist party of the little guy.