Sunday, September 6, 2009

Bill Moyers on the Bill Maher Show

Bill Moyers appeared on the Bill Maher Show on August 28. As you can see from my post on a documentary that appeared on his show, I'm a big fan of Bill Moyers, and I think he's one of the clearest and most principled thinkers in the American left (my girlfriend thinks I have a man crush on him, haha). This appearance shows Moyers at his best, touching on health care, government and social justice, money in politics, and his past in the Kennedy and Johnson administrations. You should go ahead and watch all 3 parts of the interview on Youtube, but I'd like to list some of his best points.

Moyers believes that true reform in health care and other areas is limited by the pervasive influence of corporations in both parties. He traces this back to the Buckley v. Valeo Supreme Court decision in 1976, which ruled that spending money is a form of free speech. As a result, both parties, not just the Republicans, answer to corporate influence more than to average citizens. Moyers thinks that the problem is the Democrats even more than Republicans. The Republicans have stood for monied interests for some time, but Democrats used to stand for working people and the middle class. In 2006 and 2008 they were elected on promises of progressive reforms, but because they are influenced by corporate interests, they deliver only tepid reforms that pose little threat to the status quo. Bill identifies White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel as the paragon of that particular type of Democrat. He and several other commentators have suggested that Rahm actually wants to water down health care reform, clean energy legislation, and financial regulation to ensure that affected corporate interests continue to donate to Democrats for the 2010 election cycle.

In the interview Moyers frames health care in a most excellent way. He states that our country is the only one that doesn't view universal health care as a means of social justice. I couldn't agree with him more that access to health care is a moral issue, and needs to be portrayed that way to achieve universal coverage. Maher asks him what he thinks would be a metaphor for our society than "a rising tide lifts all boats." Moyers responds, "we're all in the same boat." I've never heard anyone summarize progressive values that succinctly. The fact that 18,000 Americans die each from lack of health insurance is a moral failing of our society at large.

The last theme of this interview that really blew me away was his discussion of presidential leadership styles. He praises the tenacity of the Democrats in their battle to enact Medicare. President Truman first proposed the idea in the early 50's, and was shot down, but because he was so framed the policy it such a principled way, he set up LBJ to finally pass it in the 60's. He wants Obama to be a Teddy Roosevelt, who railed against corporate influence in politics, rather than a Grover Cleveland, a President elected to bring the robber barons under control and instead acceded to them. Unlike those who say the Democrats should take what they can get on health care, Moyers would rather see Obama go down fighting that pass a half-assed bill that doesn't bring health care industry under control. In that sense he could be a Truman to a later President's LBJ (ideally pushing Medicare-For-All!).

He unifies all these concepts in calling for a movement of progressives to not just push for reforms but directly challenge the President. I agree. Progressives need to stop seeing their work as "supporting President Obama's agenda" and start seeing it as "pushing Obama and the Democrats to stand up for ordinary Americans and confront monied interests."

Side note: The Progressive Change Campaign is starting to do just that. They are one of the few groups directly challenge Obama to stick to his campaign promise to include a government-run public option to compete with insurance companies (because requiring people to get insurance without a public option will be expensive for consumers and the government and basically constitute corporate welfare for the insurance industry). Sign their petition to the President here, and let's start demanding that the President be more progressive!

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