The Happy Dance of Richard Kirsch


Every once in a while, Richard Kirsch, does a “happy dance” article celebrating his own Health Care for America Now campaign for health care reform, whose outcome of course was the wonderful bill legislated by the Congress last Spring. Kirsch, who is now a Senior Fellow at The Roosevelt Institute, posted his latest happy dance at The Nation, whose “liberal media bias” was nowhere in evidence near his article.

I have only a few comments to make on his description of the process of bringing this “progressive victory” to us all, since, no doubt, Kirsch is the leading expert on this process. However, I will say something about an aspect of the process which he’s neglected to describe and then go on to talk about the results of his noble efforts.

On process, Richard fails to talk about the successful efforts of HCAN to work with the Obama political team and other “progressive” organizations in Washington, to take Medicare for All “off the table” as an option that would receive serious consideration in Congress. HCAN persuaded most other progressive organizations based in Washington with significant funding to shut up about single-payer and get behind the public option proposal.

At first a comprehensive version of a public option bill outlined by Jacob Hacker was used to seduce the left organizations. It was claimed that it would be much more acceptable to the health insurance industry than single-payer, and had a much better chance to pass. Then as the public option alternative was de-fanged, a little more at each stage of the political process, HCAN held the coalition of progressive organizations together, in the “veal pen,” and prevented the resurrection of single-payer as a viable alternative.

In order to carry out its effort, HCAN and its predecessor organization, The Herndon Alliance conducted biased polling, manipulated the media, used its very substantial funding to flood the media with PO-based stories, did its best to label single-payer advocates as “unrealistic,” and, generally, to tell people that “the perfect is the enemy of the good,” while preparing to support legislation that was very far from being either perfect or good.

The story of the efforts and manipulations of HCAN, the “bait-and-switch tactics;” the lack of honesty with the public about the continued diminution of the public option as the legislative process moved forward; it’s unwillingness to say a loud “no” as the bill moved farther and farther away from either single payer, or the original public option compromise, and closer and closer to its final state as a pure bail-out for the insurance industry, delivering very little value to people, can be traced at the Physicians for a National Health Program (pnhp) web site. Please read Kip Sullivan’s many blogs to see a picture of real perfidy on the left, and to understand that the worst thing that could have happened to the left’s campaign for national health insurance was to have it led by HCAN and its objective of getting the Public Option “sparkle pony” passed into law.

A more general account, from the viewpoint of George Soros’s favorite notion of reflexivity, of the multi-stage de-generative political process engaged in by the left, under the leadership of HCAN is here. In short, the process engaged in by HCAN, under Richard’s leadership was, in my view, nothing short of a progressive disaster. It is one we must never duplicate, if we value the continued existence of the progressive movement and progressive values.

Moving on to the outcome of HCAN’s process, the Administration’s final health care reform bill, which Richard is pleased to call a “victory;” I doubt that there are very many progressives who would characterize it that way outside the land of Washington organization spin. Most people blogging or commenting at FireDogLake certainly thought it was a defeat and that it was worse than no bill at all. Of course, everyone in the Medicare for All movement thought it was a great betrayal, and there were many in the blogosphere generally, who thought the bill was a great failure, and that progressives should have been hanging their heads in shame over it, rather than doing happy dances.

I posted my own opinion of the bill in a piece called “J’Accuse” here and here, before the final compromise occurred, but none of my central criticisms were blunted in the final bill. The bill that Richard Kirsch calls a victory, is one that fails to stop hundreds of thousands of fatalities, and millions of bankruptcies, and home foreclosures, before it goes into effect in 2014, and even then dooms people to an additional 127,000 fatalities between 2014 and 2019, if there is no further reform.

The outcome of Richard’s process, which he celebrates, is not the victory he also celebrates, but a travesty of progressivism, a true failure and a catalog of sell-outs to corporate interests at every step of the way. Further, Richard’s “happy dance,” constituting a self-evaluation of the significance of his own efforts, holding it forth as a model for others to follow is itself a travesty, reminiscent of the efforts of Dick and Lynne Cheney to recast Dick’s own legacy of failure.

One of the most disturbing trends in Washington in past years has been the increasingly frequent efforts of politicians and those associated with them to give themselves credit for outcomes that only they and very few others recognize as worthy of praise. It would be in much better taste, and also much more conducive to learning the real lessons of the past, if they waited for others to praise them, and until then, kept a respectful silence, before they began “the happy dance.”


  1. Chris Hagel on August 17, 2010 at 10:51 pm

    This was the Administration’s health care Bill virtually written by the health insurance industry and Big Pharma.
    This wasn’t the American’s health care Bill, that’s for damn sure.

    This Bill can be summarized as follows:

    The extremely imperfect is a friend of the extremely bad.

    • Katie R on August 17, 2010 at 11:45 pm

      Right on, Chris. Let’s keep working for single-payer Medicare for All!

      • Chris Hagel on August 24, 2010 at 11:36 am

        We’re very thankful for all your positive energy and effort, Katie.
        Thanks for keeping this righteous movement growing and thanks to the great staff at Healthcare-NOW!

  2. Ron Norton on August 19, 2010 at 12:28 pm

    Yes, the final bill was a huge betrayal of Progressive principles. It is the disastrous Massachusetts model writ large. Ultimately, the Individual Mandate is a giant gift to Big Insurance and Big Pharma. HCAN was the enemy, a red herring created to divide and conquer, it worked. Thanks for nothing Mr. Kirsch.

  3. Esther Confino on August 19, 2010 at 9:04 pm

    It is necessary to keep on refuting what Richard Kersch contends are victories. He should instead accept blame for the many weaknesses of the health care act. We do not need his “help” as we fight the battle for single payer/Medicare for All before health care costs bankrupt the US.

  4. Michael Cavlan RN on August 22, 2010 at 9:27 pm

    Wonderful article.

    So, deadly serious question.

    When will the progressive people (including Single Payer supporters) wake up to the undeniable reality that…….

    The Democratic Party is where progressive politics and social movements go to die?

    Deadly serious question..

    I have tired of the tough “progressive” talk and the “lets just talk about the issues here” bait and switch..

  5. our yugo helathinsurance plan on August 25, 2010 at 5:02 pm

    Would you say that the health insurance companies are receiving an entitlement from our government? The government is entitling them to make a profit while paying their executives extremely well. Like people on welfare and corporations on welfare, they are not paying any premiums into an insurance type trust fund (such as Medicare and Social Security). Medicare and Social Security are not entitlements, are they?