By Ruth Conniff on January 19, 2010

The polls haven't closed yet, but the finger-pointing has begun.

In a post on Talking Points Memo headlined "Who's To Blame?" Bernard Avishai answers his own question: YOU ARE. Progressives, he suggests, are responsible if the Democrats lose Ted Kennedy's Senate seat in today's special election:

"The real question Democrats have to ask themselves is: how come the greatest piece of social legislation since Medicare is something a progressive Democratic candidate for Ted Kennedy's seat has to speak so defensively about?" Avishai writes. "And we can look no further than Howard Dean, and MSNBC, and Arianna Huffington, and, yes, some columnists at the Times and bloggers here at TPM--you know, who have lambasted Obama again and again since last March over arguable need-to-haves like the "public option," as if nobody else was listening."

That's right: by daring to suggest that lobbyist-pleasing health care legislation is less than the dream of universal health care the Democrats promised during the last campaign season, we progressives have sunk the Democrats' chances of ever passing health care reform.

According to Avishai, we have betrayed Obama by being insufficiently enthusiastic about Joe Lieberman's health care bill: "Meanwhile the undecideds are thinking: 'Hell, if his own people think he's a sell-out and jerk, why should we support this?’ “

On the other side, there is Jon Stewart, who mocks the whole narrative of the Massachusetts race: that the Democrats need a super-duper filibuster-proof majority in order to pass this weak, watered-down excuse for reform:

"Let me see if I have this straight," Stewart said last night. "You need to replace perhaps the most beloved liberal in the history of the Senate with a candidate that believes Curt Schilling is a Yankee fan. Because if this lady loses, the health care reform bill that the beloved late senator considered his legacy will die," Stewart said. "And the reason it will die is because if Coakley loses, Democrats will only have then an 18-vote majority in the Senate. Which is more than George W. Bush ever had in the Senate when he did whatever the fuck he wanted."

For all the handwringing over the Massachusetts Senate seat, it is worth pointing out that the Democrats have not exactly made aggressive use of their majority status in Washington so far. Just the opposite. Blaming progressives for giving voice to their disappointment is ridiculous. It's not our fault the Dems didn’t grab hold of massive public support for universal, publicly financed health care. Nor is it the rank and files' fault that the Democratic Party leadership can't seem to summon the courage of its convictions.

In Massachusetts the irony of the Democrats’ running-scared attitude is particularly thick. Ted Kennedy was always a big direct-mail fundraiser for Republicans: he called himself a liberal long after Ronald Reagan made the word taboo, and he unapologetically championed government-financed social programs to help the poor, powerless and uninsured.

It shouldn't come as some sort of shocking surprise that the Tea Partiers are bashing the Democrats' "socialist" health-care plans. Kennedy endured these kinds of attacks for his entire career.

Remember the campaign against Obama as having a Senate record that was more liberal than Ted Kennedy's? Kennedy showed that drawing a lot of fire from his enemies could be an asset, not a liability.

But just as Kennedy's colleagues have compromised away the high ground on health care, in Martha Coakley, the Democrats are running a cautious, centrist, anti-populist who sounds apologetic when she talks about the issue.

Even more telling, the Republicans are running in Massachusetts in part on that state's universal, taxpayer-financed health-care system. Since Massachusetts voters already have nearly universal health care--and like it--the Republicans argue, why should they pony up for a national program?

Mark Shields pointed this out recently on the News Hour with Jim Lehrer.

Scott Brown, he explained, has been telling voters, "we in Massachusetts already have health insurance. . . . Mitt Romney's plan, which he owned and then disowned during his campaign for the Presidency . . . 96 percent of the people in Massachusetts have health coverage. He said, why should we pay our taxes to cover people in Texas? So, I mean, there is a certain sense of pride, as well as provincialism, as well as anti-tax in his message."

As Shields sees it, the Republicans have won in Massachusetts no matter the outcome of today's election, just by forcing the Democrats to bring the President to the state to try to squeak out a victory, and by turning the race into a referendum on health care and the Obama Presidency--not to mention spending a half million dollars on this formerly safe seat: "I mean, what does that mean they are going to be spending in Nevada and Arkansas and Ohio and Missouri in October?"

Instead of mourning the possible loss of a 60-vote majority, the Democrats should figure out how to work as aggressively as their opponents to use their opportunity to pass real, progressive reform. Otherwise, whether they are a supermajority, a plain old majority, or the minority just won't matter to most ordinary Americans.

Ruth Conniff is the political editor of The Progressive magazine. To subscribe for just $14.97 a year, just click here.

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By Wendell Berry

Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front

Love the quick profit, the annual raise,
vacation with pay. Want more 
of everything ready made. Be afraid 
to know your neighbors and to die.
And you will have a window in your head.
Not even your future will be a mystery 
any more. Your mind will be punched in a card 
and shut away in a little drawer.
When they want you to buy something 
they will call you. When they want you
to die for profit they will let you know. 
So, friends, every day do something
that won’t compute. Love the Lord. 
Love the world. Work for nothing. 
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it. 
Denounce the government and embrace 
the flag. Hope to live in that free 
republic for which it stands. 
Give your approval to all you cannot
understand. Praise ignorance, for what man 
has not encountered he has not destroyed.
Ask the questions that have no answers. 
Invest in the millennium. Plant sequoias.
Say that your main crop is the forest
that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest.


Say that the leaves are harvested 
when they have rotted into the mold.
Call that profit. Prophesy such returns.
Put your faith in the two inches of humus 
that will build under the trees
every thousand years.
Listen to carrion—put your ear
close, and hear the faint chattering
of the songs that are to come. 
Expect the end of the world. Laugh. 
Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful
though you have considered all the facts. 
So long as women do not go cheap 
for power, please women more than men.
Ask yourself: Will this satisfy 
a woman satisfied to bear a child?
Will this disturb the sleep 
of a woman near to giving birth? 
Go with your love to the fields.
Lie easy in the shade. Rest your head 
in her lap. Swear allegiance 
to what is nighest your thoughts.
As soon as the generals and the politicos 
can predict the motions of your mind, 
lose it. Leave it as a sign 
to mark the false trail, the way 
you didn’t go. Be like the fox 
who makes more tracks than necessary, 
some in the wrong direction.
Practice resurrection.

Wendell Berry is a poet, farmer, and environmentalist in Kentucky. This poem, first published in 1973, is reprinted by permission of the author and appears in his “New Collected Poems” (Counterpoint).

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