You can’t fight teabags with neoliberalism.

16 Dec 2009 11:03 pm
Posted by: Donna

So I’ve been following the Senate Health Care debate closely on the cable news today. On Hardball Chris Matthews devoted several minutes to berating Howard Dean for his opposition to what he thinks has become a sellout sham to the insurance industry, even enlisting help from Blue Dog Dem Sen. Mary Landrieu. Then something really interesting happened. Matthews broke news of a poll showing the tea party movement being viewed more favorably than both the GOP and Democratic party.

The entire Republican Party, moreover, continues to maintain a net-negative favorable/unfavorable rating, 28 percent to 43 percent.

But, for the first time in more than two years, the Democratic Party also now holds a net-negative rating, 35 percent to 45 percent.

By comparison, the conservative libertarian-leaning Tea Party movement has a net-positive 41 percent to 23 percent score in the poll.

Matthews and the journos he talked to about this seemed stunned at this finding. They went over the crosstabs and it’s apparent that tea party support (which is not the same as a desire to join the effort) tracks closely with being a Fox viewer and a Republican. They tried to explain it away as that. I agree in part but I think they, and far too many Democratic activists frankly, are missing the larger picture here. Let me spell it out for you to make it clearer:


Back in March, when the House passed a largely symbolic bill that would have taxed bonuses paid by AIG and other bailed-out institutions, the response by many in the lefty blogosphere and many liberal pundits was to tut-tut about “ex post facto” and “bills of attainder”. Sure, there’s a legitimate Constitutional debate to be had there about the legality of taxing the bonuses. But that’s a matter for legal scholars. Why in bloody hell were liberals quibbling about THAT instead DEMANDING, in a unified voice, that recipients of bailout funds RETURN THE BONUSES RIGHT THE HELL NOW??!! Why weren’t we organizing groups to stand in front of bank corporate offices all over the country carrying signs saying “GIVE THE BONUSES BACK!!”?

Well gosh, no, that would be so unseemly.

Which brings me to a paper George Lakoff published back in 2007.

Most health care reports advocate a policy, describe it, and argue for it. We take a different approach. In this paper, we describe the logic of the overall debate over the care system —the assumptions, the arguments, who makes them, and why. We do come out of this process with recommendations, but not of the usual sort.

This analysis presents something new and important: a distinction among three modes of thought — progressive, conservative, and neoliberal. What’s new here is a deeper understanding of neoliberal thought, as it affects the discourse on health care. Briefly, it accepts the progressive ethic of care, insisting on maximizing coverage. Meanwhile, neoliberal thought accepts a conservative version of market principles that guarantees profits to insurance and drug companies. Often, this is done in the name of political pragmatism, as a way to mute expected conservative opposition. This creates an inherent tension between the moral mission of government to provide for the protection — in this case the health security — of all of its people and the profit-maximizing insurance marketplace, which works only by denying care.

The neoliberal mode of thought is at the center of the health care debate. It can also be found in issues across the board.

The teabaggers are railing against “socialized medicine” when what’s in the health insurance reform isn’t even close to that. The problem is that the Obama administration and Democrats started from the neo-liberal standpoint – private, for-profit health insurance is a given – instead of forcing that institution to defend its existence. Now we progressives are in the unenviable position of being asked to defend a health care plan that mandates the purchase of insurance with no guarantee that costs will be reigned in. Woo hoo.


  1. Comment by Timmys Cat on December 17, 2009 8:49 am

    instead of forcing that institution to defend its existence

    Out of the ballpark!

    Isn’t it odd that us peons who actually pay for it just don’t seem to “get it”?. For some reason I’m getting the sense of “Oliver Twist”.
    “Thank you sir, may I have another one?”

  2. Comment by Zelph on December 17, 2009 9:27 am

    Exactly right! If we play the game within the conservative frame, we will likely lose. Time to attack the very premises of conservative economic thought:

    1) That there is such a thing as a “free market”.

    2) That this “free market” always yields the best possible outcome when allowed to function free of government interference.

    This debate must be put into terms that the average person can understand. (e.g. the E. Coli conservatives think the safety of our food should be left up to big corporations driven by the profit motive, I disagree.)

  3. Comment by Timmys Cat on December 17, 2009 9:36 am

    I agree with Zelph. Feel free to spend your money, but leave us free of responsibility and your safety.

  4. Comment by John Julio on February 13, 2010 7:09 pm

    It only goes to show where there’s will there’s a way. Keep on trying.

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