The Public Option and the Wheelbarrow Parable: Kip Sullivan’s Latest Must-Read

I know, I know. Hearing again about how tiny, ineffectual, and fatally vague all versions of a public option were in any draft bill that contained such an entity seems so…last September.

But given that all major media conduits except Bill Moyers (Ganesh-Bless Bill Moyers!) continue to depict holdouts for some — any — public option as the "left of the left," we can’t not remind ourselves of this fact.

In this vein, Kip Sullivan, the most rigorous critic of public option proposals and chronicler of the public option movement, is publishing another three-part series on the subject at the web site of Physicians for a National Health Program (PNHP).

Part 1 here.
Part 2 here.
Part 3 to come; check back on the site.

Kip’s thesis is that the point of the public option movement from the get-go was to support, and distract attention from, an intended health insurance industry bailout:

[D]espite the passage of almost two years, the leadership of HCAN and the “option” campaign has yet to announce to the public that the “option” is dispensable and that HCAN’s highest priority is an insurance industry bailout: tens of millions of compulsory customers plus massive tax-financed subsidies for the industry. To the contrary, the “option” campaign’s leadership continues to employ the tactics it has used from the beginning of the campaign, namely, to generate a great public fuss over the tiny “option” while simultaneously expressing support for bailout legislation that contains an ineffective “option” or no “option” at all.

This behavior reminds me of a parable about a company employee who stole wheelbarrows from the company right under the nose of the company’s security guard. He would leave work every night pushing a wheelbarrow filled with straw. The guard at the factory gate was fooled into thinking the straw hid something and focused all his attention on the straw and never thought to ask about the wheelbarrow. He would carefully lift the straw and look for stolen goods, and, finding none, would wave the employee on.

If we substitute a health insurance industry bailout for the wheelbarrow, and the “option” for the straw, the parable illustrates the strategy of the “option” campaign. By creating a great ruckus over the “option” but all the while supporting bailout legislation (with or without an “option”), the “option” campaign has fooled its followers and the public into thinking its highest priority is the “option” when in fact its highest priority is a bailout.

Much more history and detail in the posts. I will only add that Kip Sullivan is essential reading for those who wish not to forget that the public option movement has been a case study in skilled cooptation of well-intentioned progressive groups and impulses.

Have to head off to work now, where progressive blogging over the company servers would be foolish. So I’ll have a look at any comments that may accrue tonight.

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