Don’t negotiate with health-care terrorists

In the months following the epic disaster of 9/11, George W. Bush declared that the terrorists were “evildoers” whose only motivation for the attacks was to “destroy America, destroy our way of life.”

We do not negotiate with terrorists, he said.

It turns out that Bush’s analysis of these attacks was simplistic, and the policy of war he built out of that “logic” has generated more instability in a region that sees rising recruitments into terrorist groups. But what may have failed as a foreign-policy position turns out to be a very apt metaphor for progressives needing to understand how to handle the illogical and devastating attacks of the radical right. I am not talking about conservatives here; I’m talking about the tiny, but very loud, minority that has taken over the conservative tradition and with it the GOP.

The radical right seeks to destroy progressive politics and the Democratic Party, and it has a long-term, organized and well-funded strategy to do so. Don’t take my word for it; just listen to Karl Rove, Newt Gingrich and the other party leaders. They make no secret of this. The radical right is not interested in negotiation, compromise or bipartisanship. It is interested in power—pure, sustained, imperial power, and there appear to be no limits to the lengths it will go to regain that power. In this quest, there is no “win-win” situation—you know you’ve won when your foe lies vanquished on the ground. And that is why the radical right strategy is analogous to terrorism against progressives.

The ever-more-shrill and ridiculous fracas over health care is not about actual policy, but about the radical right’s efforts to find a foothold in their quest to regain power. Yes, Sen. James DeMint’s comment that health care would be the debate that would “break” Obama explains what is going on from the radical right camp. Realizing this, we must realize that any concessions to the radical right’s whacked-out claims on health care—like taking out the death-consultation provision (written by a Republican) because of the “death squad” rhetoric—only fan the flames of that power-insatiable minority. They do not actually care about policy. The hissy-fits are only about cracking the resolve of their opponents. It’s like the tantrum-prone toddler who wears down his exhausted parents with endless demands. When the parent gives in, it only reinforces the bad behavior. If the Democrats and Obama concede major points on health care, it will only reinforce the outrageous and destructive behavior that we’ve all been suffering through—the insane lies, race-baiting and fear mongering that have dominated the airwaves.

As I write this, word is leaking out that Obama is willing to concede on eliminating the single-payer option in his health-care policy. Doing so would be disaster. It would be disaster on the policy front—it is the single-payer option that would push private insurers to clean up their acts. Currently, private insurers’ administrative overhead costs average around 20 percent, compared with the 3 percent of Medicare and 2-6 percent averages of other industrialized nations. And private insurance companies do make decisions about who does and does not deserve care—not infrequently a life-or-death decision—hence the resonance of the “death squad” rhetoric, ironically.

It would be a disaster on the political front, too. This concession, should it go through, would send a very strong signal to the radical right that their strategies of relentless rhetorical terrorism work. It would be opening the door to more of the extreme screeching lies that substitute for “political discourse” in this country. Every future initiative of the progressive agenda—environment, renewable energy, future economic stimulus—will be similarly hamstrung.

We progressives need to send very strong signals to our senators, representatives, our president and each other to stand strong against these temper tantrums. Don’t negotiate with terrorists or whiny toddlers. Otherwise, it will never be quiet enough for adult conversation about the actions we need to take to restore this country.