Saturday, June 25, 2011

What's behind "Obama derangement syndrome?"

I suspect that most of us have always assumed that "Obama derangement syndrome" is rooted in progressive idealists who are impatient with the pace of change. I'm sure that's true for many who are showing those symptoms.

But, as I begin to look a little deeper, I'm starting to suspect that there's more to it than that.

For example, take a look at this article by Sebastian Jones. He points out that The Huffington Post recently ran an article by Dick Gebhardt criticizing the Independent Payment Advisory Board that is part of health care reform. Here's what Ezra Klein says about the IPAB:

The board will propose packages of reforms that bring Medicare in line with certain spending targets. Those reforms won't increase cost sharing or taxes and they won't change eligibility or benefits. Instead, they're reforms of what Medicare pays for and how it pays for it...this is the most powerful cost-cutting agency we've seen.

So why would Gebhardt be against it? Jones has the answer.

These arguments are cut directly from the talking points of industry groups that pay Gephardt—like PhRMA, which is now engaged in a full-throated campaign to kill IPAB...

Even in a town as full of mercenaries and shills as Washington, Dick Gephardt is a special case. Just a handful of years ago, the then-Congressman touted himself as a friend of unions and a universal healthcare crusader. During his failed 2004 presidential bid, he was a man who stood against “the status-quo apologists” and “the special interest lobbyists running amok.” Today, he’s at the helm of his very own lobbying firm, working for the likes of PhRMA, Goldman Sachs and the coal company Peabody Energy. Even when compared to his many peers who have made trips through the revolving door, the list of issues on which Gephardt has been paid to reverse his position is very long indeed.

As I pointed out in this 2009 profile Gephardt’s real value as a lobbyist is his ability to approach and solicit support from progressives in ways that big banks, the pharmaceutical industry or coal companies could not dream of doing on their own. Even if he fails to win over liberal constituencies, Gephardt’s agitating pays for itself by muddying the waters and sowing confusion in liberal ranks. This was what has made his sellout so complete: he is not simply putting a price tag on his ideals, he is selling the reputational capital he spent years accruing among progressives and using it to manipulate the people who have come to trust him. This is precisely what Gephardt is up to once again, this time by aiding the healthcare industry in its efforts to kill IPAB.

Do we really think that Gebhardt is the only one being paid to "muddy the waters and sow confusion in liberal ranks?" Jones also asks some interesting questions about why Huffington Post would publish his article without disclosing who pays his bills. Good question.

It is a pity the Huffington Post is allowing itself to be a tool for K Street, making its job all that much easier. Scanning the comments below the piece, it’s clear that Gephardt’s muddying of the waters is working, primarily, I would guess, because those readers have not been informed of his vested financial interest in the program’s demise.

When supposed Democrats start sounding just like Republicans, its time to start asking these questions.

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