Kucinich Switches. Now What Do Progressives Do?

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On Monday, progressive blogger Jane Hamsher, who has been leading the left-wing opposition to the health care reform bill, issued a statement defending Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio) for having stood against the legislation, which she has assailed for containing no public option, for restricting access to health insurance plans covering abortion, and for incorporating sweetheart deals for Big Pharma and the insurance industry. Hamsher blasted liberals who were calling on Kucinich to switch and support the measure and derided MoveOn and unions for pressuring Kucinich and other Dems to rescue the bill. She repeated what she had said on a radio show:

I find it odd that when it’s down to Joe Lieberman’s one vote, everybody shrugs their shoulders and says “oh well, we just have to write the bill Joe wants, because what can you do, one vote.”  And when it’s Dennis Kucinich’s one vote, which  represents what 80% of the American people want, it’s “lets crush Dennis Kucinich so we can give Joe Lieberman everything he wants.” Somehow the argument keeps switching so that the corrupt deal that the White House negotiated with the pharmaceutical companies gets passed no matter what.

Her statement ended with a plea to forward campaign donations to Kucinich “to send a message that the progressive left hasn’t become a completely incoherent tool of corporate America.”

Two days later, Kucinich—after spending Monday with President Obama on a trip to Cleveland—declared he would change his position and vote for the legislation. Given that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has little, if any, margin for the vote on this bill, Kucinich’s move was a big gain for her and the White House. “I have doubts about the bill. This is not the bill I wanted to support,” said Kucinich, who has been a supporter of a Canadian-style single-payer health care system. But he added that he hoped passage of the measure would move the country “in the direction of comprehensive health care reform.” Moments after Kucinich’s announcements, cable news pundits were wondering if his switch would lead to other liberal opponents flipping—and falling into line.

Kucinich’s decision was a blow to the progressive opposition. It will place those foes in a weaker spot politically—and bolster liberal activists who are pushing hard for the bill despite its limitations. This decision will also help define the political career of this seven-term House member who has twice run for president as a no-holds-barred progressive champion. Whether his move to help pass Obama’s health care legislation renders him a hero or a sellout for progressives will depend on the beholder. There’s no word yet from Hamsher.

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