By blogging on a certain website, we help to legitimize its viewpoint. We generate advertising revenue for the site through our own hits and through hits that are a result of responses to our posts from others. We contribute to any reputation the site may have for being especially renowned and important. We contribute to the personal reputation of its editors and founders and help their voice extend further and sound louder than it might if we stayed away. In exchange, we get a place to share our views and learn about others.

I’ve reluctantly come to the conclusion that the views being presented right now on health care at Daily Kos are, at least at this time, doing more harm than good in the fight for reform. First among my concerns is the total failure by the editors to promote any kind of national health care system, which could but does not necessarily have to be Medicare for All. Given public opinion polling showing that a majority of the public probably would favor Medicare for All given the choice, the current monotone focus on the public option is simply a red herring that does more to hurt the fight for real reform than to help it. Secondly, even this focus is not what it claims to be. As Kip Sullivan has said, it’s a “bait and switch.”

The fundamental question is: why is a blog that claims to be “from a liberal perspective” not strongly promoting a national health care system given public opinion statistics like those currently in America? Isn’t liberalism supposed to be defined with respect to public opinion? If not, then who should define it? The word statistics I wrote about a few months ago are unchanged at best, with stories by the editors mentioning “public option” outnumbering those mentioning “single payer” or “Medicare for All” by over ten to one.

There are all sorts of arguments that can be made to defend this. For example, take editor DemFromCT, who in the comments to my above post said:

But what of it? Health reform is a rich, complex tapestry and you want to reduce it to a single thread of “liberal vs right”.

It is true that health reform is complex. I for one have become increasingly aware that health insurance reform by itself is not all of health care reform, because there’s also reform on the provider side. And Medicare for All is not the only way to implement national health care. But none of this is relevant here, because the Daily Kos editors are not focusing on any other way to do it. They’re just focusing on the public option, and that is not anything even remotely close to a viable alternative.

My assessment of Daily Kos is that, while it is certainly a Democratic blog, it has no claim to being a liberal or progressive blog on health care. In fact, don’t take my word for it. Take its founder’s:

This is a Democratic blog, a partisan blog. One that recognizes that Democrats run from left to right on the ideological spectrum, and yet we’re all still in this fight together. We happily embrace centrists like NDN’s Simon Rosenberg and Howard Dean, conservatives like Martin Frost and Brad Carson, and liberals like John Kerry and Barack Obama. Liberal? Yeah, we’re around here and we’re proud. But it’s not a liberal blog.

Most Congressional Democrats do not favor a national health care system, including everyone from the “conservatives” to the “liberals” that Markos Moulitsas names above. But most of the public probably does, so when push comes to shove, one has to choose between being more Democratic and being more progressive. You can’t be both on this issue. Daily Kos is firmly Democratic.

And I can see the utility of that. Thinking independently doesn’t win you many friends. If Daily Kos did embrace national health care and strongly criticized Congressional Democrats on health care policy, as would then become logical, then its status as being the biggest political blog on the net would likely be over. Does anyone think that Countdown would really have Markos Moulitsas on as much, or maybe even at all, if he started focusing on national health insurance? Would the corporate media, and also Democratic establishment groups like Campaign for America’s Future and the rest of the HCAN/Herndon Alliance crowd cite the blog as much? Perhaps even more pressing, would national Democratic politicians like John Kerry, Howard Dean, Barack Obama, or Chuck Schumer ever post there? Of course not! They would run for the hills. That would be it! Daily Kos has every reason to align with elected Democrats on issues. It would make absolutely zero sense, from a narrow self-interested perspective, to make a serious break with them on the huge issue that health care is right now.

Also worth noting is editor BarbinMD’s reply to a sharply critical post of mine about their coverage:

First, this is a Democratic blog and we’re dealing with the reality of what’s currently happening in Washington.

You seem to be missing what this place is about – the editors aren’t the leaders, everyone who participates here is. If you have an issue that you care about, you write about it, you don’t tell other people what they should be writing about.

She’s right in her first judgment. It’s a Democratic blog and will therefore not stray too far from whatever the Democratic consensus in Washington is. Ever expecting wholesale criticism of that consensus was indeed naive of me.

But where she’s wrong is to say that everyone who participates in the blog are leaders. The FAQ should disabuse us of that:

No. Daily Kos is owned by Kos. The servers are his. He pays the bandwidth charges. He makes the rules; we are here as his guests. If he decides tomorrow that anyone not posting in iambic pentameter will be banned, your options are either to brush up on your poetry skills or find/start another forum.

More specifically, Kos is the leader. He has set up Daily Kos with a certain purpose, and given the editors a prominent voice through the front page. So I was imprecise in saying that the editors are the leaders; in reality Kos is the leader. And it was indeed foolish and naive of me to ever think that talking to the editors would make any difference in the blog’s agenda, because they don’t make the rules. I apologize for that naivete.

To see how unflinching Daily Kos is at sticking to the elected Democratic consensus, also consider that the whole public option idea is not even remotely close to what its defenders and most elected Democrats make it out to be. To understand why, check out Kip Sullivan’s bait and switch piece from a few months ago. Because this is so important, I’ll quote a few paragraphs:

The people who brought us the “public option” began their campaign promising one thing but now promote something entirely different. To make matters worse, they have not told the public they have backpedalled. The campaign for the “public option” resembles the classic bait-and-switch scam: tell your customers you’ve got one thing for sale when in fact you’re selling something very different.

When the “public option” campaign began, its leaders promoted a huge “Medicare-like” program that would enroll about 130 million people. Such a program would dwarf even Medicare, which, with its 45 million enrollees, is the nation’s largest health insurer, public or private. But today “public option” advocates sing the praises of tiny “public options” contained in congressional legislation sponsored by leading Democrats that bear no resemblance to the original model.

Of interest as background is that virtually the entire battery of polling data on this, in a truly stunning display of mass media conformity, has been about a real public option as opposed to the tiny option actually being proposed in Congress. The whole US corporate media has ignored the fact that the “option” in HR 3200 would not be an option to anyone outside of the Exchange, which is limited to around 10% of the public. And the version in HR 3200 is the strongest in any of the bills.

So the “robust public option” trumpeted by mcjoan (1,2,3), slinkerwink (1,2,3), Jed Lewison (1,2,3) and others is anything but robust. The whole notion has essentially been a huge lie, and these people have proved remarkably adept at believing in it, to the point where it seems to me that they could care less about the truth as long as most elected Democrats agree and their own popularity with readers remains high. All three of them are full time political writers, and ought to have enough exposure to the facts to understand that what the Democrats are selling isn’t what the public thinks it’s buying.

To cite an example, when I wrote a blog post about the tiny size of this public “option” a few months ago, slinkerwink was very adamant about telling me the opposite. She has also done the same to her readers, for one by quoting mcjoan’s comments on the Commonwealth study about a huge public option, and even moreso just through omitting the essential facts. Events since then (like Obama’s speech) have made it more clear that the public option is tiny, but I’m not aware of any big statements by slinkerwink or mcjoan apologizing to their readers for grossly misleading them about its size. I’m also disturbed that slinkerwink is being paid to write diaries (which are normally written by unpaid writers) on a daily basis, because this makes it impossible for other views to compete. I would have less of a problem if the diaries were more reasonable, but given that they systematically ignore the most important parts of the situation, the whole arrangement seems to me a kind of dangerous propaganda mill.

On Daily Kos, though, doublethink is a matter of routine. So when mcjoan did her online interview of T.R. Reid about his important new book, The Healing of America, his final and most concrete point about the American health care debate was that all the proposals so far were just “tinkering at the margins” of our health care system. mcjoan even acknowledged that a true “unified system” like the one he favored wasn’t on the table. But despite this acknowledgment, she then turned right around and, of course, pushed the usual public option proposals the very next day. The message is that while it’s fine to call T.R. Reid’s book “required reading” for all US leaders, it’s quite beyond the pale to actually advocate what it says yourself.

The result of all this is a whole mythology of how vital it is to stop the public option from being “triggered,” from being subject to a state opt-out, or from being replaced by co-ops. In reality, all of these results will be completely invisible to about 90% of the population, whether they come out favorably or unfavorably. The bottom line of this health care bill, as people like Ezra Klein have noted, is that it doesn’t alter the structure of the system much for anyone except the uninsured or sick. Yes, it does institute community rating and bans on rescission and discrimination on pre-existing conditions. But for those who already have insurance and are not seriously ill, the system remains the same, even though it’s that very system that is making health insurance unaffordable. And for reasons that I pointed out above, any establishment Democratic organization like Daily Kos fundamentally cannot deal with that, because most Congressional Democrats are currently against changing it.

Daily Kos’s situation is hardly unique, though it is probably the biggest and worst example of public option fixation in the blogosphere. Firedoglake apparently has a similar stance, though it’s also decidedly less controlled and rigid. Still, the recent move by founder Jane Hamsher and nyceve to create a permanent nonprofit organization called Public Option Please, to exist even after the current legislative battles are over, is really depressing to me. This is the very same nyceve that wrote this awesome piece as recently as last year calling out MoveOn.org and HCAN for rejecting single payer as a position. Apparently she herself has now fallen into the very same trap. I hope that she’ll return to her previous well thought out stance.

I will still post on Firedoglake and TPMCafe, because though I may have my differences with the editors on these blogs, there is a large and vibrant single payer community on Firedoglake. These blogs also lack one feature of the Daily Kos setup that pretty much eliminates the possibility of free debate, namely the hide rate system, in which users can remove the posts of other users if they find them to be too upsetting. Whatever the official justification for this system on Daily Kos, in effect it’s little more than a subtle tool for promoting conformity. (For example, when I wrote several angry posts about John Kerry’s and Howard Dean’s failure to support Medicare for All, the posts were consistently hide rated.) If a person really is a troll, they should just be banned, and that should be the end of it.

In the longer run, I hope that more people will move to blogs such as ZBlogs where the official editorial stance of the blog is, instead of being pro-Democratic, pro-progressive and pro-leftist. (The link must be clicked twice.) I for one don’t feel able to post only on ZBlogs right now because, well, there aren’t many people there, and also the software is still pretty rickety. Nevertheless, I will be doing a lot of “exclusive content” posts where I crosspost one version of a post on other blogs and a more extensive version on blogs like ZBlogs. That way every post is in effect a marketing effort for a more progressive media.

My central message to those in the blogosphere and media right now who seem to think, as I once did, that Daily Kos is somehow a liberal blog on health care is: it’s not. It has zero legitimacy as speaking for the left on this issue, and like most elected Democrats right now, is actually more on the reactionary, elitist, neoliberal, and pro-industry side of public opinion. (About four out of almost sixty Democrats have endorsed Medicare for All in the Senate.) So when you see Kos on Countdown talking to Keith Olbermann, don’t have any illusions about who he represents. He represents Democrats, and right now, I’m sorry to say, on this issue Democrats mostly represent the health care lobbies.

For those media figures interested in having a balanced health care debate, pick an actual leftist to represent the left. And for those bloggers who want to support conscientious blogs, don’t make Daily Kos your forum of choice.

Crossposted on ZBlogs, Daily Kos and TPMCafe