We are all in hyper-ventilation mode about the noisy tea party fringe-wingers who have been congregating at various summer congressional constituent meetings, spewing venom and misinformation in order to try to create the impression of a grass-roots uprising. As one reads about the goings-on, it is all so absurd and so irrelevant to the real issues that it is hard not to come to the conclusion that what we are seeing amounts to a complex structure of smoke and mirrors.  And we all know that smoke and mirrors is good for one thing — to distract us while the real business goes on.

The sleight of hand manifests itself on many levels.  At the most obvious level, the anger of the tea-partiers is real, but its object is not.  The ostensible justification for these protests are absurd claims the participants  have been spoon-fed by astroturf organizations like Americans for Prosperity (AFP) and FreedomWorks. People capable of frothing at the mouth over claims that, as Sarah Palin puts it, “Obama’s Death Panel” will ration care and dictate euthanasia, are easy prey for the interests that want to create a big distraction to keep us from talking what actually is in the health care reform package and what should be there.  

And this is where we get to a deeper level behind the smoke and mirrors. Stop and think. While progressives are getting worked up over the tea party crazies, health insurance reform is being decimated by “our” guys. I don’t meant that Democrats are behind the noise and confusion, only that they are taking advantage of it. Consider:

Blue Dogs are succeeding in their struggle to pay back their insurance industry campaign donors by making sure that if there is a public option, it will be as ineffectual as possible.  One way they are doing so is to mandate that it not be tied to Medicare rates, because:

… Medicare has really good rates, because they’re negotiating for every senior in America. Private insurance companies could not have competed with that

.

Fancy that!  Competition for the guys with the big bucks doesn’t seem to be a good thing, according to these Democratic defenders of the American Way.

The Progressive Caucus, those men and women of integrity, who were going to hold the line and demand a robust public option — remember — sold us out too, almost without a struggle:

Sixty liberals signed their names to a letter pledging to join together to oppose the bill if the Blue Dogs got to hack true cost control measures out …

But, a little pressure from the White House and they gave away the shop in return for a purely symbolic floor vote on Single Payer — nothing like abandoning the fort in return for a nice, shiny-buttoned uniform to wear while you retreat.

As an indication of how bad things are now, Dick Durban, heretofore a strong defender of the public option, indicated today on CNN’s “State of the Union” that he is open to “alternatives.”  By which he seems to mean co-ops, pathetically thin gruel in place of the robust meal we were promised.

The president that we elected with a clear mandate to give us real health insurance reform, who ran on the promise of a meaningful public option, is also trying to change the story.  Durban’s defection is:

… similar to the line coming from the White House in recent days, with officials indicating that they would be open to a co-op based insurance model, provided that it had enough leverage to lower costs for consumers.

As for all those stories about savings and greater efficiencies, like shoring up Medicare with savings to be realized by letting the government negotiate Medicare Drug payments, well, Obama appears to have traded it for the biblical mess of pottage,

The upshot seems to be that while we are busy with the Tea Partiers and their manufactured anger, the deals are being struck and the decisions have been made to rearrange the chairs on the deck of the Titanic.  Just think, we actually have a Democratic president and a Democratic congressional majority and what we may well get in the end, after all this sturm und drang, isn’t going amount to a hill of beans. But you have got to admit, it’s been one hell of a good show so far.