Will AIG Paralyze Progressive Reform?

Public outrage over $165 million in bonuses for AIG executives shifted this week to scrutiny of the Obama administration and Treasury secretary Timothy Geithner.

BY Kerry Eleveld

March 20 2009 12:00 AM ET

Timothy Geithner X100 (GETTY) | ADVOCATE.COM

"The overwhelming
impact of the assumption of universal heterosexuality has led
to disproportionate inequality for LGBT people when it comes to
accessing health care," says Kenneth Sherrill, a political
science professor at Hunter College who specializes in LGBT
issues. Sherrill also notes that many insurers
deem HIV/AIDS a preexisting condition by which they
may exclude clients from coverage. "So in
that sense, meaningful health care reform is our issue too,"
Sherrill observes.

But Sherrill also
floats an alternative theory -- the AIG scandal could so badly
damage the reputation of insurance companies that it undermines
their ability to curb health reform. The insurance industry was
one of many powerful interest groups that helped block the
Clintons' attempt to revamp the country's health care
system.

"Perhaps the net
effect of this could be to embolden our leadership at a time
when our enemies are weakened," Sherrill poses.

No one is sure just how
messy the AIG cleanup will get and whether it could, indeed,
debilitate the president's agenda.

"We have yet to see
whether AIG is something that can be contained," Sherrill
says, adding that people have called for Geithner's removal
before. And even if Geithner made an exit, Sherrill says, "My
sense is that no one is indispensable. If he gets replaced, the
government still goes on."

But White House
veterans sense the danger from administrations past.

Lux, who recently
authored a book called
The Progressive Revolution: How the Best in America Came to
Be

, notes that President Lyndon B. Johnson pushed an enormous
amount of legislation through in the first few years of his
administration only to have his presidency get bogged down in
Vietnam. But Johnson's not the only president whose
priorities crumbled under the weight of greater forces.

"I think you could
argue in Clinton's term that the mishandling of gays in the
military slowed them down and took away momentum on other
things they were trying to do," Lux says. "That hurt their
ability to get off to a good start on health care and
everything else."

Tags: Politics

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