Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Why we will never have universal health care, Part Three

Updated No matter how many times the right-wing runs the same game on them, the "liberals" never seem to get it. Every time, the same now-old cliches are trotted out, the same now-tired claims are rehashed, the same bullshit and lies are spread in the prettiest packages the current state of PR artistry allows.

The first Congressional bill to establish some sort of national health insurance program was introduced in 1935. But it seems the first serious attempt at doing it came in 1943, with the introduction of the Wagner-Murray-Dingell bill. Despite support from labor and farm groups, it went nowhere under the onslaught of AMA-driven propaganda that is was - yes, indeed - "socialized medicine."
The AMA pressed several arguments against the bill. It asserted, first, that the United States already had the highest standards of medical care the world had ever known; great strides had been made in the preceding decades and, while there still were deficiencies, these were being greatly exaggerated. Second, it was claimed that National Health Insurance would lead to Federal control of medical care, which would undermine the existing system and help destroy free enterprise. Third, it was maintained that a universal health insurance program would be exhorbitantly costly to operate. And finally, the AMA felt it was unnecessary; private insurance was growing rapidly and was believed capable of doing the job.
Sound familiar? Sixty-six years later and Congress and to some extent the public are still falling for the exact same crap.

A few years later, Truman tried and again it got cut down. A good catch by the great Tom Tomorrow at This Modern World was an image of an editorial from the May 2, 1949 issue of "Life" magazine that assailed Truman's proposals for universal access with exactly the arguments the AMA had been using, presented, creepily enough, as if they were the magazine's own invention.

It was another 16 years before Medicare and Medicaid were founded - and even though they obviously fall far short of universal coverage, they, too, were denounced as "socialized medicine."

(Which as a lengthy parenthetical note brings me back to something John Avalon said. In attempting to support his "surrender is central" thesis, he argued that "the architect of Medicaid and Medicare, Lyndon Johnson," was never so "self-defeating" as to fail to kiss his own ass in order to accommodate right-wingers.
[He] understood the need for bipartisan support for any major social reforms: His Medicare bill received the support of 70 House Republicans and 16 Senate Republicans.
What Avalon, due to either deceit or delusion, fails to note is that this came after 22 years of effort, was narrower in scope than the original proposal, and was passed in the wake of a defeat of the right-wing-dominated Republican party so crushing that there were serious discussions of if the GOP would survive as a party. But none of that was relevant to Avalon. Only the fantasized ability to cede conscience was. I say again: Fool.)

So it's been that way, it's always been that way. The only difference now is that the big guns behind the lies are no longer wielded by the AMA; while it still hopes to torpedo health care reform it simply doesn't have the clout in this fight that it used to, in part because a growing number of physicians and other health care professionals actually support single-payer. No, the howitzers are now under the direction of the insurance and drug industries. But the blather and bullshit are the same.

And the other thing that has usually (not always; there have been some advances, but usually) been that way is the reaction of the, um, "liberals," which is to back up, concede, back up some more, concede more in the guise of "compromise," accommodate and concede, until they're left with symbolism and sometimes they don't even bother with that.

And they're doing it again.

At the White House, Barack Obama, who once called a strong public option a necessary part of reform, has more recently called it "just one sliver" of health care reform. Which I suppose it is. And a keystone is "just one stone" in an archway. Why get "fixated" on that?

In the Senate, Dick Durbin - the No. 2 Democrat - is another on the list of those invoking the memory of Ted Kennedy in order to give away what he worked for.
[Durbin] listed his four top priorities for the bill and the “public option” government-financed health plan was not among them. ...

Asked if he supports naming the health care reform legislation for Kennedy, Durbin said, “I support that. ... More importantly we have to negotiate now in his spirit, try to find a bipartisan way through this. Usually at the end of the day, he would make a compromise that his most loyal fans would be disappointed with. ... [B]ut he would know just how much you needed to give up to pass the bill. And that’s what we have to try to figure out as we get closer to the finish line.”
Put more simply, according to Durbin, Kennedy was actually all about bipartisanship and passing a "bipartisan" bill is more important than passing a bill which will do any good - and we must continue to strive for that even in the face of people who have made it clear they want no bill at all.

And then there is Harry "The Dynamo" Reid, who stood passively by as the so-called "Gang of Six" - consisting of two right-wing Democrats, two reactionary GOPpers, and one at least sort of moderate from each party - hijacked the health care debate and made it their own little feifdom.

Now he says supports a public option - so long as it's private.
Reid said he doesn't think the public option ought to be a government run program like Medicare, but instead favors a "private entity that has direction from the federal government so people that don't fall within the parameters of being able to get insurance from their employers, they would have a place to go."
In other words, co-ops. Private co-ops. I swear, fog has more of a spine than this man.

Oh, but that's not fair: He does have a spine and so does Obama. They just have to face the right foe. A couple of weeks ago, Marc Ambinder wrote in "The Atlantic" that
[t]he White House and Senate Democrats won't buckle to demands from liberals that they revise their health care strategy, officials said today. ...

A White House official conceded today that Obama would have to weather anger from liberals for a while. ...

In private, White House officials are selectively attending to threats that interest groups will work to defeat Democrats who oppose a "public option" in the House and Senate. Richard Trumka, likely the next president of the AFL-CIO, threatened over the weekend to withhold union support from those politicians. The White House isn't scared. An AFL-CIO official close to Trumka said that no one from the administration has been in touch with him to protest his words or endorse him.
In fact, according to Ambinder, what the White House is really concerned about is that "Obama's brand is being tarnished" and they're looking for couple of wins to get him on the upside again.

(Thanks to Jay V at Blazing Indiscretions for that link.)

This was such idiocy, idiocy, idiocy. In an article in the new Rolling Stone (not yet available online), Matt Taibbi writes about the failure to get a decent bill.
Taibbi breaks down the five steps Congress took to be sure no bill would pass - aiming low, gutting the public option, packing it with loopholes, providing no leadership and blowing the math.
I want you to notice that first one. Notice it carefully. In a video where he talks about the article, Taibbi says:
Where they could have, maybe, pressured the Republicans into concessions by saying "Hey, we're gonna - we're gonna push for some really, really radical reforms and if you guys want something less nasty you're going to have to give a little bit." Instead of that happening they gave away their strongest bargaining position - single-payer - and suddenly they were on the defensive because now the Republicans know "If you guys don't pass something it's going to be a political disaster."
Validation, dammit, validation! Haven't I been saying that from the beginning? Didn't I say it here? And here? Haven't I said it even as I was dismissed as "too idealistic," as "not understanding the realities?" Haven't I said it in comments at Hullabaloo? At Crooks & Liars? At MMFA? At Lean Left?

Didn't I say this:
I never said single-payer would pass. I said if that’s what you want, that’s what you propose and be prepared to negotiate from there. So a shitstorm in response to single-payer? Then you (as the political party that introduced it) damn well (symbolically, of course) slam you palm down on the desk and say “Dammit, there is a problem! There is a crisis! We have a proposal to deal with that crisis! It’s on the table. There it is. We’re ready to discuss it, we’re ready to hear other ideas, but you need to have some! What’s your plan? What’s your proposal? Put up or shut up!
And this:
There would be that sort of organized, provoked reaction no matter what was introduced. What are we supposed to fear, that they’d lie louder? That they’d scream “socialized medicine?” Then you defend single-payer as a proven efficient way to provide access to health care for the greatest number, and then you not only defend, you attack: You demand to know why they find 50 million uninsured acceptable, why in the country with health care as good as anywhere in the world it just doesn’t matter to them that so many millions do not have access to that care. You follow that up by noting that Medicare is a government-run single-payer plan and demanding to know why they are against Medicare and Social Security.

And then you, as I said, put it to them: “You don’t like it? Then tell us what you’d do! Tell us or admit that you like the current system of skyrocketing costs, loss of and unavailability of access, bankruptcies, overpriced prescription meds, and insurance company bean counters telling your doctor what procedures they can and can’t do based on what’s most profitable for their employer’s investors. How can the American people trust people who approve of all that to determine health policy?”

The fact remains that if you start by pushing for single-payer, something like the public option becomes the moderate compromise. Start by pushing for the latter, and ineffectual “co-ops” become the supposed compromise before those, too, become “too radical.”
Are our political misleaders just that ignorant of history? Or just that inept? Or just that stupid? Or is it that they care less about health care reform than about something else? And what would that be?

Footnote: Something I keep wishing Obama would do and which I'm sure he hasn't and won't: I picture him having one-on-one meetings with the Blue Dogs and during the course of the conversation saying something like "I understand your concern about the cost of the program, I really do. We do need to consider economies and how to cut the deficit. So I wanted to give you a heads up on some of the things we've been thinking about." At which point he hands the senator a sheet of plain paper on which is listed all federally-funded projects in that senator's state.

Lyndon Johnson, another name being invoked as a great "compromiser," was actually a hard-nosed politician whose "negotiations" often involved a lot of schmoozing and a good deal of threat: Helen Thomas tells the story of when Senator Frank Church of Idaho began to diverge from Johnson on the issue of Vietnam, LBJ is supposed to have asked him where he got his ideas on the subject. When Church named famed columnist Walter Lippmann, Johnson replied "Well, the next time you need a dam in Idaho, you just ask Walter Lippmann."Johnson was quoted as saying of fellow legislators "I don't trust a man unless I've got his pecker in my pocket." Right now, I think health care reform need a little less Dalai Lama and a lot more LBJ.

Updated with the Footnote and a few extra links; also to correct the date of the first Congressional bill on a national health insurance program.

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