James Baldwin warned: “It is certain, in any case, that ignorance,
allied with power, is the most ferocious enemy justice can have.”
poignant words come to mind when I think about that freak show,
that hot mess that has passed for a dialogue on healthcare reform
this past summer. On the one hand, the Obama administration - overlearning
from the heavy-handed mistakes the Clintons made on healthcare reform
- wasted time and lost control of the narrative. Seemingly unsure
of what it wanted in terms of policy, this White House stood on
the sidelines and allowed Congress to draft the legislation and
create a huge mess. Fixing the healthcare system was the cornerstone
of the President’s election campaign. Nonetheless, he has appeared
too lackadaisical and too indifferent - too eager to compromise
with Republicans too early in the game, and for little or nothing
in return. In the end, Obama’s team came off looking like amateurs,
the high school debate team, or student body president.
On the other hand, with a vacuum of leadership created
by Obama, the health insurance lobby was given the opportunity to
spread their street money and run amok. Over
three-quarters of the American people want a public option, that is, a choice between
private health insurance and a government-run insurance plan that
would create competition and lower costs. But the lawmakers who
were purchased by the insurance companies - Democrats and Republicans
- say there will be no public option. These senators and representatives
get their money from one group and their votes from another. We
know which group really counts. We’re not talking about democracy,
but rather American-style capitalism. Money talks, and, well, you
know the rest.
the insurance companies have tapped into the anger of the unwashed
fringes, and harnessed their rage at the town hall meetings - the
tea-baggers and the militias, the birthers and the white nationalists,
the jingoists and the secessionists. These folks don’t know the
first thing about healthcare, but they do know that they hate government,
they hate Obama, and they believe he is a foreigner and an illegitimate
leader. And a communist Nazi Muslim terrorist. They won’t allow
a black man to indoctrinate their children, nor will they allow
one of them to take over their country.
Once again, moneyed interests use regular common
folk - suckers that they are - to act against their own best interests.
Rich Southerners had poor whites fight and die to maintain a system
of slavery that rendered their labor unnecessary. During the struggles
of the labor movement, corporations hired hooligans to beat up and
shoot workers who attempted to organize. Appeals to white-skin privilege
kept white workers from organizing with workers of color to better
everyone’s station in life. And today, particularly in states with
the lowest educational and health standards, working class people
who constitute the Republican party “base” fight alongside the corporations
to keep healthcare expensive and inaccessible. Billy Bob is as dumb
as bricks, and proud of it.
The mobilization against healthcare reform has taught
us several things:
First of all, the Republican Party is, collectively, coo coo for cocoa puffs. The moderates, the reasonable people, the intelligent
ones who are fond of book-learnin’, and those free of mental defect
bolted from the GOP. The Southern Strategy (a raw political appeal
to white racist voters, which was perfected by the late GOP operative
Lee Atwater) turned a reliable election-winning formula into a liability
when Obama came on the scene. The base of the party is now mostly
white, Southern, Christian fundamentalist and uneducated, and apparently
delusional and unstable. A shrinking demographic, there aren’t enough
of them to win a national election. Yet, the Republicans cling to
their base. Rather than repudiate the people who believe Obama is
a foreign citizen and an illegitimate leader who should be stopped
if not killed (yes I said it), the Republicans encourage these gun-toting
thugs, these brown shirts with their threats of violence. The decisive
issue for them didn’t necessarily have to be healthcare, but healthcare
did the trick. The main point is that for the radical conservatives,
government is the enemy they treat with utter contempt. And they
hate government so much that they try to destroy the country whenever
they get into office. Enactment of real health reform will further
marginalize the GOP, and render them irrelevant for generations.
Second, President Obama might not be up to the task, at least as things stand. I say this as someone who believes he must succeed if this nation is to succeed.
But if the President cannot put up a good fight on the primary issue
that put him in office - his mother died of cancer from a lack of
medical coverage - when will he? What about future battles? Obama
was elected on promises of bold change, not tweaking around the
edges of pernicious institutions, or a willingness to comfort those
forces that are hurting the public. On the campaign trail, he said
himself that if he were to start from scratch, he would create a
single-payer health insurance system, which would eliminate private
insurers. So why protect those insurers now?
In 2008, the people did not vote for a Rodney King,
to government. Roosevelt didn’t get the New Deal passed that way,
and Johnson surely didn’t pass the Civil Rights and Voting Rights
Act that way. These presidents prevailed because they got all the
troops in line, and they moved forward without trying to butter
up their adversaries, whose votes they would never hope to get.
be sure, Obama got his start as a community organizer. Yet, most
of Obama’s crew in the White House seems to consist of Wall Street
hacks, apologists and enablers. Lots of bailout funds for banks.
And “Green Jobs” czar Van
Jones (one of the few movement
progressives in the White House with authentic community bona
in the face of attacks from Fox News jester Glenn Beck. Jones apparently
was provided with no backup from the administration. One must wonder
if the administration thinks it can throw all progressives under
the bus the way it just did to Van Jones.
Third, never underestimate the depths of American greed.
With plans afoot to place one-sixth of the nation’s economy back
into the hands of ordinary people, we should expect a fight. Private
health insurance companies serve no legitimate purpose. About fifty
million people cannot afford them. If you can afford them, you give
them your money for the sole purpose of medical care. And when you
need medical treatment, they decide whether that money should go
towards your treatment. In effect, they make their money by preventing
you from getting the care you need. They profit from your continued
agony, and in many cases, your imminent death. Only in America will
people justify the continued existence of private healthcare insurers,
and making a buck over what should be the guaranteed right of access
to healthcare. As Bill
Moyers recently noted about America’s dysfunctional behavior,
“we should be treating health as a condition, not
a commodity.” American-style, predatory capitalism is built upon
winners and losers, a survival of the fittest mentality. That approach
is incompatible with the best interests of society as far as health
and social welfare are concerned.
Once again we are witnessing, firsthand, the conflicting
American impulses of expanding rights to the people on the one hand,
and robbing them blind on the other. America fell because of greed,
the bottom line, and the eternal quest for profits above all else.
are witnessing the greatest upward redistribution of wealth in American
history, with the greatest gap between rich and poor since the Great
Depression. Official unemployment flirts with the 10% mark. Meanwhile,
the real unemployment rate, which includes those who stopped looking
for jobs, and the underemployed who are forced to settle for part-time
work, is close
to 17%. Wages and benefits are decreasing. More than 35
million people are on food stamps, and 40%
of recipients are working families. More
than 1 million schoolchildren in the land of plenty are homeless. And even the
most creditworthy borrowers are falling behind on their credit card and mortgage
A primary reason for this economic suffering is that
corporations, particularly health insurance companies, are stealing
our money. They have more of it because we have less. Unregulated
and emboldened, they became far too powerful, just like the 1920s.
Insurance companies are enjoying record profits because of ever-increasing
premiums, and families are going bankrupt because they cannot afford
to get sick.
If healthcare reform is to succeed, its proponents
must reframe the issue as one of nationwide criminality. The current
health insurance system is a recurring act of national theft. These
corporations are feeding off America like vultures, robbing from
common people and crippling us in our ability to live our lives
with happiness, security and dignity. Reform of the system, with
a public option, is like an anti-theft device for the country, pure
And this time, we cannot blame the sideshow that
is the Republican Party. We know about their agitation at the town
hall meetings. Plus, they’re greedy and care little about the needs
of everyday people, or using government as a tool for positive social
change. But most of all, the GOP is not in power. The Democrats
control the White House, a huge majority in the House of Representatives,
and a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate. The
Democrats’ problem is that they do not have the will. As a corporatist
party like the Republicans, they depend on the sponsorship and patronage
of those financial interests that are causing our collective suffering.
The will of the people be damned. If Obama refuses to change this
reality in the party which he leads, then he is just another politician
who, as Hillary Clinton once said, gives good speeches.
And yet, it was predictable that this day would come
at some point, that the base would have to hold the President’s
feet to the fire, and show that they are for real. Perhaps he is
begging the base to provide the cover he needs to “make me do it”,
as F.D.R. once said.
One thing is for sure: If the Democratic base does
not force the Democrats to pass real deal health reform as they
promised, then the Democrats will be finished. And maybe that is
the price we must pay for progressive ideals to survive.
Editorial Board member David A. Love, JD is a journalist and human
rights advocate based in Philadelphia, and a contributor to the
Media Project, McClatchy-Tribune
News Service, In These Times and Philadelphia Independent
Media Center. He blogs at davidalove.com, NewsOne,
Kos, and Open Salon.
to contact Mr. Love.