Single Payer: A Slow Train Coming

Gene Grant
7 min read
Single Payer: A Slow Train Coming
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It’s all noise. Every word, every decibel. This is all just white (and black) noise on a long, messy trail called health care reform. Gray-haired misanthropes are screaming down elected officials; House leaders call them un-American. Whatever. All noise.

Later this year "something" called health care reform will make its way to the president’s desk, to much fanfare and with formerly mortal enemies gathered around the president for the signing, warbling about how the process “worked.”

It’ll all be noise then, too, because the only thing that’ll have happened is that the greatest progressive opportunity in two generations was completely missed.

It’s called—here it comes—single-payer health care.

That proponents of a morally based system of health care for everyone in this nation are now miscreants and fools is the surest, most precise read on the nation’s moral compass we’ve had in forever. It’s all on the table now.

Fine, naysayers. You’ve won the battle. But I’m telling you this: We whom you deem mad are going to win the war. The battles along the way will be as nutty as this one is, but this 2009 version—like 1993 and all those health reform efforts before it—are part and parcel of a long arc that will take no less than another two decades to resolve.

The country will come to a moral conclusion, ultimately. It will come when every other “fix” has been tried and disregarded.

Let’s stop screwing around on the language here. The public option is the point now, and it will be the point 20 years from now when single payer is seriously engaged.

Every movement needs a moral affront, an indignation. All it needs is a face and a voice. I wish it could have been under the first black president, but a new reality has walked in the door on that, too.

Barack Obama’s flip-flop on single payer, his willingness to play footsy with—of all cretins—Billy Tauzin and the pharmaceutical industry he represents, and an agreement to “cap” prices sealed it. Did a slice of business actually just walk into the White House of the United States of America and have the impertinence to dictate terms?

It should have been the grand wake-up call. Nope. Yes We Can. Right.

Is this why we hired Barack Obama? Where was the consciousness-raising that should have come first?

It’s troubling, but when you back up from it, it’s clear what was missing for the man to work with: a people’s movement. A loud public demand
before the fight.

Working (or not) poor blacks, whites, rural independents, legal immigrants, First Nation, middle class of all stripe, the whole American lot, would have rallied behind a very simple idea: You show up at the hospital, you wait for a long period of time—just like you do now—you get fixed, you go home and you don’t get a bill. Ever. Now we have a fair fight.

Instead, we got dragged into the muck of “no we can’t,” and that was all she wrote.

Look, for anyone who has been behind the idea of single payer, admit it, we screwed up. We ignored all the signs that Barack Obama was not going there early in the campaign.

We sat back, and before we could raise our hands from the back of the room, the health insurance industry dished out the candy. To the tune of a million dollars a day in lobbying money to Capitol Hill the second quarter of this year.

Result? Go dial up
Business Week’s Aug. 6 cover story, “The Health Insurers Have Already Won,” a rather astounding recap of how the health insurance lobby has literally shaped the current legislation working its way to the president’s desk to its liking.

This health care reform sham is also a proxy that, in my view, will be the shorter (but tougher) fight—an internal battle within the progressive community on its value system. Health Reform 2009 brings to mind something one of my old man’s work friends used to say back in the ’60s: That “nothing will straighten out a radical quicker than a kid and a mortgage.”

The bad news is a lot of progressives over the last few years have been straightened out. While screaming about Bush and whatnot, they efficiently earned a crap-load of money in an overheated market themselves. At the same time, the blogging culture has successfully rolled out the idea that railing with an anonymous name on Huffington Post is tantamount to action.

What kind of circumstance do we have when stalwarts of the progressive community like Dennis Kucinich, Dr. Cornel West and even Carol Miller here in New Mexico have been reduced to delusional cranks who can’t come to grips with “reality"? Why is New Mexico, which has something near 40 percent of its workforce on some sort of government-run health plan, not leading the charge on the idea of what government can do?

It’s because too many progressives don’t want to get their hands dirty. Especially if they’re making bank.

Dr. West has it exactly right when he points out (in multiple interviews) that a people’s movement is the only viable answer to true health care reform. That’s the mandate
. And he has history on his side.

First, can we all kindly walk away from this romanticized notion of Barack Obama being the second coming of FDR? The comparison just does not hold water. Roosevelt was in fact pushed to the wall by a people’s movement. There were more than 400 labor “actions” (people in the streets) preceding his administration’s landmark legislation.

West points out that the Great Emancipator, Abraham Lincoln—another alleged Obama archetype—was no enemy of slavery until a people’s movement pushed him there, led primarily by Frederick Douglass. Voting Rights Act? Hello? Another people’s movement.

Is anyone not embarrassed that a bunch of 75-year-olds have been hitting the streets with a people’s movement of their own? How is it that progressives have gotten smacked down—thus far—by their own tried-and-true tactics? Why were there not progressives spilling into the streets instantly? Was saving the public option not enough?

Apparently not. Or at least it wasn’t for a critical window of time in the first weeks of the August break. But it looks like progressives are getting it together, finally. Organizing for America (the Democratic National Committee’s grassroots arm) and Health Care for America NOW! are planning to hold more than 500 events, phone banks and the like, including a few in Albuquerque.

Former Labor Secretary Robert Reich called for a people’s march on Washington in support for a public option on Sept. 13. Why Sept. 13? Because there’s a planned tea party march in D.C. the day before, a big one, organized by FreedomWorks, the shamelessly disingenuous political jackboots run by Dick Armey.

Let’s put it this way: If tea baggers get their jell insert-filled sneakers on the ground en masse in Washington, and if they’re not trounced—not just answered—then a very singular slice of “the people” will have spoken. Again.

Can we finally stop being mesmerized by their audacity? Yes, the Armey clan is convinced the progressives’ bite is not quite matching their bark on this one. But let’s take up the challenge and spin this around. Because if not, any remaining leeward wind Obama had from the campaign will be illusory as far as Capitol Hill is concerned.

Holding firm on a public option is right in the short-term for a semblance of reform—but more important is 20 years from now, when a moral movement for single payer health care may well be in full swing.

Hopefully, it’ll be the last one.
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