Reform Theater

Obama Administration

The New York Times reports that a whopping large majority of Americans want the government, not the private insurance industry, to take charge and address the health care crisis. The New York Times/CBS News poll found that most Americans —

  • Think the health care system needs to be fundamentally changed or completely rebuilt (85 percent).
  • Would be willing to pay higher taxes so everyone could have health insurance (57 percent).
  • Want a government-administered insurance plan that would compete for customers with private insurers (72 percent).
  • Think government could do a better job of holding down health-care costs than the private sector (59 percent).

Given these poll results, I believe that in nearly any other industrialized democracy in the world politicians would be tripping over themselves in the rush to provide universal health care coverage for citizens.

But not in the United States. In the U.S., politicians pat us on the head and tell us we’re confused. What we really want, we’re told, is to keep the private for-profit system that allows increasing numbers of Americans to fall through the cracks.

In the United States, the will of the people means nothing any more. What was once a vibrant democracy has been riddled with parasites sucking democratic values, not to mention wealth, out of it. These are special interest groups, big corporations and a small but well-funded — thus overrepresented in government and media — extremist Right.

In Washington today, just one lobbyist can cancel out the will of hundreds of thousands of voters.

For years the only point of view on health care presented in electronic media has been that of the parasites. The private interest, right-wing perspective has been preached at us incessantly on radio and television for years. I cannot recall ever seeing a balanced, substantive discussion on health care on American television, ever, and I gave up on radio years ago. Print media may sometimes present more substance, but it is usually in the form of showcasing “both sides,” that of the medical-industrial complex and that of an advocate for universal care side by side, with no attempt at editorial refereeing to sort the facts from the propaganda.

At this point, most of us fully expect that President Obama’s health care proposals — which were moderate and centrist to begin with, not nearly the total overhaul most of us wanted — will be watered down and compromised away to nothing but a collection of minor tweaks. And when the health care “reform” bill is signed into law there will be a great ballyhoo about it, but the American public will see no real difference. And the struggle will continue, and the Right will argue that we tried a progressive option and it didn’t work.

So we’ll continue to see charities established to deliver health care to third-world nations coming to the U.S. to provide health care to Americans. We line up for makeshift free medical clinics set up in old animal pens. Our young working adults set their own broken bones. More than one-fifth of Americans now are struggling, or failing — to pay for the health care they need. After a big hoopla about reform, these things will continue.

Years of government that cannot be made to respond to the will of Americans has resulted in political enervation. We’ve become resigned to an ever-encroaching shabbiness, an increasingly instability. None of the promises of reform made to us by the politicians we elect are ever kept to any meaningful extent, and we no longer expect them to be kept. Instead, we get reform theater, and nothing changes. That’s just how it is.

That wasn’t always the case. I am old enough to remember the attitudes of my Greatest Generation parents and their friends, who grew up with the New Deal and fought World War II. They came out of that era believing the American people, through their government, could accomplish anything. Now we’re grateful if our lights come on and our bridges don’t collapse.

Sorry if I’m feeling bleak today, but a number of news stories say the Democrats are going to be forced to compromise away the public insurance option — you know, the option that 72 percent of Americans support — to get a health care bill passed. And as far as I’m concerned that’s the only part of the package that really matters. It’s not a perfect solution, but it would make a real difference to millions of Americans and put us on the road to more genuine reform in the future.

And of course we may ask, with such broad public support for the public option, who is forcing the Dems to compromise? And the answer is, well-funded interest groups, the over-represented Right, and Big Money generally. We won’t get the reform we need, because it would cause a few well-connected people to lose money.

We’re told as if it were holy writ that health care reform would be bad for small business; I understand small business says otherwise. But the Powers That Be don’t listen to small business, either.

We can write letters and make phone calls and even hold massive rallies until we all grow feathers and fly. It won’t matter. We know that, because we’ve tried these things in the past, with this and other issues, and were ignored. That’s why so many of us have given up.

Some of us slog on, of course, because we have no alternative. As long as there is even a remote chance that the people’s will might be respected, we keep trying. What else can we do?

In the early 19th century, Alexis de Tocqueville wrote of Democracy in America: “The people reign over the American political world as God rules over the universe. It is the cause and the end of all things; everything rises out of it and is absorbed back into it.” Not any more.

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  1. Pat Pattillo  •  Jun 21, 2009 @11:46 am

    I cannot recall ever seeing a balanced, substantive discussion on health care on American television, ever, and I gave up on radio years ago. Print media may sometimes present more substance, but it is usually in the form of showcasing “both sides,” that of the medical-industrial complex and that of an advocate for universal care side by side, with no attempt at editorial refereeing to sort the facts from the propaganda.

    We usually get that profligate technique that has become the fasion in media today including that entire narrow range of media from Fox to David Gregory on MTP — I am talking about confronting the pro-insurance industry side with softballs then appearing to be tough on the other side by donning a serious face and saying “Some people say…”

    They are too lazy to find those often quoted “Some people” and get to the bottom of it. It is just another excuse to tout hackneyed talking points and falls into the same category as “Everyone knows….” which is just a euphemism for facts-be-damned.

  2. Pat Pattillo  •  Jun 21, 2009 @11:59 am

    The 9 most terrifying words in the English language are “I’m from and the condition was pre-existing.”

  3. Pat Pattillo  •  Jun 21, 2009 @12:01 pm

    sorry, I’d used greater-than, less-than signs which failed to appear with text in between which went missing after clicking submit…should have read:

    I’m from the (insert insurer name here) and the condition was pre-existing.

  4. Chief  •  Jun 21, 2009 @12:05 pm

    Obama has been, and continues to be, too timid on every issue. It is as if half steps will solve the (insert problem name here) crisis.

    To say I am disappointed is a gross understatement. is he better than mcCain. probably yes. Is he living up to his campaign promise, NO !

  5. Sunny Jim  •  Jun 21, 2009 @1:03 pm

    Within the remaining 28% of those who DON’T feel a single-payer option would be a good thing, I keep looking for their reasons. In places like like these forums, they keep appearing and keep warning us that The Sky Will Fall if single payer is brought about. When asked why they feel that way, they say things like “Obama will bankrupt the country,” or “Obama is a socialist,” or “Obama has no birth certificate.”

  6. muldoon  •  Jun 21, 2009 @1:31 pm

    Now that the curtain has been pulled back and we are all getting a good look at the puppeteers pulling our politicians strings’, the house lights are going up on this farce. Whereas Repub v Dem once worked well to keep us squabbling amonst ourselves, the health care crisis has hit both sides of the political aisle equally hard; Republican voters are suffering as much as are the Dems. We all know what we desperately need and now, in increasing numbers, we’re beginning to understand why we will not get it.

    While it is true that we Americans have notoriously short memories, and are easily distracted by shiny objects and loud noises, the health care crisis will not disappear with the next dog-whistle news cycle. Without massive and meaningful reform, it will continue to grow. As will voters’ “rage at the machine”. If our politicians had the sense God gave little geese, they’d rush out and take a course in systems analysis 101, because they haven’t a clue that beyond the footlights their audience is leaving the theater in droves.

  7. felicity  •  Jun 21, 2009 @2:19 pm

    Whoever it was who said about a ‘shot’ that it was heard around the world, I’ll say that a similar ‘shot’ would be heard in this country if any sitting politician told the truth and said we won’t take the insurance syndicate out of the health-care business because that syndicate puts zillions of dollars into our campaign coffers.

    We all know that ‘truth’ but why is it never voiced even by those supporting universal health-care.

    Voltaire’s Dr. Pangloss proclaimed that “it’s impossible for things not to be as they are, for everything is for the best.” Boy, little did Voltaire realize that there would exist an entire country living according to Pangloss’s proclamation – particularly since Pangloss has always been a figure of universal ridicule.

  8. jugheadjack  •  Jun 21, 2009 @2:40 pm

    totally ot, but wait and see what will now happen to all those free trade agreements g.w. signed . as you well know that nothing is free.

  9. Dan  •  Jun 21, 2009 @6:40 pm

    “And when the health care “reform” bill is signed into law there will be a great ballyhoo about it, but the American public will see no real difference.

    I respectfully beg to differ. I bet the public WILL notice a difference: their health care situation will be MUCH worse after the industry gets through with the “reform.”

  10. Dan  •  Jun 21, 2009 @6:43 pm

    “Within the remaining 28% of those who DON’T feel a single-payer option would be a good thing, I keep looking for their reasons.”

    The major reason is they fear they will lose their much-better-than-average insurance.

    Fear is the mind-killer…

  11. Chris  •  Jun 21, 2009 @8:40 pm

    I just wish more polls would come out. I would love to use these numbers for my arguments with conservatives, but they always claim liberal media bias especially because of the source of this poll. But then again, outside of Fox, I have no idea who they would believe.

  12. BadKitty  •  Jun 22, 2009 @10:23 am

    I was listening to NPR’s Money Market report last night and they were talking about how Britain’s NHS will soon be going bankrupt (within about 2 years) yet no one is willing to give that up. Even the most conservative politician in Britain understands that monkeying with the NHS is a death wish. The British version of the AMA is completely opposed to even co-pays for citizens, knowing that it just ends up costing the system more when people delay care.

    I wish the anti-single payer crowd in the U.S. could talk to a few English citizens about their health care system. I’ve yet to hear any actual Brits complain about it.

  13. biggerbox  •  Jun 22, 2009 @11:10 am

    Yesterday on NPR, they ran a headline story about the poll support for the public option, and Senator Lindsay Graham’s response, which was basically that it wasn’t going to happen, because it would be a “disaster” and open huge cracks in the earth’s surface, and start cats sleeping with dogs or some other nonsense. (I got too enraged to focus on his exact words.) NPR has been appallingly bad about coverage of the health care debate, but even they were forced to reveal that some in Congress are proud to do exactly the opposite of what people want.

    I can only hope that attitudes like Huckleberry’s will convince Democrats that there’s no gain to be had compromising with the GOP, but I have the sense that lobbyist dollars speak louder than words.

  14. PurpleGirl  •  Jun 22, 2009 @11:54 am

    BadKitty: Many Conservatives in the UK would love to disband the NHS and bring in private insurance/care as we have in the US. But most people do not want that, they do like what they have. The UK problem is that the system does need more funding but the Conservatives don’t want to increase funding. Tinkering that they have done since Thatcher was PM has made some things more expensive and they have managed to underfund the NHS. The problem is ideology and political will; the same thing afflicts Canada. The provinces provide funding levels and in some provinces the Conservatives there have managed to lower the funding levels for health care. Again, political will and not the lack of government funds is the basic problem. I have friends in both the UK and Canada and they all like their systems. For comments on the UK, see Avedon Carol’s The Sideshow. She periodically comments on the NHS and compares it to the US. (

  15. felicity  •  Jun 22, 2009 @2:20 pm

    biggerbox – I not only get enraged, for preservation of my sanity I’m forced to flip stations.

    What if someone pointed out that, say, a person’s fed tax went up $100/month at the same time as the public health-care system meant he no longer had to pay out $400/month for his ‘private’ med insurance, wouldn’t he be $300/month ahead of the game? Nobody, absolutely nobody is presenting the single-payer argument as it would directly affect the health-care consumer.

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