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Closing Time


It looks like heaven but it feels like death;
It’s something in between, I guess:
It’s closing time.

— Leonard Cohen

Official transcript of remarks by President Barack Obama after the March 21 vote in the House of Representatives on H.R.3590: Motion to Concur in Senate Amendments to Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act:

My fellow Americans. As many of our more serious commentators have noted, Democrats and progressives have sought genuine reform of our broken, bloated, unjust health care system for almost a hundred years. Today, I am proud to say that we have brought that century-long struggle to a close. Together with our visionary partners in the House and the Senate, we have finally killed genuine health care reform for many years to come — perhaps even for another century!

The struggle is over, the deal is done, the fix is in, and corporate power — unbridled, unchallenged, coddled, protected, and larded with the endless pork of government-guaranteed profit — has triumphed at last. This is an historic achievement. This is a mighty legacy we will bequeath to future generations.

This, my friends, is what change looks like.

Now, you know and I know that such change never comes easily. It never comes without opposition. It never comes without controversy. Even in this hour of victory, we know that the doom-sayers will be out in force.

And I’m not speaking here of the Republicans, whose opposition has simply been a lurid, baseless “Red Dawn” fantasy about “communism” coming to America. “Communism” — in a bill that has been written by our visionary partners in the corporate community, by our hyper-capitalist friends and patrons on Wall Street, by the lobbyists and bagmen of Big Money! It’s true there is a tinge of socialism in the bill, but it is, of course, the only kind of socialism that is tolerated in America: socialism for the rich, where the masses shoulder the risks — and the costs — while the wealthy reap the profits for themselves. The health-care barons, the bailed-out banks, the farm-devouring agriconglomerates, the war profiteers … we’ve got plenty of boardroom bolsheviki out there — but it sure ain’t “communism” like Castro used to make! So let them hoot and holler down this false trail all they like; for as I learned back in my Senate days, when I was considered part of the “anti-war” faction, opposition without substance only entrenches the status quo.

No, what we must look out for are all those — or rather, those very few — nattering nabobs of negativism who have opposed our historic corporate empowerment bill out of — get this — principle. Like barnacles hanging onto the butt of the Titanic, they have clung to the idea of truly universal, equal, single-payer health care, a system that is less expensive, more efficient, more secure, more democratic, more popular and more effective than the heroic measure we have passed here today.

These poor wretches — who now must face the wrath of Kos and the wroth of Rahm for their tragic apostasy — are simply not savvy enough to see that our 2,000-page boondogglepalooza, riddled with fine-print exceptions, toothless regulations (which we will ‘enforce’ every bit as rigorously as Wall Street has been regulated all these years), impenetrable phase-in and phase-out schedules, and mild benefits that won’t even begin kicking in for years — and that even after a decade will still leave millions of people uncovered — is much better than a simple, streamlined system that could be implemented by the end of this year, bringing genuine relief from intolerable, life-degrading financial burdens and medical problems to millions and millions of people in dire need right away.

Or as that avatar of negativity, Ralph Nader put it:

“The health insurance legislation is a major political symbol wrapped around a shredded substance. It does not provide coverage that is universal, comprehensive or affordable. It is a remnant even of its own initially compromised self — bereft of any public option, any safeguard for states desiring a single payer approach, any adequate antitrust protections, any shift of power toward consumers to defend themselves, any regulation of insurance prices, any authority for Uncle Sam to bargain with drug companies, and any reimportation of lower-priced drugs.”

Hey, Ralph, thanks for reciting my credits! All those “berefts” you cited were the result of my own super- savvy negotiations! It’s 11-dimensional chess, man, a really heavy-duty Matrix Zen Jedi Master use-the-Force kind of thing, where you win the game by giving away everything you have in the opening move! But you’re too much a dinosaur to understand. ‘Anti-trust protections!’ Hey, Teddy Roosevelt — your horse-and-buggy is waiting! Just listen to this guy:

“Most of the health insurance coverage mandated by this legislation does not come into effect until 2014, by which time 180,000 Americans will die because they were unable to afford health insurance to cover treatment and diagnosis, according to Harvard Medical School researchers.”

Well, what can I say? 180,000 is a lot of dead people. This is a very hard choice, but the price — we think the price is worth it.

Then there’s this Chris Hedges guy. He used to be a “serious” journalist, reporting on the imperial wars for our corporate partners in the stovepiping community — what old-timers and barnacles still like to call the “news media.” But he went off the rails a long time ago and joined the carpers and cranks on the sidelines, those malcontents who, unlike so many of our progressive partners today, have never imbibed the timeless wisdom of Warren G. Harding: “Don’t knock, boost!”

Just get a load of Hedges here, making the big-whoop observation that our historic bill is just a bloated version of the already-failed, Republican-created Massachusetts plan:

“Take a look at the health care debacle in Massachusetts, a model for what we will get nationwide. One in six people there who have the mandated insurance say they cannot afford care, and tens of thousands of people have been evicted from the state program because of budget cuts. The 45,000 Americans who die each year because they cannot afford coverage will not be saved under the federal legislation. Half of all personal bankruptcies will still be caused by an inability to pay astronomical medical bills. The only good news is that health care stocks and bonuses for the heads of these corporations are shooting upward. …”

Again with the credits! Stocks going up, corporate heads filling their pockets, pols gorging on backroom baksheesh, Big Money controlling the debate … Earth to Hedges: That’s what we’re here for! That’s the whole point! You’re an old Seventies guy, aren’t you, Chris? You remember ZZ Top? “Jesus Just Left Chicago”? (If you’ll pardon the immodesty.) What do they say? “Taking care of business is his name.” They got that right.

So who cares if the plan “fails”?  Who cares, if, as you say,

“[the plan] will not expand coverage to 30 million uninsured, especially since government subsidies will not take effect until 2014. Families who cannot pay the high premiums, deductibles and co-payments, estimated to be between 15 and 18 percent of most family incomes, will have to default, increasing the number of uninsured. Insurance companies can unilaterally raise prices without ceilings or caps and monopolize local markets to shut out competitors.”

Listen, Hedgie: If the plan was to reform the health care system for the benefit of the people, then we would have, like, reformed the health care system for the benefit of the people. You follow? The plan was, is, and will always be to appear to be reforming the system — to make the rubes believe that something is being done to alleviate their pain — precisely to avoid really reforming the system, which is just too good and greasy for too many of us at the top of the imperial pyramid.

And when this plan fails — as it will, as it will — then you rig up another boondoggle, another “great debate” full of sound and fury, signifying zilch, to keep the rubes at bay. Meanwhile, we can get on to the real job our corporate colleagues and patrons want us to do — bringing that other old dream of social amelioration for the common folk to an end at last: Social Security. Scalpel, Nurse! The doctor is in!

CHRIS FLOYD is an American writer and a frequent contributor to CounterPunch. His blog, Empire Burlesque, can be found at



Chris Floyd is a columnist for CounterPunch Magazine. His blog, Empire Burlesque, can be found at

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