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Single-Payer, a Dream Denied

“[Democratic Party] activists dropped a tougher platform amendment seeking a government-run, single-payer system…”

“Guaranteed Health Care Key Plank in Democrat’s Platform,” AP, 8/11/08

Stick a fork in ‘em, they’re done as an advocate for the majority. Actually, the Democratic Party, for decades little more than a quirky wing of the Property Party, has been done for a while. Yet some of us — damaged optimists, deluded dreamers, dissenters to mass murder — held out hope for a turn. Against all available evidence we wished and worked in our small and pathetic ways to preserve the Party as a vehicle for completing the New Deal, and bringing the US partially into the civilized world. We failed. It’s official.

The United States is rather infamously alone in the so-called developed world in condemning many of its citizens to death or diminishment because of injury or illness if they can’t purchase care. As in the fable, the System turns to the hapless, down-scale crowd and like Pontius Pilate, washes its hands proclaiming, “I am innocent of this….blood”

When polled, the public has long overwhelmingly expressed support for governmentally guaranteed single-payer health care. Yet even at the height of the New Deal, such a plan was squashed by insiders. Truman brought it up again in his time. Nope.

After decades of tireless organizing, there seemed to be an opening with the election of The Man From Hope in the early 90s. Bill Clinton had ridden to power on a platform of massive public investment and national health care. He promptly put his better half, WalMart mouthpiece Hillary C. in charge. She held closed-door confabs with insurance company executives (think Dick Cheney’s energy policy meetings) and ultimately proposed a two-tier health care regime which built-in the three biggest insurance companies and consigned those of modest means to a “budget” plan. Those with money could buy Cadillac care. Those without would be offered a go-cart. “Choice,” they called it. In today’s lingo, any “reform” that might have cut insurance company profits was “off the table.”

In 1993, one of the single-payer movement’s most prominent leaders, Dr. David Himmelstein (Physicians for a National Health Program) gained some face-time with Ms. Clinton. The Washington Monthly reported, “Himmelstein’s studies, published in the New England Journal of Medicine since 1986, showed that the U.S. could save as much as $67 billion in administrative costs alone by cutting out the 1,500 private insurers and going to a single government insurer in each state — easily enough to pay to cover every uninsured American.”

“Hillary had heard it all before,” the Monthly continued. “How, she asked Himmelstein, do you defeat the multibillion-dollar insurance industry? ‘With presidential leadership and polls showing that 70 percent of Americans favor … a single-payer system,’ Himmelstein recalls telling Mrs. Clinton. “The First Lady replied. ‘Tell me something interesting, David.’”

The Rube Goldberg horror which the Clinton administration brought forward was frankly impossible to easily understand or admire. It proposed mostly to herd the population into private HMOs run by the big insurers. There the sheep might be fleeced, flogged, and flummoxed, with profits (and campaign contributions) uninterrupted.

Even this mincing alteration to the heinous status quo proved too much for the Health Insurance Association of America however. They unleashed “Harry and Louise” on the distracted American public. H&L decried the proposal as “big government” — an odd claim in that the so-called Health Security Act clearly demonstrated just how puny and simpering government had become in the face of concentrated corporate power.

The chance for reform squandered, Bill Clinton turned his attention to passing NAFTA, “violating the territorial integrity” of Yugoslavia, softening up Iraq for the big 2003 bipartisan invasion (killing 1.5 million Mesopotamians in the process), ending “welfare” financial support to children and their mothers, repealing New Deal-era regulation of the financial sector, and destroying what was left of the traditional Democratic Party. His touching fondness for hamburgers, hum-jobs, and hide-the-cigar notwithstanding he left a toxic legacy.

That political sludge was on display in Pittsburgh last weekend as the Democratic platform committee put the finishing touches on a draft set of “principles” for its national convention to adopt and its candidates to ignore. The platform was of course, shot through with “compromises.” The Associated Press (AP) focused primarily on the (alleged) potential “flash-point” issue of single-payer. With “little dissent — or room for it” the 186-member committee took any reference to single-payer “off the table” (AP). Instead the Party “declar[ed] itself ‘united behind a commitment that every American man, woman, and child be guaranteed to have affordable, comprehensive health care.’”

“United behind a commitment,” huh? These are weasel words which trumpet the descent of the Democratic Party remnant. The slack-jawed, vanquished, personality cultists who labor in this hollow shell/money-drop bide their time, and await the national convention and the coronation.

The AP observed dryly that, “Party platforms are a statement of principles that are not binding on the candidates or the next president and they are typically given little attention after they are adopted.” You know — like international law and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

The national platform evisceration contrasts with the recently adopted Maine Democratic Party platform. The Party’s convention set aside a sadly typically revisionist draft proposing “access to not-for-profit health care…” which could easily translate into what’s called charity care via the emergency room or voluntarist free clinics. At least for now, the democratic wing of this state’s Party was able to prevail. The convention affirmed a belief “that health care is a fundamental civil right…” It pledged that Maine Democrats still support a “universal single-payer nonprofit health system for all.”

Candidates like Mr. Obama will, as the AP notes, “give little attention” to either platform plank.

Such petty squeaks are simply not that “interesting.”

RICHARD RHAMES is chair of the Biddeford (Maine) Democratic City Committee, which is chartered to promote the “ideals of the Party.”

 

 

 

 

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RICHARD RHAMES is a dirt-farmer in Biddeford, Maine (just north of the Kennebunkport town line). He can be reached at: rrhames@xpressamerica.net

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