The Health Care Charade

Vermont’s Senator Bernie Sanders spoke for months about his “historic” efforts to get a vote on a single-payer health care bill in the Senate. While we all knew the outcome was going to be a rather miserable failure, it was a tiny crumb being flicked to those of us who still believe in both real solutions to the health care crisis AND the possibilities of democracy.

Bernie was correct to intuit that this kind of vote is essential to keep a movement alive, offer some hope, and simply record the moment in history. The entire effort is about seeing where we stand, knowing how far we have to go, and putting both the general public and the electoral elite on notice that we know where we’re going.

Historically, similar “failed” measures were introduced to end slavery, to give women the right to vote, to provide equal rights to minorities and – yes – to end wrong-headed wars. An effective movement must know which side everyone is on, and such votes – albeit failures – provide that organizational and motivational insight.

Bernie had all of this in mind while he talked the talk in the months preceding the historic single-payer health care vote. Because Bernie knows his history, and he also knows – like the rest of us who utilize common sense know – that a single-payer health care system provides the only path to justice.

“The upcoming vote on my single-payer health care bill will be an historic moment in the halls of Congress,” Bernie declared recently on a national radio talk show. “While I know it will fail, it is essential to bring it forward, have the debate, and record the vote so that we can continue to build the movement and move toward single-payer as our ultimate goal.”

Well, Bernie had his moment earlier this week. And, as we all know now, he quit on us.

Specifically, Bernie pulled his single-payer initiative from consideration after the Republicans went grade school on us by demanding that the 700-page amendment be read in its entirety. It was estimated that the reading would take about 12 hours of the Senate’s time. After about three hours, Bernie came to the floor of the Senate and announced that he was withdrawing his single-payer initiative and, thus, killing the “historic” vote.

Why? Because, as Bernie explained, he didn’t want to hold up the business of the Senate. And what, exactly, was the next item on the Senate’s agenda? Yet another Defense Department appropriations bill. Hmm, sounds like a good reason to stall to me…

But the real reason, of coarse, is that Bernie was getting his arm twisted by the spineless Democratic leadership, a group of sheep who seem only interested in perfecting the not-so-fine art of losing.

When Bernie took the floor to announce his decision to pull his amendment he was “outraged,” and then spilled forth with some fine rhetoric about all the ills of our political system, the obstructive nature of the Republicans, and then some more outrage piled upon the outrage.

But it was Bernie’s – and only Bernie’s – decision to kill his initiative and, as a result, the “historic” moment that he had been promoting. So, sorry, if there was outrage to be had, it should have been spread evenly amongst the childish Republicans and Bernie-the-quitter.

Sadly, the whole affair could be chalked up to yet another example of the Democratic Party’s (yes, Bernie caucuses with the Dems) willingness to lead its followers to political slaughter. Obama’s done it with the Wall Street bailouts, his refusal to close Gitmo, his foot-dragging on Iraq, his surge in Afghanistan and his near-complete failure of leadership on the health care issue (to name a few). And the Democratically-controlled Congress has followed suit with its own bait and switch nonsense like the one perpetrated by Bernie: “Come, my followers, let’s make history. Oh, nevermind.”

They don’t want a movement. They want a nice, pliable butch of donors willing to get giddy during campaign season long enough to “hope” and vote for change. And if you dare to call their bluff, they’ll scream “Nader!” and/or “Palin!” until their own failures get lost in the rhetorical haze.

Shame on Bernie for so perfectly joining the quitters (once again). Because a real “independent” wouldn’t have so blatantly betrayed the moment of history he dangled in front of the single-payer movement. All for – what!? – saving a few hours of the Senate’s time? So they could rush to throw more money at the Pentagon? Good grief.

With apologies to “The Who,” we were, indeed, fooled again.


MICHAEL COLBY works with draft horses in Vermont and is the editor of Broadsides.org. He welcomes your comments at mcolby@broadsides.org.


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Michael Colby is a Vermont writer and maple syrup producer. He’s the former editor of the Food & Water Journal, and the co-founder of Regeneration Vermont. He can be contacted at mcolbyvt@gmail.com.

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