By Allan Uthman

Man. It’s been years that I’ve forced myself to observe, with muted horror, the degeneration of political discourse in America. Occasionally, I’ve even had the pleasure of taking part in it. But it seems I’m never quite cynical enough to predict the depths we’re willing to plumb as a nation.

I thought I was going to write a piece about how stupid it is that the right argues a public option is unfair because private insurance companies can’t compete against it. I mean, it really is an insane position, that we can’t have a public insurance option because it would provide better service for less money. And it’s equally insane to assert that private insurance companies need to make money more than Americans need access to health care.

But things have spiraled ever downward from there. It’s pointless to even attempt a cogent argument on this subject, when the other side of the debate are running around with their hair on fire, their leaders promoting obvious, absurd lies about “death panels” and… I don’t know, something about Hitler? Shamelessness does have its advantages, apparently. Certainly, no one has to ask Sarah Palin or Newt Gingrich if they have any shame, as was asked old Joe McCarthy, because the answer is obviously no. In a saner country, this “death panel” madness would be the end of Palin’s political ambitions forever. But then, a saner country would have tossed her into the ocean a year ago.

Anyway, it’s a foregone conclusion that whatever the hell gets through the Senate will be labeled Health Care Reform, or Health Insurance Reform, or just Health Reform as they’ve been calling it lately. And it’s equally clear that it will be pretty much useless, maybe even worse than useless. At best, it might solve the problem of impossible prices the same way Bush solved high drug prices: by making the government pay private businesses top dollar for it.

That’s how we compromise with industry now. As much as the Democrats are vilifying the insurance companies (and yes, they are villains in this story), the insurance companies will support the horribly mutilated bill that emerges for Obama to sign. Why? Because they will make more money than ever. Instead of a public option, people who can’t afford health insurance will be forced to buy private insurance, the poorest of us subsidized by the government. I suppose, if you have no insurance, that’s better than nothing. But it sure as hell isn’t much good.

To be fair, there are other good points, supposedly: A ban on rejecting people for preexisting conditions, for instance. But the public option, itself a paltry shadow of what a single-payer system could do for the country, is pretty much dead. It probably won’t survive the Senate process, even in a hollowed-out, meaningless form. Why? Because it would work. It would provide better service for lower costs. And the insurance people can’t have that.

The problem isn’t that the Democrats are spineless compromise fetishists, as many seem to think. Any smart negotiator knows that you start from a position your opponent deems unacceptable—in this case, a UK-style single-payer system, which would actually reduce costs dramatically and provide decent care for everyone.

Say Obama had started there. First of all, polls have consistently shown a majority of Americans support a single-payer system, as well as a majority of doctors. When politicians argue it’s not politically viable, they’re referring to staunch corporate opposition, not voter opposition, regardless of a few hundred aged, bewildered Glenn Beck drones shouting “keep your government hands off my Medicare” (actual quote). Secondly, even if it isn’t viable, starting from a single-payer position would ensure that any eventual compromise would be closer to a decent plan than what we’re going to wind up with, now that the Obama administration has started negotiating from an initial position of compromise. Instead, they’re compromising the compromise.


Why is this? No, it’s not that Democrats are wimps. They’re dive artists. Obama promised health care reform, but do he and his DLC inner circle actually want to weaken the stranglehold medical profiteers have on the public? Or do they just want to make a good show of losing the struggle?

The case for a single-payer system is rock solid and easy to explain. A single payer bill could be short enough to read in a few minutes—in fact, there is a single-payer bill floating around (doomed by the “too-liberal” names Kucinich-Conyers), and it’s a little over 4,000 words long.  Instead, we have a bill that’s over 1,000 pages long, written in typically inscrutable legalese, so dense and obscurantist that Republicans can assert nearly anything about it, from death panels to forcible sterilization, and say “read the bill!” with full knowledge that nobody will, nor could they understand it if they did.

Perhaps this explains Obama’s complete failure to actually describe the plan, aside from painfully vague references to “reform”. It’s suspicious that a group of people with the kind of supernatural message discipline they exhibited during the presidential campaign can’t muster any kind of reasonable explanation of what the plan is. Why is opposition to the health care bill rising? Not because conservatives don’t want it; they never did. It’s because liberals are starting to smell the bullshit, and recognize that what they’re trying to foist on us is not reform, but a massive boondoggle, just another way to funnel cash to donors. And make no mistake, all of the interested parties in this disgusting extortion racket we call a health care system have thrown mountains of cash at all of the important Democrats involved. Why, after all have pharmaceutical companies committed to spend hundreds of millions promoting the bill in a disturbing backroom deal with the White House, if it isn’t a simple boondoggle? Why has the AMA, a longstanding opponent of any form of socialized medicine, come out in favor of it?  Because, unfortunately, and despite the constant refrain from the paranoid rednecks, there’s nothing socialist about it. And it might be baffling, if you don’t understand where the real power is in the Party.

Put it this way: After eight years solid of Republicans proving themselves to be dishonest, corrupt and incompetent, what if the Democrats provided universal health coverage and paid for it by taxing the rich? I’ll tell you what: They wouldn’t lose another election for decades. It is actually in the party’s self-interest to do these things. And yet, they don’t. Why? Because there’s one thing even more important to politicians than votes, and that’s money.  Hell, even if Max Baucus loses his next election, his income level will skyrocket, thanks to the profiteers he’s protecting now.

Less than a year ago, Republicans were handed their walking papers, and the national consensus was that they were worse than worthless. And yet they are controlling this debate? With transparent lies and spooky stories—about the kind of health care system that the entire first world enjoys, and nobody seems to regret? Bullshit. Even with the help of Frank Luntz, the GOP’s talking points suck, and could be effectively rebutted—even by Harry Reid, let alone Obama. Health care rationing? Bureaucrats between you and your doctor? Life-saving procedures denied or delayed? All of these are already rampant in the private system. For every isolated horror story the Right can find in Canada or England, there are hundreds in your own neighborhood. And national health care never leaves individuals destitute or with impossible debt.

The Democrats seem to be throwing this thing on purpose. The public option is DOA and was probably always meant to be. And it’s not because they’re wussy or incompetent. It’s because they’re corrupt. It’s because all they are is the sock puppet on the left hand of corporate hegemony. Bribery is legal in this country—we call it campaign finance. That’s why we can’t have a single-payer system, and that’s why this bill devolving into yet another massive theft of taxpayer money was a foregone conclusion. In the end, maybe some poor people will be able to get treatment when they couldn’t before, but only in the weakest, most costly and corrupt way conceivable. And if that’s the only way we can do it, then I guess I’m for it.

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