‘Socialized medicine’ losses scare [pwer

Socialized medicine’ and ‘socialism’

both losing power to scare America


By Roger Bybee


With the fall of the Berlin Wall, the term "socialist" became associated with both shameful totalitarianism and an anachronistic, failed economic approach.


The failure of top-down communism in the Eastern Bloc–utterly divorced from democratic socialist ideals of workers’ direct participation in workplace decisions and a society built around maximizing human potential rather than profit–nonetheless tainted any version of democratic socialism.


In the resulting vacuum, Madame Thatcher’s ominous verdict, "There is no alternative" to razor-wire capitalism as exemplified by the UK and the US, was widely accepted by the educated classes in the West. For some cheerleaders of ruthless corporate globalization like New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman, the "no alternative" notion was even converted into a virtuous "golden straitjacket."  By donning the golden straitjacket and abandoning any other policy objectives except maximizing corporate profits, societies would see their political options shrink but their economies would inevitably expand, Friedman promised.


But the current economic crisis has perhaps accelerated an attitudinal sea-change. Last year, when the Republicans began throwing around "socialized medicine" to condemn any health care reform plan that assisted ordinary citizens rather than prioritized corporate profits. (Actually "socialized medicine" refers strictly to systems like Great Britain‘s or our VA health network, where doctors and nurses are government employees and hospitals and clinics are owned by the government. In the single payer systems found in systems like Canada and Taiwan (as well as in our own Medicare system), government essentially replaces for-profit insurers but doctors’ practices, hospitals, and clinics remain private.

After hearing the Republicans prattle on about "socialized medicine," Prof. Robert Blendon of Harvard School of Public Health conducted a remarkable study, summarized in this Harvard news release:

"Among those who say they have at least some understanding of the phrase (82%), a plurality (45%) says such a system would be better while 39 percent say it would be worse. Twelve percent say they do not know and four percent say about the same.

"The poll shows striking differences by party identification. Seventy percent of Republicans say that socialized medicine would be worse than our current system. The same percentage of Democrats (70%) say that a socialized medical system would be better than our current system. Independents are more evenly split with 43% saying socialized medicine would be better and 38% worse."

A clear plurality favored the supposed horrors of "socialized medicine"! Thus, it appears that the term has lost much of the scary overtones that were so critical in defeating Harry Truman’s national health plan in 1948. Experiencing the icy-cold waters of free-market capitalism–and note that this poll was taken well before the meltdown brought on by Wall Street greed– is evidently re-opening some minds.

In future posts, I’ll look at some other indicators of sharply decreasing public fear of socialism and the breathing space it creates for contemplating alternatives to the failed status quo.


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