I was talking with a family member about the current health care debate and accompanying reform that is working its way through the US congress. We were arguing about the reasons why the US doesn’t have some form of national public health care as all other industrialized democracies and many other developing countries from various shades of the political spectrum do.
I brought up the point that in the current debate in Washington there has been little to no mention of the single-payer system that seems to work so well in other developed countries (i.e. Canada, UK, etc.). I was countered by the argument that if the people of the US really wanted a single-payer option then it would inevitably be included in the debate. The reasoning was that people would vote for those candidates who shared their views and hence those views would then make it into the congressional and national debate. If a significant percentage of the US public wanted a single-payer option, so the argument goes, then their representatives in the national legislature would advocate for their views. Failure to do so would result in not being re-elected. This in a nutshell seems to be the representative democracy model. The fact that there was virtually no mention of single-payer was a reflection of the fact that single-payer advocates actually represented a small minority of US public opinion.
When I countered that numerous polls over the years have repeatedly shown otherwise, I was challenged to explain why the politicians would repeated and completely ignore the public on such a prominent issue. I had to stop and think about what I heard for a few seconds, not because I was lacking for a suitable response, but because of what the challenge revealed to me about he level of general awareness on how US ‘democracy’ actually works.
After coming back to my senses I simply replied that it is because the politicians in congress are representing their real benefactors, the corporate interests. It did not occur to my conversation partner that on a variety of issues the US public has repeatedly been in a majority opposition to official governmental policy, sometimes overwhelmingly so. Just off the top of my head nuclear disarmament comes to mind. The reasons and mechanisms behind the system are such as to boggle the mind in absurdity, though they do follow their own internal logic. It seemed to me that the only time that single-payer is brought up by national politicians (with a few noteworthy exceptions) is when it is declared that it is not even on the table for debate.
Funny, compare this with the way the US deals with the like of Iran or other countries that resist the dictates of Washington and the imperial line. In these matters we continually here from the president on down that “all options are on the table” when it comes to dealing with Iran, which presumably includes anything and up to full-scale strike with tactical nuclear warheads. It certainly hasn’t been ruled out, that much is for sure. But when the issue at hand is providing the minimum level of health care for its own citizens as opposed to the destruction of a country with close to 77 million inhabitants and a civilization dating back well over 5,000 years, some things just aren’t politically viable enough to be ‘on the table’ for discussion.
Does this make any sense? To anyone? Ok, ok, so it makes a lot of sense if you start connecting the dots and follow the money trail. The private health-system in the US (comprised of private health insurance providers, pharmaceutical companies, and private hospitals) stands to lose a LOT of profits if a cheaper publicly owned and government run system was put into place. And it WOULD be cheaper. But that option is not even ‘on the table’ for discussion. Instead proposals are being considered that would actually force the uninsured to buy health insurance from the current private providers under threat of facing fines from the federal government (remember these are the same people that currently don’t have health insurance because they cannot afford it). So the private insurance providers make a few minor compromises here and there and in return are handed millions upon millions of new customers by the government. Seems like a pretty good reform package, if you are a large corporation that is.
I thought this debate was about health care, not Wealth care. How did we get to this situation? Well it’s almost ridiculously simple. In the US private donations are what fuel electoral politics. And in this heartland of capitalism a corporation is entitled to the same rights as an individual human beings under federal law and court rulings. Apparently there is no conflict of interest when major corporations and industries can pretty much bankroll election campaigns for a variety of candidates for a variety of public offices. Call me cynical but it seems like the subsequently elected officials would be beholden to the corporations who paid for their campaign and got them elected and not the public that they are supposed to represent. But under the twisted logic of the system a corporation and a citizen are equal in the eyes of the law, so why not shower favor on the corporate interests, after all they are as much citizens as we lowly human beings are.
Add to this all the fact that there is a revolving door between congress, the white house, the treasury, and the major financial and ‘health’ corporations that encourages a person who is shaping legislative laws and regulatory economic policy to make the move seamlessly into the top ranks of the industry they were only so recently in charge of regulating. My god, I don’t know if I could create a system more catered to corruption and misuse if tried. What is truly astonishing is that we are all just going to end up taking this big fuck job. I have already read much about how the new system we will get will be no better than the current one, but that it will take about 10 years for people to realize that it is equally broken. Then will be the time to rise up and get the real reform that we so desperately need and deserve.
This line of defeatist thinking is unfortunately about all we have left at this point, as Wealth Care seems destined to pass. Even so this course of events should open up space for reform to develop in the mid-term. It must be seen as a victory for big business and the single corporate party state that the US currently has, but it could be a serious mistake in calculations by the ruling classes. Although it is difficult to say where the general population of the US will be in ten years economically, it seems likely at this point that long term high rate of unemployment, coupled with never-ending wars, massive current accounts deficits, and critically serious world economic crisis are bound to leave the US working class in a worse off position than now. This leaves enormous potential for the development of popular movements for change from below to address the many shortcomings of the capitalist structure of society.
It is our tasks to make the connections stated above between corporate funding of electoral campaigns, conflict of interests between public office posts and private industry positions, and the failure to place the social needs of people ahead of the capitalist logic of profit and competition. The failure of this system to generate a just society where everyone is afforded the equal opportunities to develop their full potentials as a human being will be key in generating the next radical wave of discontent with the status quo.
Today we are witnessing the first sordid birth pangs of a movement.