For more than a year now we’ve watched Congress debate healthcare reform, or more accurately, health insurance reform, with all its fits and starts, twists and turns with increasing frustration regardless of which side you’re on. For those on the left the aggravation has been particularly acute with the one system, single payer, whose success worldwide at providing comprehensive healthcare to the most people at the least cost has been completely ignored by those charged with reforming our current system. This debate has also demonstrated beyond any doubt just how broken our democracy is when a minority of senators can effectively block any real change, and where even one senator’s ego can thwart the reform that working Americans so desperately need.
So it’s no great surprise that healthcare reform has devolved into heath insurance reform and while there are many good aspects to the final legislation, rather than breaking the strangle hold that health insurance corporations have over our healthcare system, their power has only increased. Not only was single payer off the table from the start, people were actually arrested for daring to suggest that it be part of the discussion. And even the milquetoast alternative, a public option, failed to make it in the final bill, for now at least. The fact that a public option which would have only been available to the relatively small number of individuals buying their insurance from an exchange was considered such a threat to the insurance giants and therefore excluded in the final bill demonstrates both the power and influence corporations have over our government, and the absurdity that the free market is superior to, and more efficient to any government program. If that were actually true then the public option would be no threat to private insurance.
So in light of the weakness of the legislation signed into law, is there any reason to be optimistic about our future? I believe the answer is yes. The corporatist Republicans threw absolutely everything they had to defeat any type of reform from passing and they failed. Some may see that because the outcome was far less than what Obama’s base wanted, it was a victory for the right but if that were true Republicans would now be sighing with relief rather than vowing to overthrow this bill in any way possible. Former Bush speechwriter David Frum was recently fired from the conservative think tank, American Enterprise Institute for criticizing the GOP’s over the top opposition to healthcare reform. It was Frum’s position that Republicans should have negotiated with Democrats rather than simply attempting to obstruct anything Democrats proposed. Frum noted that the final bill wasn’t much different than previous GOP healthcare proposals and that by going for “all the marbles,” “[w]e ended up with none.” Frum declared, “Conservatives and Republicans today suffered their most crushing legislative defeat since the 1960s. It’s hard to exaggerate the magnitude of the disaster.”
Was Frum correct, about compromising I mean? Should Republicans have accepted their minority status and tried instead to negotiate an outcome more in line with their beliefs rather than “go for all the marbles?” I believe the answer is no. I believe the Republicans were terrified of any type of reform, if only subconsciously, because they understand, again if only subconsciously, that the Reagan revolution is finally over and their influence over American politics has finally come to an end. For thirty years now Americans have bought into the conservative meme that greed is good, that if you get government out of the way of the wealthy that we all would prosper. But we didn’t prosper, not most of us anyway. Before Reagan we were the largest creditor nation in the world, now we’re the largest debtor. Before Reagan our manufacturing industry was the envy of the world, now that envy goes to China. Before Reagan an average single earner family had more disposable income than the average dual income family has today. After World War II, and until the folly of Viet Nam, we had a strong, stable economy. After Reagan, we’ve had a series of boom bust cycles culminating into the worst collapse since the Great Depression. After the disastrous presidency of George W. Bush, after the smoking ruins the GOP has left this country, any change in direction, no matter how slight, would give lie to the Republican orthodoxy we’ve been subjected to over the last three decades. They knew that reforming healthcare, or anything else for that matter, would be a net benefit to working Americans and a net loss to the right’s corporate masters and they had no choice but to fight it with everything they had. It may take a little while, but Americans will see that “Obamacare” won’t usher in Armageddon or that none of the other ridiculous hyperbole emanating from the right wing noise machine will turn out to be true either. In fact, the health insurance reform just passed will actually have a positive effect if only slightly and may very well lead to actual healthcare reform.
We’ve reached a turning point in this country’s history. The recent spate of violence may be a harbinger of worse things to come or it may just represent the last throes of the evil influence that has dominated our culture for the last thirty years. I believe the latter. I believe the Republican’s defeat is America’s victory.