So, the Republicans have voted to end Medicare as we know it and throw our parents and ourselves to the mercy of the insurance market with vouchers. The new budget bill the House Republicans passed yesterday cuts trillions of dollars of support for poor and working families while enriching the already rich even more. It’s hard to look at recent decades elections maps and not notice that the bulk of the Republican strong hold is still located in the poorest, most rural and, by far, the most southern states. It’s almost as if the south never gave up its taste for cheap, exploitable labor. It’s still fighting the Civil War using modern tactics.
Of course, it wasn’t always like that. Lyndon Johnson was from Texas and he made it his goal to introduce the Great Society in order to eliminate poverty in our lifetime. Lyndon Johnson was a schoolteacher before he became a politician. He taught children of Mexican workers and this experience seems to have shaped his worldview and taught him compassion:
“I shall never forget the faces of the boys and the girls in that little Welhausen Mexican School, and I remember even yet the pain of realizing and knowing then that college was closed to practically every one of those children because they were too poor. And I think it was then that I made up my mind that this nation could never rest while the door to knowledge remained closed to any American.”
When he became president, he took up JFK’s New Frontier programs that had previously languished in Congress. Some of the initiatives of the New Frontier were Medicare and Medicaid. They couldn’t get through the impasse of Republicans in Congress who were supported by money from the American Medical Association. Let’s think about that for a minute. It was doctors who didn’t want Medicare. Why does this sound so familiar? In the recent healthcare reform debates, we’ve heard a lot about controlling costs and determining which health care procedures have the best outcomes but the vast majority of the efforts seem to be directed at getting consumers to pay more in insurance costs, to accept fewer services for their insurance dollar for guaranteed coverage and to pay for treatment out of pocket. But who benefits from more dollars for fewer services?
Medicare had a much easier road to passage after the 1964 Democratic landslide in Congress. Many more liberal Democrats were elected to office and the number of Republicans was reduced to under 1/3 of the total number of representatives. Medicare, Medicaid, housing and educational funding were passed without Republican help, or, more importantly, interference. For a historical perspective, listen to this podcast from Witness (BBC) on the Birth of the Great Society and Medicare. It’s only 10 minutes long and you will get a clearer sense of what we’re up against.
Now, a lot of people will get their backs up about labeling Republicans. Democrats can be just as bad. Yep. There is no doubt in my mind that there are a lot of Democrats in Congress elected from very conservative districts who don’t really embrace Democratic values much less liberal ones. But if the country wants to keep their social safety net programs intact, their civil rights protected and give their children a fighting chance in terms of education and a more equal society, it has to get rid of as many Republicans as possible and replace them with politicians who are more liberal. They don’t have to be Democrats. They just have to be proponents of a Greater Society. We should have learned lessons from our past. We know that endless wars can drain our economy. We know that welfare can destroy initiative, demoralize and cement generations of families in poverty. But having no social safety net can do the same thing and the effects will become much more noticeable as time goes on. Crime will increase, our society will be less well-educated, education and opportunity will become more dependent on who you know, not what you know. We will all get a little bit closer to the poor migrant worker, never able to count on a stable paycheck or help during economic or health care emergencies.
Republicans seem to want a feudal kind of society back. Landowner and serf. Sixteen tons. This is nothing new. They’ve been at this for 50 years. The question is, what have we learned from this? More importantly, how do we get the country to turn away from the noise machine that keeps pushing its buttons on gay marriage and abortion and get it to concentrate its efforts on saving itself? Democrats missed opportunities since 2006 to reinstate the Fairness Doctrine and strengthen Net Neutrality. Failure to do this will result in fewer outlets for alternative viewpoints. I have to wonder why Democrats have deliberately hobbled themselves like this. Is it malice or stupidity? Are they so afraid of hostile public comment, ginned up by Republican astroturf campaigns, that they are paralyzed into inaction? Is Al Franken political poison? Isn’t this a vicious cycle? If so, we need to replace these Democrats with some loose cannons of our own. Where are the Rand Pauls and Paul Ryans of the left?
No matter what happens in the next year, the blame falls on both Republicans and Democrats. Republicans for being the snakes we pick up at the side of the road, knowing what they are; Democrats for yielding to big money instead of working on great efforts. We shouldn’t let ourselves be distracted from the fact that this issue is played out before a big election. Medicare has become politicized by both parties for their own gains. I don’t appreciate having Medicare, Medicaid or Social Security dangled in front of the American people with snapping crocodiles waiting to consume them and if that’s what the Obama campaign is planning, they’d better make damn sure they haven’t miscalculated. The “smart compromise” move would be to not negotiate with Republicans on Medicare. Period. Or Social Security or Medicaid or any other social safety net program. Tell them you’ll smartly compromise when the rich starts paying its fair share, the bankers return all of our money and unemployment is down to 3%. Then we’ll talk. Frankly, I don’t trust Obama or his organization. He’s no JFK, LBJ or FDR. He’s an Obamaist. That’s the sum total of his political philosophy. You lefties know this going in. Your eyes are open. He’s going to try to please all of the data mined to death voter blocs on his electoral checklist. There will be no vision, no program. It will be all about HIM. How many votes can he get here and there to put him ever so slightly over the top. Expect a lot of compromising, very little of it smart.
I’ve worked since I was 17, faithfully putting away my (now substantial) FICA and Medicare taxes and now that I no longer have a job and may never get one that pays as well as the one I lost, I am going to expect that my decades of deferred wages get paid to me as promised. To ask me to accept anything less is to ask me to accept fraud. I won’t have it. If the projected costs are too high based on the past several years GDP, it would have been better to do the hard work of passing a decent jobs program, ending the unnecessary war in Iraq and taxing the rich. Don’t ask me to make long term sacrifices for some stupid short term gain that spares me a few measley cents on the dollar but rewards the rich lavishly. I see clearly what is going on and I’m not buying it.
Democrats, take notice.
A little more: I started free associating (without drugs) on the concept of the company store in 16 Tons and came across this wikipedia entry for the truck system:
A truck system is an arrangement in which employees are paid in commodities or some currency substitute (referred to as scrip), rather than with standard money. This limits employees’ ability to choose how to spend their earnings—generally to the benefit of the employer. As an example, scrip might be usable only for the purchase of goods at a “company store” where prices are set artificially high.
Bear with me for a sec. It seems to me that offering seniors vouchers that must be spent on private insurance policies and not providing access to something like a public option like the one Paul Krugman is suggesting is a lot like the truck system. What makes it more outrageous is that it’s with our taxdollars that we have earned. So, to recap, we labor all our lives, deferring our wages for Medicare and Social Security. Then, when we need to use it, to recoup our wages compounded by millions of other taxpayers, we are issued “scrip” instead that can only be used at a “company” insurance store where the company sets the rates and can set them artificially high to guarantee themselves a profit at taxpayer expense.
We outlawed the truck system in the 20th century but I wouldn’t be surprised if a lot of seniors have heard of it from their parents. It was despised. Republicans want to bring a form of it back. Anybody who votes for a politician who wants to “smart compromise” on this plan should have their heads examined.