Political Climate Change

BY Joel Bleifuss

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Paul Krugman, president of the Hillary Clinton fan club, writes in his New York Times column that if Barack Obama gets the nomination, there is no chance “that we will get universal healthcare in the next administration.” He has criticized Obama for not supporting mandates, as Clinton does, that require everyone to buy insurance.

Lost in this debate is one stark fact: Neither Clinton nor Obama are proposing a clean break with our for-profit insurance system.

Both Clinton’s and Obama’s plans allow for the possibility of a public plan replacing private insurance at some point in the future. But given the realities of Washington, it is easy to imagine a scenario in which the public’s money would subsidize a grossly expensive and inefficient private system into the indefinite future. At a time when progressives are starting to dream big again, why settle for a compromise with Corporate America?

Critiquing the Clinton plan in a Times op-ed in December, Drs. Steffie Woolhandler and David U. Himmelstein wrote, “The ‘mandate model’ for reform rests on impeccable political logic: avoid challenging insurance firms’ stranglehold on healthcare. But it is economic nonsense. The reliance on private insurers makes universal coverage unaffordable … [O]nly a single-payer system of national healthcare can save what we estimate is the $350 billion wasted annually on medical bureaucracy, and redirect those funds to expanded coverage.”

There is really nothing to debate. According to Physicians for a National Health Program (pnhp.org), Canadians, who have a single-payer universal system, spend far less per capita on healthcare and have better access to it than Americans.

The point is not that Clinton and Obama should see the light and endorse single-payer universal healthcare. That would be too much to expect, considering that the two candidates have taken $2.8 million and $2.2 million, respectively, from the healthcare sector, according to the Center for Responsive Politics website (opensecrets.org).

Progressives should reject the convoluted public/private hybrid systems championed by Krugman, Clinton and Obama, and say, “No thanks, we can do better.”

But why stop there?

An out-of-control War Department (as it was called until the age of polite euphemisms) will eat up 56 percent of the proposed discretionary budget for 2008, at a time when many urban and rural communities have Third World school systems.

Our criminal injustice industry has created a whole class of separate and unequal citizens: poor young men (and women)–white, black and brown–who cycle in and out of court and prison.

Candidates can’t be–and shouldn’t be–the vehicle for all of our hopes and dreams.

Clinton, Obama and others who aspire to federal office are constrained by the political realities of a system that was bought and paid for long ago.

Fortunately, we the people owe nothing to special interests. It is our job as advocates, activists and agitators to change the political climate in which politicians operate and to make the wrath of the angry multitude more fearsome than the displeasure of the lobbyist.

To quote an old song, “We want no condescending saviors, to rule us from their judgment hall.” Universal, single-payer healthcare? Functioning schools? Well-paying jobs for the dispossessed? We can do it.


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Joel Bleifuss, a former director of the Peace Studies Program at the University of Missouri-Columbia, is the editor & publisher of In These Times, where he has worked since October 1986.

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