Friday, July 31, 2009

Socialism: Adendum

If you even casually keep up with current events, you can probably guess what inspired the satire in the post below this one.

Like a lot of people, I'm in favor of a single-payer, government-run health care system. Yes, socialized medicine. There is, of course, huge controversy over this, mostly because people fear the word "socialism" without understanding what it means. They just know it's supposed to be bad, a close cousin to that arch-nemesis to our freedoms: communism.

What I tried to point out in my last post is that we already revere and enjoy several aspects of socialism; we just don't refer to them that way because they're so deeply ingrained in our way of life. Police and fire departments, public education, and even the U.S. Armed Forces are, by any definition, socialist institutions. They are funded and run completely by the government and provided at no cost to citizens (other than, of course, taxes).

We have set up these systems because as a society we have agreed that certain things should be made available to all citizens, regardless of income level. Everyone is entitled to police protection, fire services, education, and protection from threats both foreign and domestic. I doubt that even conservatives would find fault with that.

Thus, the obvious question: Why aren't we entitled to health know, life itself?

The right does their usual "The government can't do anything right!" rap (which is a self-fulfiling prophecy), conveniently ignoring that they're the biggest supporters of increased spending for the U.S. Military, by far the largest chunk of federal government spending. Why do they have so much faith in the government when it comes to guns and bombs but not surgery and bandages? It also doesn't acknowledge whom we entrust with our most lauded citizens: veterans. Where do they get their health care? I don't need to tell you the answer, do I?

What really drives me crazy is that for the first time in a long time, the Democrats, supposedly the party of the common man, has complete, fillibuster-proof control. They have another year-and-a-half to get things done. Say what you may about Bush, but even when he didn't have this majority, he bent the country to his will. He and Cheney circled their own party's wagons and bullied enough Democrats into voting for wars, tax cuts, etc.

Every day, I see Obama's promise of "affordable health care for all" get watered down just a little bit more. And mostly it's because the Dems continue to let the Republicans (especially the pundits with their legions of unthinking dittoheads) continue to frame the debate. They just scream "socialism!" over and over again until the more conservative Dems get cold feet and start eliminating any provision that would substantially overhaul the system, which was sort of the whole point in the first place.

Think about that for a second. How amazing is it that the Democrats are allowing policy to be dictated to them by a party whose approval rating is at historic lows? Will they ever grow a spine and get it together?

Here's my first suggestion: Obama puts those brilliant oratory skills to work in order to speak rationally and sensibly about socialism. He points out all the socialist stuff we already have and makes the case that health care shouldn't be a for-profit industry, the same way the police, fire, education, and military systems shouldn't be (the fact that the military is becoming scandalously privatized is the subject for another blog). Wouldn't that appeal to the majority of the American public?

Wanna hear something really depressing? What prompted me to write all this was a recent viewing of the Ted Kennedy documentary on HBO. They showed a speech he gave in 1978 (a curly brown-haired Bill Clinton introduced him) about health care. Teddy spoke passionately about the need for all Americans to have quality health care, not just well-to-dos like his famous family.

It's over 30 years later, and I'm hearing the exact same points being made, with zero progress. In fact, things are much worse. You don't need the stats thrown at you again; it's well known that the U.S. spends by far the most on health costs and yet lags behind dozens of other countries in actual health benefits, life expectancy, etc.

Are Americans really so thick-headed that they would continue under this abysmal system rather than accept that the most important part of being guaranteed life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness just might be the "life" part?

Sadly, I think the answer is yes. But at least we'll have struck down further socialism. Hooray.


JamesD said...

Mr Nolan-

I have a question for you. I agree that health insurance needs to be fixed. Why is it that health care reform has to be a giant new program run entirely by the government?

First. I unfortunately have been dealing with a serious health problem which has caused me, atleast temporarily, a significant level of disability. This has been going on for over a year and I was left with no choice but to apply for social security disability. I applied January 6, 2009. I received a response dated July 16, 2009 and I was denied. They claim they need more information. It took them over 6 months to tell me they needed more information. They also suggest it will take another 4-6 months to review from when I am able to send out the new information. There is honestly no reason for this. I am afraid health care will be run the same way.

Second. Take the auto insurance industry in California. As you know, California requires everyone to have Auto insurance. Many people can afford it. Some are unable to. For those people there is a govt negotiated program with the insurance companies for low cost auto insurance. And finally if you cant afford it at all and are looking for work, they will pay for it at no cost to you while you are getting on your feet. This has been achieved through oversight and regulation. Why wouldn't something like this work for the health care industry?

I appreciate your comments.

Nolan said...

This is a very well-written comment, and it should be addressed by someone with much more knowledge than I possess. Since it's my blog, however, I'll take a stab at it.

To answer your first question, the reason I think the program has to be government-run is that as long as health care is a for-profit industry, there will be graft and abuses within it. Right now, a ton of money is wasted with the insurance companies- they are middlemen whose concern is not quality care but turning a profit.

I believe your anecdote about your experience with a segment of the government, and I'm not naive enough to believe that a government-run system won't have its share of problems. After all, the examples I used (police, fire, public education, the military) certainly aren't exempt from issues. And we'd have to overhaul the system to make it work. But other countries are already doing this more cheaply than we are, and with better results.

Your example of the auto industry is a good one, and I think that's pretty close to what the Democrats' plan is (although that changes by the day). I just think that auto insurance isn't like health care. Everyone deserves the best possible health care. As long as we keep letting private insurance companies dictate who gets what kind of care and for how much, we'll never be truly serving the country's needs.

Again, I'd like to commend the way you wrote this. You avoided talking points and stuck to reasoned, factual arguments that directly addressed what I wrote, not stuff I didn't raise. It's sad that this strikes me as refreshing, but that's the state of American discourse today, unfortunately.

Simon said...


A couple of thoughts:
1. The big problem Obama has is that most people think that they are going to get screwed with the reform (ie the country may be better off but they won't), and that they think the cost is a much bigger problem than universal coverage:

2. You talk in your article about government run health care, but I think it's important that we understand the options available to us: having the government administering the program is but one approach, the more important thing IMHO is having single payer, where the industry is private but the government covers everyone and foots the bill. The more likely option to pass would be a government option on health care.

3. Let's not just blame republicans, unions are doing Obama no favors either. I strongly support taxing health care at the employer level (why are we discouraging entrepreneurship?), but because of the unions Obama is looking at this as the third rail.