A fantasy in the spirit of Charles Dickens:
In February of 2009, with his poll numbers and public expectations exceptionally high, President Obama announces that he supports the House health care reform bill with the most co-sponsors: HR 676, the universal, single payer plan. He notes that this has always been his answer to fixing the broken, for-profit system that now fails patient needs and burdens our economy. Immediately, the health care industry and big Pharma go into full attack mode, condemning the bill as "socialism". Obama meets with Democratic House leadership and emphasizes that “the American people need this bill and we will give it to them. This victory will pave the way for an overwhelming victory in the 2010 elections!”
House conservative Democrats join Republicans in attacking the House bill, citing industry generated polls and conservative pundits in arguing that the “American people do not want a government plan, but one that leaves health care in the hands of the private market.” The health care industry and its friends rush multi-million dollar attack ads into play, much as they did during the Clinton administration.
In the early spring, Obama holds a town hall meeting, nationally televised, in which he brings together, from around the country, hundreds of people who have been victimized by lack of insurance, poor insurance, coverage denials, and obscene health care costs. In a major address, Obama cites the tens of thousands who die every year from a lack of insurance coverage. He declares this as criminally tragic as the September 11 attacks. Also, he emphatically states that placing petty concerns above delivering adequate health care to all is unpatriotic.
That same week, House leader Nancy Pelosi publicly announces that HR 676 must be passed and she will hold Democrats feet to the fire with all the resources available to the Democratic Party, including election funding, committee seats, and primary challenges. CNN reports live on a conference of pollsters, health care providers, doctors, nurses, and economists who discuss the bill thoroughly, followed by a full endorsement. National media coverage is extensive. The Sunday morning gasbags devote their shows to the bill, grilling opponents in light of the Administration offensive.
As the Senate takes up a health care bill, progressive Democrats call for a rally in support of the bill to take place in DC in the summer. They pressure the House leadership to endorse the rally. The AFL-CIO, NOW, MoveOn, and all other liberal groups endorse the rally.
While seemingly endless debate goes on in the Senate, hundreds of thousands pour into DC to hear a wide range of speakers, musicians, and Congressional leaders in support of the Senate counterpart bill introduced by Senator Sanders. The crowd stirs with the spreading rumor that the President may well appear. Near the end, the crowd roars as President Obama briefly appears, thanking the demonstrators.
The Democratic Senate leadership, stiffened by the unprecedented rally, announces that they will bring the bill quickly to the floor. Senator Reid – the Senate Democratic leader announces that this bill is as significant as any legislation since the Voting Rights Act. He wants his place in history to be identified with this vote. Administration staffer, Rahm Emanuel, reportedly caucused with Senate Democrats and says: “I don’t give a s*** about Lieberman. And Ben, you better get your ass on board or there will be hell to pay. You can’t even imagine the hell we’ll bring down on you. I want this f***in’ bill passed with ALL the D’s supporting it”. Emanuel denies this report.
The Republicans and a few Democrats howl in indignation. Fox news vilifies the House and Senate Democrats with wild charges of socialism and fascism. Harry Reid speaks in the Senate, holding a copy of the Constitution: “Maybe you folks in the Republican Party should read this. Americanism has never been to side with the bullies, and the insurance industry, their rich executives, big Pharma, and their consultants and lobbyists are bullies, forcing their profits ahead of the needs of the American people.” The media is shocked by his bold leadership.
Desperate Republican leaders announce a filibuster with the intent of forestalling a majority vote. The President goes on television with a sober, reasoned plea to have the bill passed. When asked by the press about the threatened filibuster, Obama replies with a wry smile: “Bring it on!”
As the Republican filibuster continues into the fall with Republican Senators droning on and on to an empty Senate chamber, public anger grows and grows. Late night comedians devote most of their shows to parodies of Senators quoting Glen Beck and Rush Limbaugh. Constant picket lines of doctors, nurses, and victims of the broken US health care system surround Senate office buildings. Media commentators question this tactic, blaming the Republicans for bringing legislation to a halt. Polls show Republican favorable ratings at an all time low.
Senator Reid is quoted as chiding a Republican colleague: “Don’t stop now. Keep it up until the interim elections!” Senator Reid denies saying this.
Late in November, Republican leaders huddle, recognizing that continuing to filibuster will destroy any chances of survival after the November 2010 elections. They quickly agree to call it off.
In early December, the Senate passes its version of Medicare for all by a vote of 51 to 25, with many Republicans nervously abstaining.
President Obama goes on national television, thanking all of those who worked so tirelessly and intensely to achieve an efficient, universal, and comprehensive health care plan that will rival any system in the world. He assures the American people that all the failings of the current system, referring to World Health Organization’s parameters, will be reversed and the US will become a widely admired leader in delivering the best health care to its people. He promises to sign a final bill before Christmas, stating that he hopes that the new legislative act will serve as a long overdue, but welcome gift to us all. “Happy holidays!”, he concludes.
Of course this is a fantasy. We do not have the health care bill that we could have had. In fact, almost nothing in this fantasy is true. The President didn’t get behind the House bill with the most co-sponsors, the Democratic leadership didn’t fight hard for real change, there were no tough back room threats, the media didn’t give serious advocates a megaphone, there was no attempt by political leaders to engage and rally the base, political leaders did not show courage, and Democrats did not call the Republican bluff.
While I wish my liberal friends and soft-left comrades a safe and warm holiday season, I ask that they try, in the New Year, to understand why things went so awry. I ask that they turn away from the comforting notion that we live with an economic and political system that can deliver democracy, justice, and equality by our simple participation in the permitted rituals. I ask that, in the New Year, they desist from finding scapegoats for this disaster that should shame us all: whether it be Obama’s betrayal, Blue Dog treachery, or that rotten renegade, Lieberman. It’s the system. Seriously, it’s the system…