by Elizabeth Schulte
IF YOU listen the current debate in Washington over proposals for some kind of national health care reform, the arguments that raged in the lead-up to the founding of Medicare--the government health care program for the elderly, which celebrated its 44th birthday on July 30--echo through to the current day.
When the administration of John F. Kennedy discussed a plan for government health care that would cover people of Social Security age, the American Medical Association (AMA) fought back, along with the insurance and pharmaceutical industries, with a well-funded campaign--complete with a commercial featuring actor Ronald Reagan, who was determined to talk to America about an "imminent threat":
Now, back in 1927, an American socialist, Norman Thomas, six times candidate for president on the Socialist Party ticket, said the American people would never vote for socialism. But he said under the name of liberalism, the American people would adopt every fragment of the socialist program...
One of the traditional methods of imposing statism or socialism on a people has been by way of medicine. It's very easy to disguise a medical program as a humanitarian project...Now, the American people, if you put it to them about socialized medicine and gave them a chance to choose, would unhesitatingly vote against it.
The someday-Governor-and-later-President Reagan finished his appeal by asking listeners to write their members of Congress with the warning:
And if you don't do this, and if I don't do it, one of these days, you and I are going to spend our sunset years telling our children, and our children's children, what it once was like in America when men were free.
Are you shivering in your boots? During her doomed vice presidential campaign, Republican "maverick" Sarah Palin brought Reagan's views back into the national debate--nearly half a century on.
Of course, the danger of creeping socialism is a much less compelling argument today among ordinary people than it was during the Cold War. If anything, socialism is becoming a preferred alternative to the mess that capitalism has made of working-class living standards.
Still, one of the familiar arguments from right-wing politicians--and many liberal politicians, for that matter--against a government-run health program is that people don't want the government controlling their lives. Americans, the argument goes, want to make their own decisions about their health care. And they all agree that the free-market system is the best way to guarantee we get the best care possible.
Not only are these conceptions wrong, but they've succeeded in confusing and misleading people about exactly what kind of health care is even being proposed today. The Washington Post recently reported on a health care town hall meeting in Simpsonville, S.C., where a man stood up and told Rep. Robert Inglis (R-S.C.) to "keep your government hands off my Medicare."
"I had to politely explain that, 'Actually, sir, your health care is being provided by the government,' " Inglis told the Post. "But he wasn't having any of it."
That's a pretty drastic example. But it shows just how successful the politicians and the media have been at confusing the national discussion on health care.
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