Reforming Health Care If Hillary Was President

Seeing all the political problems arising from attempts to pass health care reform I’ve thought several times that it is a good thing that Barack Obama and not Hillary Clinton was elected. We do not know yet if Obama will be successful, but my bet is that if Clinton had been elected health reform wouldn’t stand a chance and we’d be looking towards a GOP controlled Congress in 2010.

Both Paul Krugman and Kevin Drum have used the craziness surround the health care protests to argue that it doesn’t matter who is president. That misses the point. Right wing lunacy occurs all the time whenever there is a liberal proposal. What is important is not the fact that we will see right wing lunacy but whether the lunatics are able to be effective.

Right wingers would protest any form of health care reform. They even called the moderate proposal by John Kerry in 2004 an example of “government takeover of health care.” One difference we would have if Hillary Clinton was president is that it would be Hillary Clinton, not Barack Obama, who would be leading the Democratic Party. Most likely if Hillary Clinton was calling the shots we would have a proposal more based upon more government control with increased complexity of government regulations as we saw under HillaryCare. If we had a another Hillary Clinton style of health care reform, the chances are at least 50:50 that I would be opposing the plan.

Another factor is the ability of Obama to bring different sides to the table. Getting the insurance industry to cooperate is a long shot, despite legislation written to preserve their profits, but he is making more progress with the pharmaceutical industry. It is doubtful that Clinton would have ever received the support of the AMA as Obama has.

A comment posted at The Daily Dish provides another argument based on how Obama has responded to attacks different from how Clinton would have:

Krugman and Drum make some good points, but they leave out the most important point. It’s not about how people would react. It’s how the President would react to the reactions. This very week, Sec. Clinton lost her cool when she thought a student ignorantly insulted her. She didn’t explode or have a meltdown as some of her detractors would describe it. Nor did she strick a blow for women’s equality as her fans would tell you. She was placed in an awkward situation by a random questioner and she showed just enough anger/exasperation to make the tone of her answer the issue.

The President, on the other hand, regularly gets compared to Karl Marx and Josef Mengele by far more formidable opponents and deflects it deftly without a bead of sweat.

Does he never misstep? Of course not. I would say his handling of the Gates matter was such an instance. But he still had the self-restraint and perspective to somewhat salvage the situation and to turn it into a learning moment.

We don’t know if President Hillary Clinton would have had the stomach to tackle health care right away. If she did, yes we can assume that the attacks would have been just about as ugly. How would she have countered? If we are questioning our choice, that’s the question we need to be answering.

The Right Wing Lunacy Isn’t New

We seem to be living in crazy times. A substantial number of  conservatives have a number of delusions, including that that Barack Obama is a Muslim and not a natural born American citizen, believe in creationism, still think there was WMD in Iraq at the onset of the war, and think that the scientific consensus on climate change is part of a conspiracy to destroy industrialized society. The health care debate has added a number of new delusions as conservatives listen to the wild claims of “death panels” from a crazy lady in Alaska posting on Facebook. Right wingers see additional conspiracies ranging from a plot to destroy private health insurance and have government take over health care to the Obama administration collecting email for the purpose of creating an enemies list.

Rick Perlstein writes that there is nothing new in the crazies coming out to protest health care reform. He notes that, “If you don’t understand that any moment of genuine political change always produces both, you can’t understand America, where the crazy tree blooms in every moment of liberal ascendancy, and where elites exploit the crazy for their own narrow interests.” He provided some examples:

In the early 1950s, Republicans referred to the presidencies of Franklin Roosevelt and Harry Truman as “20 years of treason” and accused the men who led the fight against fascism of deliberately surrendering the free world to communism. Mainline Protestants published a new translation of the Bible in the 1950s that properly rendered the Greek as connoting a more ambiguous theological status for the Virgin Mary; right-wingers attributed that to, yes, the hand of Soviet agents. And Vice President Richard Nixon claimed that the new Republicans arriving in the White House “found in the files a blueprint for socializing America.”

When John F. Kennedy entered the White House, his proposals to anchor America’s nuclear defense in intercontinental ballistic missiles — instead of long-range bombers — and form closer ties with Eastern Bloc outliers such as Yugoslavia were taken as evidence that the young president was secretly disarming the United States. Thousands of delegates from 90 cities packed a National Indignation Convention in Dallas, a 1961 version of today’s tea parties; a keynote speaker turned to the master of ceremonies after his introduction and remarked as the audience roared: “Tom Anderson here has turned moderate! All he wants to do is impeach [Supreme Court Chief Justice Earl] Warren. I’m for hanging him!”

Before the “black helicopters” of the 1990s, there were right-wingers claiming access to secret documents from the 1920s proving that the entire concept of a “civil rights movement” had been hatched in the Soviet Union; when the landmark 1964 Civil Rights Act was introduced, one frequently read in the South that it would “enslave” whites. And back before there were Bolsheviks to blame, paranoids didn’t lack for subversives — anti-Catholic conspiracy theorists even had their own powerful political party in the 1840s and ’50s.

The instigation is always the familiar litany: expansion of the commonweal to empower new communities, accommodation to internationalism, the heightened influence of cosmopolitans and the persecution complex of conservatives who can’t stand losing an argument. My personal favorite? The federal government expanded mental health services in the Kennedy era, and one bill provided for a new facility in Alaska. One of the most widely listened-to right-wing radio programs in the country, hosted by a former FBI agent, had millions of Americans believing it was being built to intern political dissidents, just like in the Soviet Union.

Perlstein notes that while there have always been right wing nuts there is a difference in how the media responds to them:

It used to be different. You never heard the late Walter Cronkite taking time on the evening news to “debunk” claims that a proposed mental health clinic in Alaska is actually a dumping ground for right-wing critics of the president’s program, or giving the people who made those claims time to explain themselves on the air. The media didn’t adjudicate the ever-present underbrush of American paranoia as a set of “conservative claims” to weigh, horse-race-style, against liberal claims. Back then, a more confident media unequivocally labeled the civic outrage represented by such discourse as “extremist” — out of bounds.

The tree of crazy is an ever-present aspect of America’s flora. Only now, it’s being watered by misguided he-said-she-said reporting and taking over the forest. Latest word is that the enlightened and mild provision in the draft legislation to help elderly people who want living wills — the one hysterics turned into the “death panel” canard — is losing favor, according to the Wall Street Journal, because of “complaints over the provision.”

Good thing our leaders weren’t so cowardly in 1964, or we would never have passed a civil rights bill — because of complaints over the provisions in it that would enslave whites.

Edward Luce makes a similar argument in the Financial Times:

More than a generation ago, the great American historian, Richard Hofstadter, wrote the classic The Paranoid Style in American Politics. Having watched many public servants and colleagues in academia hounded out of their jobs on the flimsiest of pretexts during the “red scare” of the McCarthy era in the 1950s, Hofstadter identified what he saw as a peculiarly American pathology of proneness to conspiracy theory.

America, he pointed out, was a relatively rootless society, which meant that anyone suffering from economic or status anxiety, particularly its struggling white middle classes, was particularly susceptible to the politics of scapegoating. Although also exhibited on the American left – think of the indefatigable Noam Chomsky, who sees a conspiracy under every rock, or Ralph Nader, the former consumer activist who believes corporations run everything – Hofstadter saw the paranoid style mostly as a right-wing phenomenon.

His theory holds up very well in 2009. Anyone who visits a few of this month’s rowdy town hall meetings can grasp that opposition to Mr Obama’s healthcare proposals is a lightning rod to a far larger world view, which seeks to protect American values and the US constitution from an alien takeover.

The word “alien” is appropriate. A poll last week found that only 42 per cent of Republicans believe Mr Obama was born in America. “Birthers”, or those who believe the election of the president is a conspiracy that dates back at least to Hawaii in 1961, the place and time of Mr Obama’s birth, made up a slim majority of respondents in the south. Foreign-born candidates are ineligible for the presidency under the constitution…

No amount of contrary evidence will puncture the view that Mr Obama plans to establish “death panels” that will decide which grannies get to live or die. Nor will reason counter the view that countries such as Canada and the UK push their weakest to the back of the queue. “Who will suffer the most when they ration care?” asked Sarah Palin, the former governor of Alaska on Thursday. “The sick, the elderly and the disabled, of course.”

Megan Kelly Throws Right Wing Nonsense At White House Deputy Press Secretary

Above is a good example of how the right wing noise machine, such as Fox, plays on the conservative tendency to play victim, creating more paranoia with distortions of the facts. Conservatives, who had no problem with actual surveillance when conducted under George Bush, see the White House efforts to respond to misinformation about health care reform spread in viral emails as some sort of effort to create a Nixonian enemies list. White House Deputy Press Secretary Bill Burton deserves a bonus for having to respond to such nonsense.

Here is an amusing follow up on the “sexual tension” between Megan Kelly and Bill Burton.

Will Palin Have The Same Effect on The Health Care Debate As On The 2008 Election?

The conservative campaign against health care reform has degenerated into repeating the fantasies of a crazy lady posting on Facebook in Alaska and talking points spoon fed from the insurance industry.While perhaps not all Obama supporters are excited about this cause as they were about the election, the battle against Republican misinformation and smears certainly does have the feel of a general election campaign.

There are differing viewpoints as to how this will all play out. I’ve previously quoted Marc Ambinder as believing the strategy will turn out to be counterproductive. Josh Marshall posts a warning of a different danger arising from this:

Watching the current “debate” over healthcare reform, I find myself in the strange position of giving thanks for John McCain. His behavior during the election was anything but classy, but he did refuse to take that final step of endorsing the fully crazy wingnut memes (Obama is a Kenyan Muslim terrorist, etc.) even though certain folks were urging him to go there. When I see how easily the “death panel” and other completely-divorced-from-reality memes have taken hold of the public and the media, I can’t help but wonder if such crap would have propelled McCain to victory, if he had chosen to embrace it. Oh, the irony: McCain’s last shred of integrity saved us from a McCain presidency.

Even if this isn’t true, you can bet this is the lesson the GOP will take into 2012. What we’re seeing right now is a preview of the election (God help us).

It certainly is possible that this is the lesson the GOP will take into 2012. We can never underestimate the insanity in the party now that they have driven out most of the sensible people and the conservative movement has turned into an echo chamber for extremists.Whether this will help them is a different matter.

I don’t go along with the idea that repeating the right wing memes which McCain stayed away from might have propelled him to victory. McCain might have stayed away from these memes due to maintaining a shred of dignity, but this was also the pragmatic thing to do. His campaign was already seriously hurt, probably to the point where victory was impossible, by choosing Sarah Palin as his running mate. He already both had the support of the “wingnuts” and was being dragged down by them.

There is a certain percentage of people in this country who believe all the delusions common among the far right, and these people were already going to vote for McCain. Tying himself to these people also lost the moderates and rational conservatives. Claiming that Obama is a Muslim would have only appealed to those who were already planning to vote for him but risked alienating even more sane voters.

I wonder if Sarah Palin’s influence on the health care debate will be similar to her influence on the McCain campaign. Initially the choice of Palin resulted in a surge of excitement for the campaign, and even gave McCain a lead in the polls. Soon reality prevailed and Palin turned off far more voter s than she attracted for the ticket.

At present, her absurd claims about “death panels” are firing up the right wing. Right wing lies are also creating concern among many others. However, what happens when the main arguments from the right wing come down to things which are easily demonstrated as not being true by simply reading the actual legislation? Will the fear linger, dooming health insurance reform, or will reason prevail as it did during the general election campaign? Will sensible people who are momentarily frightened by the prospect of “death panels” show a change in position when the scare stories are debunked and see that the arguments from the right do not contain valid reasons to oppose health care reform?

How Insurance Companies Distort The Health Care Debate

The health care debate has entered into an interesting phase. With Congress no longer in session, the main debate seems to be between the president, who is now engaging the public personally at town hall meetings, and a crazy lady posting on Facebook in Alaska. Beyond such arguments, the media does occasionally present some meaningful information, such has seen in several interviews with Wendell Potter. An interview with Rachel Maddow is posted above.

Potter is a former senior executive at Cigna. I’ve previously quoted from his testimony before the Senate Commerce Committee testimony regarding how the insurance companies operate. He has also been interviewed on several television shows and Steve Benen has presented a good summary of some of his appearances. Potter has discussed how the insurance companies have fed the right wingers the misinformation we are now hearing and how it makes no sense to claim that the insurance companies could not compete against a public plan:

Last night, he spoke with CNN’s Anderson Cooper, who almost seemed surprised by what he heard.

“The way it works is that the [insurance] industry will hire big PR firms that create these front groups that have names that have no association with the insurance industry,” Potter said.” And it is these front groups that do the things that you’re seeing right now that try to destroy health care reform by using terms like ‘government takeover’ of the health care system. Or we’re heading down toward a ‘slippery slope toward socialism.’ Or we’re going to ‘kill your grandpa’ because of this health care reform bill.

Cooper asked, “You’re saying that language is written by insurance companies?” Potter responded, “Absolutely.”

Asked about the right-wing activists, Potter explained that the industry has “very close ties with the conservative radio talk show hosts and commentators and editorial page writers and they feed the talking points.”

Potter was also spoke to Rachel Maddow this week. “I think that the health insurance industry deserves a great deal of the blame because they’re very much behind the town hall disruptions that you see and a lot of the deception that’s going on in terms of disinformation that many Americans apparently are believing,” he explained.

Asked about a public option, and whether private insurance companies would be able to compete alongside a government-run non-profit plan, Potter added, “Well, they could, absolutely. I’ve seen the health insurance industry change its business models many, many times. The insurance companies who operate now are very different from the companies that operated a few years ago. They adapt very quickly. And the one thing they know how to do is make money.”