Republicans tell us that they represent the party of family values and hope that we will accept it as fact – regardless of the evidence. However, very few Republicans, including their most recent presidential nominee John McCain, support any form of assured health coverage for all Americans. And what family doesn’t consider healthcare to be an extremely important family value?
According to the World Health Organization’s Report 2000, the United States’ health care system is rated #37. The people in the 36 nations ahead of us consider health care as important as national defense, fire and police departments, education, streets and sanitation, national and state parks, et.al. Uniquely, we still cling to the idea that health insurance should be motivated by profit. Hence, ours is among the most inefficient and expensive health care systems in the world. Insurance companies employ huge bureaucratic staffs to find ways not to pay for health procedures that their patient-clients expect. We all know someone who has been a victim of this and, consequently, is in financial and psychological stress. President Richard Nixon expressed the Republican Party’s position quite well: “All the incentives are toward less medical care because the less care they (insurance companies) give them (their clients), the more money they make – fine.” Profit is the bottom line.
The affordability and the quality of our health insurance largely depend on who our employers are. It also depends on whether we work full-time or part-time. Some of us are lucky to have full-time jobs, a seemingly good health care plan, and an excellent primary physician whom we personally selected. However, there is no such thing as job security anymore. What we do have is Social Security and Medicare, but most Republicans don’t like those – and John McCain proposed to cut back on them if he had been elected..
Democratic President Harry Truman saw which way our WWII allies were going with health care after the war and realized we needed to do the same. But he was stuck with “that good for nothing, do-nothing (Republican-controlled) 80th Congress” and his plan for universal health care foundered. For over 25 years, our delay has been catching up with us as many of our industries have closed, downsized, or moved. To cut payrolls and future pension and health insurance costs, industries are sending good-paying jobs overseas where they won’t have the same “social-contract” obligations.
The three Nixonian-Republican presidents since WWII (Nixon, Ronald Reagan, and George W. Bush) have pursued policies that have effectively made sure the money has never been available for universal health care: perpetual warfare and tax cuts for the rich.
Nixon seemed to condone perpetual war when he prolonged the Vietnam War four years beyond the time it should have ended; but, at the same time, he was working to establish détente, or peaceful coexistence, with the Soviet Union and China. That violated the Republican Party’s traditional pro-war, anti-communist policies and cost him his conservative base of support in Congress. When that happened, he resigned from office at the height of the Watergate Scandal.
Reagan got elected promising to end détente and to re-energize the Cold War. He essentially froze spending for domestic programs – so much for future health care – and drastically increased spending on our military. Simultaneously, he cut taxes on the wealthy and borrowed the money needed to expand his armaments buildup. Payment on the interest on the borrowed money became an even greater part of the federal budget – and the most wasteful. Apparently, his rationale was that if the U.S. stepped up the arms race against “the evil empire,” then the Soviet Union would have to do the same against us. It would bankrupt both governments, but the U. S. economy could survive while Russia’s could not.
In spite of what “Straight Talk Express” McCain claimed during the 2008 campaign, no spending cuts went along with the Reagan tax cuts. Our annual deficit in 1980 before he took office was around $67 billion. By the time Reagan left office in 1989, he had run the annual deficit to $300 billion! Former Arkansas Senator Dale Bumpers politely described Reagan’s administration as “the worst presidency, just about, in modern times.”
When the Soviet Union finally collapsed in 1991, there was much excitement about our receiving a peace dividend. After all those years of our spending taxes and borrowing money for nuclear weapons that we could never use, we could now spend it on things we could use. The very thought of this struck fear in the hearts and minds of most Republicans, especially when the Democrats won the White House in 1992.
The Clinton Administration was under pressure from the international community to get our national debt and annual deficit back under control after 12 years of Reagan-Bush misrule. A fiscally sound U.S. government was deemed essential for the economic stability of the rest of the world. Clinton and the Democratic Congress raised the tax rates on the upper 1½% income bracket, those whom George W. Bush would later call “the haves and have-mores.” Clinton was not yet a millionaire, so the Republicans couldn’t claim he was “a traitor to his class” (as they had done to Franklin Roosevelt during the Great Depression). Clinton was Robin Hood – an outlaw who wanted to take from the rich to give to the poor and who needed to be stopped!
The Republicans were able to kill First Lady Hillary Clinton’s 1993-94 health care proposal. However, beginning in 1998 Clinton’s economic policy began to achieve a surplus and begin to pay off the Reagan-Bush debt. If a second consecutive Democrat were elected in 2000, the debt might ultimately have been paid off. The Republicans would have had a harder time convincing the people that, unlike other developed countries, we couldn’t afford some form of universal health care.
Thanks to the suspicious vote count in Governor Jeb Bush’s Florida in 2000, the Republicans put W. Bush in the White House. Bush-Cheney immediately restored the Reagan tax cuts for the rich and prevented balancing the budget and paying off the debt. Thanks to Osama bin Laden, Bush-Cheney tricked us into invading Iraq, and now we’re back to perpetual warfare. Remember, although what Mr. Bush said and did may have been stupid and irresponsible, he was NOT stupid. He got away with everything that he wanted to do to us!
You may recall what I call Peck’s Law: “If you have to tell someone who you are, you aren’t.” Republicans must tell us that they support family values because when it comes to healthcare, their actions indicate their sympathies lie with the insurance companies – not with families. On October 13, Max Baucus’s Senate Finance Committee approved a health care bill. It is a seriously flawed bill that is essentially a boondoggle for the insurance companies.
It was crafted to get at least a few Republicans to support it. However, Olympia Snowe ( senator from Maine) was the only Republican who voted to send the bill to the floor of the Senate. The Senate bill that finally passed with 60 % of the vote did not include the very popular public option, which would have created a government insurance company to compete with the for-profit private health companies. Still, Ms. Snowe discontinued her support and voted “no” along with all the other Republicans.
by David Offutt
Revised March 18,2010: A version of this essay was published May 17, 2008,
in the El Dorado News-Times as a letter to the editor.