Reality bites---and just in time.
Republican ranting over the past year at the fearful prospect of a "government take-over" of healthcare has pretty completely obscured the plain reality that---at present and for some time now---American healthcare has been seized by corporate take-over.
With their genius for the attack that frames the question, Republicans jumped on the Democrats' first moves after Mr. Obama's inauguration to deliver on a major campaign promise---healthcare reform---and twisted a good cause into a "socialist" spectre. Their minions then hijacked the healthcare town halls and rallies, hammering home---and did they ever hammer!---the scary threat of "Obama-care." Democrats by and large ducked, lost control of the debate, and, while forming their usual circular firing squad, lost sight of the very real fact that what we have in place today is largely corporate-care, healthcare controlled by the health insurance companies.
Now, just in time for the White House bipartisan Congressional summit and the ensuing final battle, new ammo arrives, powerful enough to reframe the debate:
Five major health insurance companies (WellPoint, UnitedHealth, Humana, Cigna, and Aetna) recently announced, in cartel-like unison, rate hikes of as much as an astounding 39%, citing anticipated rising healthcare delivery costs as the driver (while neglecting to cite their combined profits last year of $12 billion). Corporate reality bites!
Happily the Obama White House, after lax management of the healthcare debate, has seized on this egregious instance of corporate overreach, with a proposal in its just-released plan to subject such "predatory" rate hikes to government oversight. House Republican minority leader John Boehner, reflexively returning to his party's theme, describes this proposal and the entire White House plan as, yes, a "government take-over." Speaking of the "so-called summit," he warns, "We shouldn't let the White House have a six-hour taxpayer-funded infomercial on Obamacare."
But here's hoping the White House and Democrats of all stripes will make the case for the necessity of a government role in checking corporate overreach and, in so doing, reframe the final debate as a rescue of the nation's healthcare from corporate take-over.
George Lakoff, generally acknowledged as the father of framing, now suggests reframing healthcare as a moral issue: that good health equals life and freedom. As inclined as I am to see much of life in ethical-moral terms---and, yes, healthcare is a moral issue---I doubt it's enough to close the deal with a Republican party that's proved impervious to moral arguments against policies favoring the rich over everybody else and condoning torture. (As I've blogged earlier, Wall Street has ignored all moral appeals for ethical reform.)
No, those astounding rate hikes illustrate yet again the tension running throughout the American experiment between Capitalism and Democracy, with Capitalism invariably seeking to tip the scales to its own profit, with the countervailing power on behalf of the commonweal being the mechanisms of Democracy. Best, then, to continue the healthcare debate in the language Capitalism and Democracy understands. (And we can trust Mr. Obama, now stepping up as the people's tribune, to employ diplomacy and his rhetorical gifts not to alienate the people's employers, insurers, and bankers.)
So, in this final push to passage, when Republicans will predictably decry "government take-over," let's see Democrats point to the present corporate take-over of healthcare and, in the Capitalism-Democracy Games, score one for Democracy.
Carla Seaquist is a playwright working on a play titled Prodigal. Her book of op-eds, essays, and dialogues, Manufacturing Hope: Post-9/11 Notes on Politics, Culture, Torture, and the American Character, is now out (www.carlaseaquist.com).
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