It seems that conservatives operate in politics by broadcasting lies. They lied about Social Security in the 1930s. They lied about Medicaid and Medicare in the 1960s. They lie every day now in 2009 about reforming our health care system.
They lie because they know it works. Every politician knows that lies work. We Americans are gullible people and we soak up lies like an old washcloth soaks up water. Politicians wear toupees and suntan makeup because they know that in America fakery is effective.
In the 1930s, Southern Conservatives, led by Senator Harry Flood Byrd (1887-1966), shouted the lie that Social Security might "serve as an entering wedge for federal interference with the handling of the Negro question in the South." Southern senators apparently wanted to prevent the federal government from withholding funds from states whose administration of old-age assistance discriminated against blacks. The Southern conservative idea was that old blacks needed less money than old whites, so why waste federal money? Yes, that's the way it was: the South had a Negro "question" and Social Security might provide too much assistance to poor old blacks and shake up the mint-julips too much. That was how Southern conservative politicians frightened the whites in the South about Social Security.
The reality? Two generations later, the only people of any color, including the white South, who think Social Security is a mistake are imbeciles and people who don't need it.
In the 1960s, the conservative argument was that the federal health programs Medicare and Medicaid would ruin America, kill our "wonderful" competitive free-market health care system, put us on a slippery slope to socialism, and do hardly anything for American health anyway.
The reality? At the present time, a generation later, the only people who think Medicare and Medicaid are a mistake are imbeciles and people who don't need it. Ask any person over 65 you see on the street if they want to end Medicare and they may hit you with their cane and break your collar bone. In 1963, 20 percent of Americans below the poverty line had never been examined by a physician. In 1970, after Medicare and Medicaid, the proportion who had never been examined dropped to 8 percent. Between 1965 and 1972, the number of prenatal visits of poor women to doctors rose dramatically -- and the overall infant mortality rate dropped 33 percent.
The conservative lies we now hear about reforming health care are both silly and insidious. But lies can work because too many Americans are gullible. No one knows how to wave a magic wand and make the American people less gullible, less receptive to the lies of conservative politicians, less brain-washed by conservative media hacks. A magic wand for our national gullibility problem does not exist. We can fight lies only with truth. The truth is that we need universal health care and only the federal government will ever get us there.
Here are some smart words by an American historian:
"American history contradicts the current fashionable belief in the impotence of government to alter social conditions such as poverty, hunger, malnutrition, or disease. Government programs can reduce or augment these conditions; they can destroy or revitalize cities; widen or narrow inequalities in income; and promote or retard the expansion of civil rights. In a nation as smart, inventive, and rich as America, the continuation of widespread poverty is a choice, not a necessity." (Michael B. Katz. (1986,1996) In the Shadow of the Poorhouse: A Social History of Welfare in America. New York: Basic Books. p. 334.)
Yes, indeed. And the continuation of unequal health care is also a choice and not a necessity -- and a choice both rotten and degrading to a nation.