It's Christmas Eve, 2009 and this morning the Senate passed its version of a health care bill. Soon enough I will have to go out and buy health insurance and of course I feel a bit resentful that I will be mandated to purchase this insurance because I am already mandated to purchase pricey car insurance in the State of California. Although President Obama defends the Senate bill as everything he wanted and promised, just short of the public option, I still feel disappointed and discouraged that the public option, which would ensure that costs of insurance were kept reasonable, is not a part of the health care overhaul. Strangely, it feels like the United States has morphed into in an Oz-like land of consumers, Consumerland, where the only thing the government does is make you buy stuff.
We've seen this movie before, private insurance promised fairness to the American people back in 1994 in exchange for our government not nationalizing health insurance, a plan then referred to as "Hillarycare"--those right-wingers just aren't very creative--and now the Insurance Industry is having a tantrum again, citizens are fearing the Iron Curtain and our government is capitulating with not-for-profit health insurance exchanges.
One can only hope these health insurance exchanges offer quality care. They just absolutely must be run effectively and doctors everywhere must accept the policies because if they are sub-par to private insurance, boy, will that feel like a shaft. It would be great if Senators listened to all the polls people on the left like to cite when defending the public option and single-payer and everything else on the liberal agenda. It's a wonder Congress doesn't, considering they are elected officials. I suppose polls are hard to pay attention to when August is still vivid in your mind.
I started volunteering for health care reform with my local community activist chapter, 30 Barack, back in April. Stacy Cohen and the gang gathered people from my neighborhood in a donated office space to discuss health care reform and how we could raise awareness. The 30th district is a very large district in Los Angeles, covering a diverse swath of the city from the posh Los Feliz through Hollywood, Culver City and into South Los Angeles (formerly South Central). In initial meetings health care horror stories were shared and opinions on what kind of health care system we would like to see our country adopt were debated.
Our first order of business was putting together a health fair in South Los Angeles. For this fair I was a part of a team of researchers that drafted a comprehensive memo to educate people on the current state of health care in this country: stats on our current system; what Congress had drafted thus far; and what kinds of health care systems are in place around the world. It was an eye-opening experience. Working on that memo I learned much about health care and was convinced more thoroughly just how desperately we need national health care in this country.
It wasn't just facts and figures though. One of the women who I flyered neighborhoods with, Carol, had a brain disorder and had been dropped by her insurance after losing her job when she had brain surgery and needed time off to recover. She was in need of another surgery and was contemplating selling her home to pay for it or just, well, dying. I shared this story with an older Republican from North Carolina who was a part of the opposition to health care on Facebook, and he made me out to be a bleeding heart because I found Carol's story to be a devastating reality that should never happen in America. He was all about bootstraps. He and his wife had put themselves through college back in the 1960s, ya know when college was like two grand a year. (That's what I don't appreciate about Republican senior citizens, their utter lack of comprehension of inflation and their deluded self-righteousness.)
At any rate, I soon learned just how vast the opposition to a public option and health care reform was. From Facebook to news polls, those on the Right came out of the woodwork to protest what they saw as socialism encroaching on free enterprise. These were working people and they vehemently opposed providing health care to their fellow working Americans. However, the real clincher, or rather, the real nail in the coffin came in August.
Liberals in CA put up a good fight. Carol Newton and Lyn Goldfarb of 30North, another grassroots community organizing group in Los Angeles, led their neighborhood group in an all-out battle for health care reform collecting signatures on petitions and letters to Congress at the local farmers market every week. Organizing for America trained organizers to canvass communities and get voters' take on the public option. Nancy Pelosi appeared on Charlie Rose and talked in depth about health care reform with a public option. Even the president spoke at town halls with armed citizens protesting outside. Unfortunately, despite these stellar efforts, the supporters of health care were not as obnoxious as the opponents and in August the Tea Party showed up at town hall meetings across the country and shouted down their representatives and senators who were there to get their marching orders on health care reform.
For an entire month the right controlled the message on health care--in print, on television and talk radio--pounding Medicare, pounding Obama, Nancy Pelosi and members of Congress, pounding liberals. With their antics, misspelled signs and pseudo-patriotic outrage they swindled themselves and the rest of America out affordable health care in the name of free enterprise. Ironically, it's that same free enterprise that has laid them off and won't be hiring them back or that is foreclosing on their homes. In places like the Dakotas, Georgia, Texas, Ohio, Pennsylvania, all across the South, all across the Plains, one state after the next, the Tea Party mob showed up and did health care reform in. Sadly, these very same people will need affordable health care soon enough if they don't already.
So the right was loud and petulant, even organized a decent number of people to march on Washington and pile into the Capitol Building. Meanwhile, the left in the South and the Plains, if there is one, was virtually silent. The majority of voters in this country, being Decline-to-State, were caught in the middle of the debate and from my observation were swayed back and forth, never fully committing to one side or the other. Of the scores of people I know in Los Angeles who say they support health care reform, only three committed friends showed up to show their support. That's the thing about liberals: big on talk, small on action.
August was a demoralizing month. We lost the public option in August when Senators and Representatives were back in their districts listening to their constituency. Now, as the Senate bill and House bill go to conference to be merged, it will take a miracle to get mention of the public option. Many on the left are angry and many surprised since poll after poll suggests the American people support a public option even single-payer. What these people don't get is that polls are bullshit. There were no polls for Civil Rights or Women's Suffrage. If there was they would've proved most Americans overall did not support Jim Crow, or denying a woman the right to vote, but that didn't change either injustice. A deliberate, concerted, consistent and constant movement is what changed America and ended the discrimination.
In August the right, a minority, was successful because they were able to make many Democratic Senators and Representatives feel there would be direct consequences if they voted for government-run health care. The left, on the other hand, relied on polls. If the left is to be a real force to contend with in this country, and if all those polls are accurate, there will indeed be consequences in November 2010 for the Blue Dogs in the House that rallied against a public option. And the Senate would just be turned over completely in their next elections, no Republicans whatsoever (or at least far fewer) in the Senate and those staunchly conservative Democrat Senators who don't truly support the separation of church and state would be packing up their office for sure. It should be the goal of the left to provide the South and the Plains with a transformation beyond their imagination and the offensive campaign would begin now. You want progressive change in this country? Deliver a progressive Congress. This is how sweeping change can be made. This is the good that can come from losing the public option. The only question, is the left up to the task?