Health Care Reform: By the Corporations, For the Corporations

Image © Austin Cline

People's disappointment at the health care "compromise" should not be surprising. Was there ever any serious doubt that we'd get a "reform" which transfers massive amounts of money from the people to the corporations while doing little to genuinely relieve the pressures created by a broken, for-profit system? Real reform would not only reduce profits but increase people's security, both of which are anathema to corporations that thrive on fearful people sending them money (keep in mind that Bernanke is comfortable with 10%+ "official" unemployment for the foreseeable future — and he will not be risking any of his own comfort). Of course health insurance corporations are getting what they wanted.

Yet many liberals do seem surprised and are looking for some place to lay the blame: Democrats who are afraid of conservatives, conservative Democrats betraying the party, Joe Lieberman behaving exactly as Joe Lieberman typically behaves, etc. If any of these were the true problem then there would be no real justification for surprise because they are all so predictable, but none are the ultimate or primary problem — and maybe that's why so many liberals are surprised. They haven't been looking in the right direction: we didn't get the change so many are dying for because those ostensibly behind it were never very interested in more than what we have right now.


It's the Corporations, Stupid

Few will want to seriously consider this possibility and even fewer will be willing to believe it. That's understandable because it suggests that they have been betrayed by political leaders in whom they've invested a great deal of faith, trust, money, and even a bit of their very sense of self. A fair and objective look at the evidence, though, makes this a strong likelihood. It's far more consistent with the current facts of American political culture than the idea that the "good guys" have been pure of heart but were merely out maneuvered or stabbed in the back.

First, there is clear and unambiguous evidence of Obama handing a major concession to the health care industry which protected their profits and undermined the interests of the people: his deal, struck behind closed doors, to ban bulk price negotiation and reimportation of drugs. Ratified by Democrats in Congress despite many promises to the contrary during election campaigns, this not only proves a willingness to put corporate profits and interests ahead of the lives and interests of the people, but also a willingness to go back on earlier promises to act in the interests of the people. What's more, the resulting lack of mass protests and objections proved to them that they could get away with it. So why would they stop with just this?

Second, there has been a consistent track record with this administration and Congressional Democrats to give major corporations just about whatever they want, with few or no strings attached and certainly with no efforts at major structural reform. There is little-to-no evidence of even giving the basic interests of the people the same weight as that of corporations and the ruling class, let alone more weight. Why expect anything different when it comes to health care and health insurance reform?

As I discussed in greater detail in my last sermon, this is exactly the sort of behavior we should be expecting: Obama and other politicians owe far more to corporations and the ruling class than to us for both their current positions and their future security. They are only acting in their own self-interest by acting on behalf of the interests of those whose support they require most.


Actions, Not Words

Third and finally, who in the Obama administration or the Congressional leadership has actually been behaving like they really want true reform — a robust public option, expanded Medicare, etc.? Actions speak louder than words, so look to their actions first and their words second, then evaluate whether their actions accurately reflect what their words say they want. (I'm talking about the leadership — I know that there are a few individual Democrats whose actions match their rhetoric).

Where was the political horse-trading, the threats, the arm twisting, or the pressure? Granted, much of that would occur behind closed doors and we shouldn't expect to hear about all of it, much less all the details, but we'd surely hear about some of it, and there would also be some occurring in public. We should contrast this absence of pressure with how the administration has behaved in other matters.

For starters, look at the threats issued to liberal Democrats who expressed opposition to the June war funding bill. No such pressure was placed on conservative Democrats expressing opposition to robust health insurance reform. We can also look at how the administration has behaved towards liberals on this very issue: more pressure has been placed on them for threatening to oppose a bill that isn't progressive enough than on conservatives threatening to oppose a bill that is too progressive.

Look at how the administration has issued faster and stronger criticism against Howard Dean for his denunciation of the weakened bill than against Joe Lieberman or any other conservative Democrats for threatening to prevent a progressive bill from even coming up for a vote. If you think it's just because "Dean isn't voting," then why hasn't the administration reacted as strongly against non-voting conservative critics and insurance industry lobbyists?

I think that liberal activists would accept it if the bully pulpit were being used to corral critics and detractors of all sorts, but it's not. Indeed, isn't there a consistent pattern of the administration coming down harder and faster against liberal critics than against conservative critics? Isn't there a pattern of the administration doing much more to satisfy the concerns of conservatives while just taking liberals for granted, assuming that liberals will vote for whatever "compromise" appears because they have stopped expecting anything better?


Power Must Be Seized, Not Begged For

I have to note that none of this should be treated a some sort of evil conspiracy spun by a mad cabal in secret. Nothing could be further from the truth — it's all a product of powerful corporations and a ruling class acting in what they fairly perceive to be their self-interest. They are acting to preserve, enhance, and expand their power.

This isn't "evil" from their perspective because the evil consequences for so many others won't affect them, and they have no reason to care very much about what happens to the others. They certainly aren't going to sacrifice their own power and security in order to help others whom they don't know. It's not very secret, either — they may not be going out of their way to publicize their actions and intentions, but they aren't doing much to hide it all either.

Corporations and the ruling class won't hand over power if they are asked nicely — never have, never will, and so of course they aren't doing so in this case. At best they may hand over some power when they fear that far more will simply be taken away by force. Roosevelt managed to accomplish as much as he did because, at least in part, the people in charge had what they thought was a legitimate fear of a socialist revolution.

No similarly credible threat exists today — no one is marching in the street in defense of progressive reforms and if the people aren’t going to fight for their interests, why should anyone else? Well, that's not entirely true. There is one group of people engaging in something like the sort of popular demonstrations that could help: the Tea Baggers. These are the sorts of people who would be helped the most by progressive reform, but they cannot currently be reached by progressive reformers. They have been co-opted by the corporate interests: not only are the corporations behind much of the current Tea Bagger organization, but the corporate-backed GOP long ago got them to identify more with moral issues (abortion, homosexuality) than with class concerns (jobs, wages, health care).

Even worse, they can't be reached by progressive reformers because they correctly see that the Democratic Party is also compromised by corporatism. Thus even ignoring their deep objections to Democrats' stances on issues like abortion and gay rights, they know that the Democrats simply have no legitimate answers to offer on how to fight the growing power of corporatism. In that, they have been more insightful than the progressive activists.

In a relatively short period of time, and without using many actual facts, the Tea Baggers have almost entirely captured the Republican Party — Republican politicians are falling all over each other to appeal to extremists without any apparent conception of reality. What's stopping progressives from achieving something similar but with actual facts and realistic policy proposals?


But Isn't It Better Than Nothing?

If you think that some particular health care or health insurance reform proposal is ultimately good for the people, then you should be able to point to provisions that transfer power from the corporations to the people — but I don't see any in the bill which the Obama administration is trying to defend. It's true that health insurance companies wouldn't be able to deny people for pre-existing conditions, for example, but they would be allowed to charge people a whole lot more for pre-existing conditions — and they'll get it, too, even if it requires federal subsidies.

Indeed, all of the so-called "reforms" in the bill supported by the Obama administration are coupled with provisions that allow the corporations to charge more and more money for health insurance. By all accounts, the insurance corporations like everything in the bill and oppose nothing. Everything that they did oppose — everything that would have negatively impacted their power and profits over the long term — has been stripped out. Shouldn't that tell you something very, very important? When you give the other side everything they want, and with little or no fight, that's not called "compromise," that's called "being compromised."

Apologists for the weakened "reform" legitimately argue that even a bad bill gets the ball rolling and creates a foundation to build upon, but this requires that we trust that those in power will act in our interests to improve things down the road. Should we? Given how poor their performance has been so far, I don't think so. This argument would be much stronger if the current bill were more balanced between good and bad, thus showing that the people asking us to trust them to fix it are already trustworthy enough to understand what real reform requires and to fight hard enough to get some of that when they set out to do so.

We certainly shouldn't fall for the fear mongering about how we have to act quickly or everything will fall apart entirely — that unless this bill is passed right now, that the government will go bankrupt or there won't be any attempts at reform for a decade or two. Notice the contradiction? If the results of not passing this bill right now are so dire, why would it take so long to revisit the issue? That only makes sense if the politicians are too incompetent to address an immediate crisis, in which case their current proposal definitely can't be trusted.

Money is power, so the transfer of money from the public to the private corporations is a transfer of power from public to private control. The corporations will end up with more power in the end, not less, which is necessarily the antithesis of reform. Corporations which already have enough power to prevent real reform now will be given far more power, thus making them both more reluctant to allow real reform in the future as well as more able to block it.

This isn't better than nothing, it's worse because transferring more money and power to the corporations and ruling class will make real reform harder and harder in the long run. The people asking us to trust them to improve a bad bill over time are therefore asking us to support a bill which will make accomplishing that goal harder over time, not easier. If they know this, then they are lying to us; if they don't know this, then they have been so compromised by corporatism that they will never truly represent our interests anyway.

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