The Washington Post has a slogan on their website that is very apt right now: “Democracy dies in darkness”. From the struggles in the House of Representatives to get the atrocity known as the American Health Care Act (AHCA) passed, Mitch McConnell might have taken the lesson that this was a terrible bill for the American people. Instead, he decided the real lesson was that the Senate version must be kept secret as long as possible in order to get it passed. Even his fellow Republicans in the Senate must not have the time to read the full bill before having to vote on it, and under no circumstances should the public have a chance to react until the bill was law. This is darkness at its finest, and democracy stolen again by the Party of voter suppression. It has meant that, in the face of severely limited news of how the new law was being shaped, press coverage has been overshadowed by other issues and developments. Democrats have decided to hope that it will be enough that the public prefers keeping Obamacare to the public efforts so far by the Republicans to repeal and replace it. It will not be enough, but there is still time to do something about it. If preserving the status quo was the best defense against Republican aggression, I would be writing now about how the presidency of Hillary Clinton looks as we approached the six month mark.
What we need instead is a way to put the subject of health care back in the forefront of public discussion. To begin with, let’s take the wind out of one of the Republicans’ favorite arguments by admitting that Obamacare has not delivered on all of its promises. But Democrats need to reframe that argument. They need to say that the Affordable Care Act was not crafted well enough to withstand Republican sabotage, and certainly not to withstand the onslaught of a united Republican government. They also need to say that prices were not controlled as well as they should have been, because Obamacare still makes the American people pay for items that have no bearing on health care outcomes: marketing costs, obscenely high CEO paychecks, and stock dividends for health insurers and big pharmaceutical companies. Democrats furthermore must coopt one of Donald Trump’s favorite promises, to deliver better healthcare that costs every American less. To make all of this news worthy, the Democrats in the Senate must introduce their own healthcare plan in the Senate, and force a very public debate on it. Let it become the standard that any Republican bill will be measured against. During the Obama presidency, it was common for Democrats to point out that the Republicans never presented an alternative plan. If only for that reason, it is essential that there be a Democratic alternate plan now.
I am talking, of course, about universal healthcare, and I have previously laid out the pitch for it here. Bernie Sanders lost the primaries to Hillary Clinton while advocating universal health care, so why should the Democrats play this risky card? First, Sanders never made the capitalist case for it, as I have done. But Sanders also fell into a trap that Hillary Clinton laid for him during the campaign. He got bogged down in the numbers, and wound up proposing large tax increases for everybody to pay for his plan. In doing so, Sanders failed to make the point that universal healthcare will be paid for in large part with moneys that are now being spent on other health care programs, including Obamacare. So the actual funds needed to get from here to there are lot less than the total price tag for universal health care as a stand alone item. It is also not enough to say that it would be less than the average American spends now on health care. The Democrats and the press must explicitly state where those savings will come from. The public resents having to pay for corporate profits out of public funds, but that resentment needs to be harnessed.
Clearly, there isn’t much time, and the Democrats will not do this on their own. Activists must coalesce around this strategy, and start pushing for it immediately. We need to find a Democratic Senator who can be persuaded to introduce a new Democratic health alternative to the Republican plan. So much the better if this starts with someone other than Bernie Sanders, because that would be more newsworthy. The goal here is to control not only the discussion in the Senate, but also the news cycle. Imagine the reaction in the media if someone like Cory Booker were to introduce this with an impassioned speech on the floor of the Senate. That’s what needs ideally to happen, in order to steal this issue from Mitch McConnell’s darkness, and bring it back into the light where it belongs.
This week’s song has everything to do with the news cycle: