Dr. Stephen R. Keister : Health Care Reform, Tea Baggers and the Politics of Fear

Sign from “Tax Revolt Tea-Toss,” on April 3 in Longport, Long Island, NY. Photo from VigilantSquirrelBrigade.

There were older folks, no doubt on Social Security and Medicare, carrying signs reading, ‘Send the Socialists to Europe.’ There were working folks, no doubt the beneficiaries of the Obama tax cuts and job programs, carrying signs saying, ‘No more taxes. No more spending.’

By Dr. Stephen R. Keister / The Rag Blog / April 19, 2009

At the risk of being marked as a Cassandra I would ask my brethren in the fight for single payer, universal health care to pause a minute to take stock. I am fully aware that the upcoming week is devoted in bringing universal care to the attention of the public. However, I am extremely troubled by several developments. I would call your attention to an AP article by Ricardo Alonzo-Zaldifar distributed by truthout on April 11, 2009, entitled “No Strength in Numbers for America’s Uninsured”

The author, I believe, makes an excellent point about why the uninsured, including the recently uninsured, will not rally into a mass movement.. Without a true mass movement our elected representatives, in view of the largesse received from the pharmaceutical/insurance industries, are not going to pay serious attention to us. As one who has been working for some years toward a plan first suggested by Physicians for a national Health Program, and which is now before the House and Senate, I am very apprehensive.

Further, we are dealing with a problem that is only beginning to surface but was made abundantly obvious at the “tea bag” rallies of April 15. Read the chilling article by Professor Joseph A. Palermo, written for The Huffington Post and published in The Rag Blog on April 15, 2009, as “Sacramento: Tea Bagger Hate-Fest.” The attitudes he describes are akin to those I remember displayed in the newsreels from Germany in the 1930s. Further, as he notes, the crowd was larger than those that he attended at the anti-war rallies of the Bush years.

My liberal colleagues will counter, “but these were organized affairs.” That is just my point, those in the gathering driven by ignorance, apathy, hate and fear want to be led. It is an ideal situation to be taken advantage of by The Man on the White Horse. No logic, of course not. There were older folks, no doubt on Social Security and Medicare, carrying signs reading, “Send the Socialists to Europe.” There were working folks, no doubt the beneficiaries of the Obama tax cuts and job programs, carrying signs saying, “No more taxes. No more spending.” The undercurrent at all the rallies was racial with the NRA folks in the forefront. All that was missing was signs pointing out that Bernie Madoff, Lehman Brothers, Bear-Sterns, and the other like bankers are at the heart of the nation’s financial problems.

I would ask all to pay attention to Carl Davidson’s comment introducing the Palermo article:

Too many liberals are trying to deal with this with dismissive humor, but it’s deadly serious. Too many of the “tea party” spokesmen are calling for the right to become “armed and dangerous,” with their sights aimed at Obama and the progressive left. These people are not fools, and serious people had best develop tactics to mobilize against them. Fox and Hannity would be a worthy focus for mass anti-fascist protest.

I would further suggest that we in the progressive movement reread the early chapters of William Shirer’s “Rise and Fall of The Third Reich” as well as Naomi Klein’s “The Shock Doctrine.” Also see the excerpt from Milton Mayer’s book, They Thought They were Free, The Germans 1933-45, distributed by Information Clearing House on September 23, 2008.

We who support the concept of national health care are prone to use European nations as examples. However, let us not forget the vast cultural differences. After spending 800 years killing one another, the Europeans in the past 50 years have developed an entirely different outlook from that of our citizens. The Europeans, by and large, do not respect militarism, conquest, and nationalism. Their societies are basically secularist, and interested in communal well-being, and they are not taken up with the ide fixe of ultimate personal salvation. The outlook demonstrated during the “tea bag” rallies here is quite different. Further, to compound my fears, a poll in The Erie (Pennsylvania) Times News this week found 65% of the respondents in sympathy with the “tea bag” outlook. This may give the reader some insight into an impending event in Erie in mid-June. The Manufacturers Association is sponsoring George W. Bush’s first domestic address since leaving office. Do not be overwhelmed when you see it on TV!

To digress for a moment, I believe that President Obama has shown progressive thinking in general, though, I disagree with him regarding his economic advisers, and his gung-ho approach to Afghanistan. I can understand the former in view of his University of Chicago background; however, the latter continues to perplex me considering the fact that he has a good grasp of history. Afghanistan in 3000 years has never been conquered, and it is not a nation but an area composed of a mixture of tribal societies. What, really, is the United States committed to? I can, however, after much thought, understand why the Obama administration is continuing the policy of domestic surveillance. If I were the President, and aware of the hate, hostility, mindless folks with guns, and the undercurrent of far right support, I would probably want to get some handle on the comings and goings of domestic terrorists, not only for the protection of my family I, but for the protection of the thinking people of the nation.

Common Dreams on April 13, 2009, reprinted an open letter by Benjamin Day, executive director of The Massachusetts Campaign for Single Payer Health Care, which originally appeared in The New York Times, entitled “Why Has The Press Failed Us In Reporting on Health Care Reform?” This underlines the absence of coverage of single payer health care by the mainstream media. As a matter of fact, I have not heard a single word on MSNBC’s evening lineup. Strange!

I recently had an E mail from a high-school friend (1935) upon his return from Florida. He tells me that on the Amtrak Auto Train he met a couple from Canada, one of whom required a medical procedure while vacationing. (It should be understood that Canadians are required to buy an inexpensive additional insurance policy when traveling out of the country.) The procedure in Florida cost $2000, paid for by the Canadian National Health Plan and co-insurance. In Canada the same procedure would have cost $800. Incidentally, the couple feel that in Canada they get excellent and timely medical care.

After addressing physicians’ fees in my last submission to The Rag Blog, I received a notice from The American College of Physicians, which incidentally endorses single payer, universal care. The ACP is requesting that members of Congress who support this position consider the following

  1. Eliminate use of the “sustainable growth rate” (SGR) in updating Medicare fees and adopt a system that provides positive, stable, and predictable increases based on the costs of practices serving Medicare patients.
  2. Increase payments to primary care physicians to make primary care competitive in the market and with other physician career and specialty choices, and
  3. Fund loan repayment and scholarship programs to cover the costs of medical education for students who agree to pursue careers in primary care and subsequently practice in areas of the nation with greatest need.

I have no illusions that the present Congress will pass John Conyers’ health care bill in the House, or the Bernie Sander’s bill in the Senate. But if we can break the hold that the insurance and pharmaceutical industries have on our elected representatives and achieve an optional “Medicare for All,” as a “public insurance company,” it may well be a step in the right direction. Further, the state initiatives for single payer, universal care, including the one in Pennsylvania, still present an opportunity. After all, the Canadian system started in the provinces and finally coalesced into the current national plan.

A very perceptive online friend e-mailed me Ghandi’s seven root causes of unfairness and injustice in the world, all consisting of volitional human activities in the absence of socially-redeeming moral content, all accurately describing the right wing in the contemporary United States.

  • Wealth without Work
  • Pleasure without Conscience
  • Knowledge without Character
  • Commerce without Morality
  • Science without Humanity
  • Worship without Sacrifice
  • Politics without Principles.

[Dr. Stephen R. Keister, a regular contributor to The Rag Blog, lives in Erie, PA. He is a retired physician who is active in health care reform. His previous articles on The Rag Blog can be found here.]

The Rag Blog

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4 Responses to Dr. Stephen R. Keister : Health Care Reform, Tea Baggers and the Politics of Fear

  1. A wonderful article – perfect!!! I also liked the summary using Ghandi’s words; I’ve read all of Ghandi’s published writings – he hits the nail squarely on the head every time.

    Good article indeed!

  2. Anonymous says:

    The mention of Canadian healthcare made me recall an example I witnessed several years ago: a Canadian couple were vacationing in the US. They rented a car in NV, were seriously injured in a motor vehicle accident in CA close to the AZ border. The responsible driver who resided on tribal land in AZ was fatally injured. The Canadians underwent ER treatment in AZ, flown to a sugical center in another state, and eventually home to Canada for rehab. After proper documentation was submitted, the couple’s Provincial medical insurance paid all their (considerable) medical expenses reasonably quickly. I shudder to think how prolonged and adversarial resolution of the medical bills would have been had the couple been say, American residents of a small town in West Virginia,, who had the bad fortune to be injured in that multi-state, multi-jurisdiction, so far from their local HMO. Among its other virtues, a single payer system could include simplification of the arduous process of settling claims in our current crazy-quilt patchwork of medical insurance carriers, contracts & providers.

  3. Alan L. Maki says:

    The way to challenge these tea baggers is to pose this for consideration:

    Over 800 U.S. foreign military bases now dot the globe; what we need, instead, are 800 public health care centers spread out across the United States providing free health care for all.

    We could build an alternative to the right-wing tea baggers around this concept which puts things in the proper perspective.

  4. Anonymous says:

    Thanks for another fine article. Our message must be that single payer will hold down costs by at least 17%.

    I just read an interview with the new Republican Congressman from the 5th district of Pennsylvania. He campaigned on holding down health care costs and acknowledges that in the interview. However, he says he will fight single payer health care because it represents “socialism.” He also thinks the insurance companies must be part of the solution.

    There are many Republican distrincts like his. Rural, poor, in need of better health care, and and absolutely red–through and through.

    My guess is that people like him will vote to add all sorts of goodies to the package and then vote against it because it includes a singler payer option.

    WE need a strategy where we could scuttle such a prtogram at the last minute, and substitute for it a largely single payer program with just enough goodies for the insurance companies to get 51 Democratic votes in the Senate.

    Steve’s comments on the parallel to Germany are on target, and I fear the Democratic strategists do not grasp what they could be up against.

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