By David Sirota for AlterNet—
How Political Elites Have Made Single Payer “Politically Impossible”
In light of the White House’s big hand-holding session today with the pharmaceutical and health insurance industries today, let me take this moment to note that a cynic – or, perhaps, a realist – might look at President Obama’s statements on health care and see a politician moving farther and farther away from his progressive roots and closer and closer to the Washington/money Establishment.
In 2003, Obama said he supports a single-payer health care system, and that the only reason we “may not get there immiediately” is “because first we have to take back the White House, we have to take back the Senate, and we have to take back the House” – which, of course, we have:
“I happen to be a proponent of a single payer universal health care program…I see no reason why the United States of America, the wealthiest country in the history of the world, spending 14 percent of its Gross National Product on health care cannot provide basic health insurance to everybody. And that’s what Jim is talking about when he says everybody in, nobody out. A single payer health care plan, a universal health care plan. And that’s what I’d like to see. But as all of you know, we may not get there immediately. Because first we have to take back the White House, we have to take back the Senate, and we have to take back the House.” – Barack Obama, 2003
In 2006, I spent a day with Obama in the U.S. Senate, and he said he supports a “debate” on single-payer, but that he also bad started to have his doubts, now that he was in the Senate:
I asked him to give me some specific examples of what he meant. Is a proposal to convert America’s healthcare system to one in which the government is the single payer for all services revolutionary or reformist? “Anything that Canada does can’t be entirely revolutionary-it’s Canada,” Obama joked. “When I drive through Toronto, it doesn’t look like a bunch of Maoists.” Even so, Obama said that although he “would not shy away from a debate about single-payer,” right now he is “not convinced that it is the best way to achieve universal healthcare.”
By last week, it became clear that Obama and his allies in Congress will use their legislative leverage to prevent even a debate about single payer. Here’s the Associated Press: “Baucus and many others, including President Barack Obama, say single-payer is not practical or politically feasible.”
“Everything is on the table with the single exception of single-payer,” Baucus said.
My guess is that Obama still believes in what he originally says, because he knows the evidence about the supremacy of a single-payer system is irrefutable. But I’m also guessing that he’s afraid of being attacked by moneyed interests that enjoy the status quo, and he’s surrounded himself by Clintonites who, after the health care debacle of the early 1990s, aren’t interested in antagonizing the insurance industry.
However, let me just echo Ta-Neishi Coates who recently wrote that “while a good politician accomplishes what is possible, a great one expands the realm of possibility – he doesn’t simply accept the lines of argument as they’re drawn and hew to the side with the most soldiers, he tries to redraw those lines to benefit his ideals.”
The whole idea that single payer is the best option but politically “impossible” is simply unacceptable. Last I checked, electing an African American president was politically “impossible”…until Barack Obama went ahead and got himself elected president. The entire notion of “politically possible” and “politically impossible” is a canard that justifies the status quo. So while it’s certainly terrific that Obama is fighting for some sort of universal health care system, and one with a public option (which could ultimately become a single-payer system), let’s just remember: Nothing has been politically “possible” until it actually happened – and so if that’s the major argument against single payer, it’s not just a poor argument, it’s a fraud.