•  HOME 
  •  BOOKS 
  •  WWP 
  •  DONATE 
  • Loading

Follow workers.org on
Twitter Facebook iGoogle

Obama’s speech

Health care debate & the racist connection

Published Sep 16, 2009 5:12 PM

President Barack Obama addressed a joint session of Congress on Sept. 9 in a forceful attempt to revive the Democratic health bill. Obama’s speech came after weeks of racist attacks at town hall forums around the country, combined with demagoguery and distortions from right-wing politicians and commentators, that threatened to entirely sink any reform and forced Democrats to retreat from a “public option.”

Two forces were at work behind the attacks and distortions. The health insurance industry demonstrated its determination to defeat any type of reform—even incremental, contradictory and insufficient reform—that could potentially threaten just a miniscule portion of their multibillion-dollar profits. Meanwhile, in an attempt to avert a united, multinational working-class struggle against the economic crisis, a section of the ruling class has exposed its willingness to whip up racist reaction by positioning Obama as the fall guy for the worst crisis since the Great Depression.

Obama spells out Democratic priorities

In sometimes soaring language, Obama described the plight of the uninsured and underinsured who struggle daily for basic care in the richest country on earth. With strong words, Obama accurately described the spectacle of scare tactics and dishonest debate, the shortsighted political posturing and the general reign of confusion that has surrounded the push for health care reform.

It was only when Obama turned his attention to the details of what a Democratic health reform bill would look like that it became clear something was amiss. He described a plan similar to that which has already passed four committees in the Democratic-controlled Congress. In doing so the administration threw its support behind a woefully inadequate plan that would cost $900 billion over 10 years, force individuals without coverage to purchase health insurance, and restrict the option for public coverage to less than 5 percent of the population. The Congressional Budget Office previously estimated that this type of reform would ultimately leave 17 million uninsured.

In his speech, Obama made clear that the Democratic health plan does not provide coverage to undocumented workers and provides no federal funding for abortion services. This unfortunate position on the medical rights of women and immigrants comes at a time when Obama himself is under attack from an extreme right wing which has sought to use racism against him to undermine even the slightest chance of reform.

Racist outburst during President’s speech

South Carolina Republican Rep. Joe Wilson attempted to shout down Obama by yelling, “You lie!” as the president assured Congress that the undocumented would not receive coverage. The very fact that Obama felt compelled to emphasize the exclusion of undocumented immigrants is a testament to the viciously racist Washington atmosphere.

Wilson’s outburst reflects that racism.

New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd called out Wilson and the racist establishment in her Sept. 12 column: “Surrounded by middle-aged white guys—a sepia snapshot of the days when such pols ran Washington like their own men’s club—Joe Wilson yelled ‘You lie!’ at a president who didn’t. But, fair or not, what I heard was an unspoken word in the air: You lie, boy!”

Dowd goes on to explain how Wilson belonged to the Sons of Confederate Veterans and led a campaign to keep the Confederate flag above the South Carolina state Capitol in 2000. Wilson’s reactionary credentials are not in doubt, and Dowd was right on target in her assertion that his outburst was laced with racism.

Reactionary rally in Washington demands a response

The drive to transform the legitimate anger over the joblessness, home foreclosures and bank bailouts of the current economic crisis into a racist backlash against Obama manifested itself at a Sept. 12 march on Washington organized by FreedomWorks—a right-wing organization chaired by former Republican House Majority Leader Dick Army.

Accurate estimates of turnout are difficult to obtain, as media estimates have ranged from hundreds to thousands, to tens of thousands. Some conservatives, such as former Fox News commentator Michelle Malkin, have embarrassed themselves by falsely reporting that millions turned out for the racist bash.

Speakers and attendees decried government spending and the bank bailouts. Towing the health insurance industry line, many speakers falsely railed against the Democratic plan as a government takeover of health care. The tone often dripped with racism and sexism as speakers lashed out repeatedly at President Obama and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

The rally is evidence that a small, but vocal, extreme right wing has organized itself to promote its reactionary agenda and block any chance at reform. This right-wing political movement has felt emboldened by the absence of a vigorous and united left movement in this country.

President Obama held a campaign-style rally in Minnesota on the same day as the Washington event. An estimated 15,000 people showed up for a rally punctuated with cries of “Yes we can!”

Democratic Party rallies such as this are certainly better than complete silence in the face of a right-wing onslaught, but they are no substitute for militant mass action in the streets.

Only a movement of employed and unemployed workers that stands up for a jobs program at a living wage, Medicare for All, and a moratorium on layoffs, home foreclosures and evictions can smash this racist reaction where it stands. The Sept. 20 National March for Jobs and Tent City in Pittsburgh is a significant first step in this direction.

Health care reform & revolution

Revolutionaries must not be intimidated by either racist outbursts or insurance industry distortions. More than 50 million people living inside the U.S. lack health insurance. Another 25 million are underinsured. Radical crises like the one in health care require radical solutions.

Revolutionaries take into account the immediate drive for reform and the long-term struggle for revolution when making demands on the system. Minimum and maximum demands are the result of this process.

“Medicare for All” is an appropriate minimum demand for this period. It is a demand that corresponds to the consciousness of the workers and responds to the crisis in health care. Medicare for All is a single-payer system of national health insurance that organizes health financing through a single public agency and removes private insurance companies as the arbiters of who does and does not receive adequate care. It has been proposed in Congress as H.R. 676.

Medicare for All represents an immediate demand that would fix some of the most glaring problems in health care, but what workers really need is a humane system of health care that entirely removes the profit motive out of the equation, from financing to delivery.

This maximum working-class demand requires socialism to be fully realized. Socialist medicine—such as that which exists in Cuba—is a system that is publicly financed and administered. Hospitals and clinics are democratically operated, with doctors and nurses working as public employees. Production of pharmaceuticals and medical equipment are public enterprises designed to meet people’s needs.

Medicare for All is the right thing to demand right now. Only socialism can provide the final answer for workers’ health care needs.