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
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
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
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
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.
Articles copyright 1995-2012 Workers World.
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