Mitt Romney’s choice of Paul Ryan for running mate has set off a flurry of campaign excitement. This could be the best news for Medicare in a long time—Ryan’s not-so-subtle Medicare killing plans might turn 2012 into the “Medicare Election” after all. If so, privatizing Medicare could become a new 3rd rail no politician will dare to even glance towards any time in the near future. This is a great time for people in both parties to take a strong position on Medicare—we need to let folks know we are NOT willing to let granny get shoved off the cliff.
It’s important for Dems not to get too lulled by their own campaign ads, though. There are other ways to ease granny off that cliff. Some are sneaky enough that we might not be able to haul her back up by the time we realize she’s rolling.
It ought to be pretty easy to see the risks in converting Medicare to a voucher or “premium support” system, where rising costs could easily render our elderly either uninsured or unable to afford to use their insurance. Interestingly, the idea is very similar to what the ACA does in the upcoming “exchanges”, and we will see the same problems there. Low income families are highly likely to forgo needed care and leave that brand new insurance card in their wallets, because of the still daunting co-pays. If you doubt that, come hang out with me at work for a few days and listen to the parents with minimum wage jobs who have employer-provided insurance.
There are FaceBook memes popping up on the pages of my intelligent friends saying Obama is using the Medicare cuts to save Medicare—that this money was cut by reducing fraud and excess payments to Medicare Advantage plans (private insurers who cover Medicare patients at higher cost than traditional Medicare), whereas the Romney/ Ryan plan would line corporate pockets. Not exactly! Some of the ACA cut is to hospitals, in the form of DSH reductions and value-based payment cuts to hospitals that serve the uninsured. It is true that the ACA cut Medicare Advantage payments, which should have been just eliminated. Then Obama’s administration (not Congress, mind you—this was an executive action) turned right around and began handing the money back as rewards to Medicare Advantage plans with only average performance. Corporate pocket-lining is a bipartisan effort.
The ACA generally works to direct more money into the private insurance system, including taxpayer subsidy of pricey overheads. For those who believe the ACA clearly benefits some specific groups and so is a step in the right direction, I have thought of a better metaphor than steps. It is like global warming. Sure, there are some chilly areas that will benefit from temperatures rising—more tourists, longer growing seasons. The net effect is detrimental.
I have been mulling over partisanship a lot in the last few weeks. I was raised a Democrat and even though I knew the party had problems, I made some unquestioned assumptions I now believe were incorrect. I have decided to join the Green Party.
Between the two major parties, there are some clear differences. The Republicans yearn to undo Roe v. Wade, bring back sexual repression, and rein in women/ minorities to their liking. They would love to end critical scientific and historical education, because the particular biases of the far right are unstable in an educated public. They worship guns and encourage the bizarre belief of some right-wingers that it would be possible to fight off an out-of-control government (complete with weapons of mass destruction) by personal armaments. The Democrats don’t so much offer improvements in those areas as they do a little more security in the status quo.
Both parties, however, have the same underlying primary purpose—to protect the interests of big money. I doubt if this is a conscious purpose on the part of all involved—I’m not that cynical. But in practice, in history, it doesn’t matter, because that’s what happens. The Republicans serve big money by trying to lower regulation and by cutting the “social wage” (the provision of a floor for fundamental human needs like food, shelter and medical care), so that the poor are forced into jobs they might not otherwise accept and are kept so busy scrambling for their lives that they don’t have time or energy to organize an opposition. To their base, they frame it as Personal Responsibility.
The Democrats serve money by increasing regulation to stabilize and rescue corporations when they are at risk of collapsing from their excesses and by increasing the social wages when public destabilization looms. To their base, they frame it as a Safety Net. The party appears to be more socially evolved for a few reasons—it is partly because they needed the progressive, socially generous block of voters (the ones Republicans bypassed in favor of Randians and religious fundamentalists). It is also partly because some of those social policies serve particular corporate interests better, and partly because the appearance of social responsibility attracts candidates who really do believe we have a social duty to each other (even though they find, once in office, that they can’t do nearly what they hoped for).
Besides serving the interests of big money, both parties have more in common than either side would like to believe, in terms of aggression and erosions of civil liberties. Worse, they are both creating an inexorable trend towards loss of democratic functioning in our government. They are both making our votes count for less and less, by subverting orderly representative and judicial processes.
Most of you probably already know this—I’m saying it mainly to lay some groundwork for the rest of this post. There are some very different possible responses to seeing this sad scenario. One option is to say we should work within the Democratic party itself, to turn it in a better direction. This was why I stayed in the party so long. It’s a little better reasoning than the old story that ends “with all this shit in here, there must be a pony”—and it goes like this: “with all these great progressives in the tent, there must be hope for this party.”
After arguing this point with a new email friend, where I vigorously took the side of the Democrats, I read a book this friend recommended, and I have changed my mind. It isn’t the repeated offenses of the Democrats, or the examples proving it is just as much a corporate party as the other, because like you, I knew that. What got me was the history of progressive movements. Time after time, when progressives have allowed themselves to be folded in, they lost their battles. The only times they won any major ground—Civil Rights, for instance—were because of intense independent grassroots pressure. I didn’t want to believe that and tried to find an exception the author forgot. I couldn’t. Can you?
Being scientifically minded, I just can’t ignore empirical evidence. You should read the book—it is like watching Lucy pull the football away from Charlie Brown way too many times.
We can’t do the significant things we need to do by working within the two party system. If we want big deal changes like real healthcare reform, not just rolling off the cliff instead of being thrown off, we need to take this seriously. By staying under the big Democratic tent, we give those elected an easy out—they know we are terrified of the openly vicious alternative and will generally forgive them by blaming their failures on the other party, so our vote is in the bag. This means they only have to please their corporate masters.
I saw this in action just last week, when a Democrat friend of mine heard me say some true but unpleasant things about the ACA. She said she agreed, but that we should be careful NOT to report any of those things until after November 6, because it would give ammunition to the other side. Think hard. If you have to lie to others or yourself to support a party, there’s a problem.
One way a third party can influence policy is by threatening or throwing elections in swing states—that could get us some important things and possibly even a change as significant as single payer health insurance. But only if we don’t wuss out and throw darts at Ralph Nader for doing the right thing. Another way would be if folks stuck with it and didn’t go back to the Democrats every time a small point was won, allowing the US to gradually build a true third party free of corporate control. The time to start is now. If we wait until it looks like an independent party can do something substantial, we will never start. That’s an idealist point of view, I know, but it isn’t impossible. All other developed democratic countries have some form of Labor party except us.
To succeed, we have to focus on one central objective—attaining responsive representation in government, so big money can’t rule the day. Without that, it doesn’t really matter about the rest, because once we’ve fully lost the power of our votes, we will have only as much civil liberty as suits the most powerful big money interests. We have to keep our focus on representation, the same way meditators deal with distractions. If we get stronger, the efforts to distract us will intensify—be ready for it. They’ll wave gay marriage at us, reproductive rights, maybe even changes in drug policy—don’t bite unless it comes attached to democracy.
Some folks, like Morris Berman, believe it is already too late and no road forward is possible for the United States. If he is right, my Dem friends are probably doing the best thing. Either one should expatriate, as Berman did, or one should at least hang with the party who won’t rape us with ultrasound probes. It is not unreasonable, if one must go off the cliff, to choose being rolled over being thrown.
If it is NOT too late, there is only one real choice for progressives. We must refuse to serve as arm candy that makes the Democratic party look safe. We must stop letting Lucy hold the football. We must stay out, and we must do our best to gather a coalition of others who will challenge the powers that be.