Bernie Sanders and the Single-Payer Presidency (The Health Care Crisis, Part One)

January 19, 2016

Bernie Sanders and the Single-Payer Presidency

Part One: Memories of the Job Crisis and its Impact on the Health Crisis to Come

In recent decades, the Republican party has succeeded in large part because it has manipulated the voters who support its candidates by making promises about social issues that it has only been able to deliver on an installment plan. Symbolic victory is more prevalent than any actual effacement of the gains made by women and people of color since 1950. Conservatives often feel disregarded by the party Elites except when it comes to voting in elections.

Not to be outdone in that kind of campaigning and underperformance, the Democratic party has often talked a good game, but delivered far less than its supporters have a right to expect. In the most recent debate (Sunday, January 17, 2016) involving the two leading candidates for the Democratic nomination for President, Hillary Clinton listed jobs as her first priority. Where have we heard this before? From her husband, Bill Clinton, who ran in 1992 as someone who told us that indeed jobs would be lost to technology, but that there would be job training. And he was right. Jobs were lost, but there was no job training available to those workers in any meaningful number of programs.

Hillary Clinton would like to forget that by 1995, three years after her husband took office, jobs were being lost at an extraordinary rate, and while one can argue that things briefly got better from 1997-1999, that was only after the havoc of much unnecessary turmoil in employment. The shedding of jobs – especially union jobs – helped out his corporate sponsors immensely and devastated the day-to-day lives of workers. Bill Clinton did not care about anything other than empowering Wall Street firms. Workers were last on his list of priorities.

Hillary Clinton’s reiteration of jobs as her first priority deserves more than just the skepticism rightfully generated by the memory of her spouse’s betrayal of working people in the 1990s. One only has to look at the woeful incompetence of the Democratic party in handling the job crisis of 2007-2010 to estimate the likelihood of Hillary Clinton being a “jobs President.” Let us go back eight years and take a look at how well President Obama handled the crisis. Here is the policy statement that explains the plan:

“A key goal enunciated by the President-Elect concerning the American Recovery and Reinvestment Plan is that it should save or create at least 3 million jobs by the end of 2010. …. We expect the plan to more than meet the goal of creating or saving 3 million
jobs by 2010Q4. There are two important points to note, however: First, the likely scale of employment loss is extremely large. The U.S. economy has already lost
nearly 2.6 million jobs since the business cycle peak in December 2007. In the absence of stimulus, the economy could lose another 3 to 4 million more. Thus, we are working to counter a potential total job loss of at least 5 million. As Figure 1 shows, even with the large prototypical package, the unemployment rate in 2010Q4 is predicted to be approximately 7.0%, which is well below the approximately 8.8% that would result in the absence of a plan.”
(policy document dated: January 10, 2009)

That was the plan that President Obama and his team of advisors from Wall Street came up with to meet the crisis of massive unemployment. The actual outcome is that the plan did not begin to ameliorate the damage done to the economic lives of working people. By the end of 2010, the unemployment rate was 9.3 percent, not 7 percent. ( )

The shortfall, as stunning as it is, hardly represents the real evil at work here. How could anyone think that the goal of resolving this crisis should be 7 seven percent unemployment? That aspiration is in and of itself a hideous, reprehensible failure of social imagination on the part of Obama and his co-conspirators from Wall Street. Of course, that Democrats would put forward a plan that they had to know in their muscle-bound brains would be completely inadequate would not be surprising to anyone who remembered Bill Clinton’s inability to deliver on job training in the 1990s. As with Bill Clinton, Obama and his cohort merely went through the motions of alleviating the catastrophic distress of working people. Nor did things get better in 2011. In September, 2011, the unemployment rate was 9 percent. The prolongation of the crisis and its cantilevering on the backs of working people reveals exactly how little those in the professional ranks of politics and social and economic policy understand ground-level existence.

And does anyone care to remember that this figure of nine percent unemployment in 2010-2011 is totally manipulated? Anyone who had despaired of finding work by the summer of 2011 was not counted. You were not unemployed, these statistics insisted. And the nightmare was only worse under the surface. How many hundreds and hundreds of thousands of people found that their unemployment benefits were insufficient and found themselves depending on relatives and friends who could barely sustain themselves? The damage done to working people during that period is at a level that those who hold positions of authority cannot imagine. They do not have enough intelligence to make that kind of empathic leap.

Bernie Sanders at least has the common sense not to make jobs his first priority. It is too late to redeem that tragic implosion. While he listed “jobs” in third place in his list of priorities, he knows that the coming crisis involves health care and that the only way to address the onslaught of health care needs of the baby boomer generation is the single-payer system. “Medicare for All,” he calls it, and in making this his anthem he brings to a complete stop a system in which generations exploit each other.

It should be noted that the baby boomer generation has subsided Medicare for the population born between 1910 and 1935. This rather large cluster of people paid very little into the Medicare system and reaped continuous coverage. By the end of this decade, it will be the turn of those born between 1946 and 1955 to receive the same benefits that their hard work provided to their elders. But will that promise be kept? Why should it be kept, especially when there are fewer people paying into it, all the while suspecting that it will not be there for them when it is their turn? I can hardly blame Gen X and the succeeding generations from being cynical. There is a tsunami of unfunded health benefits about to come due, and they are being asked to let themselves be drowned by a health care system dominated by corporate culture.

So Sanders wisely sees that the only way – the only fair way – to make sure that the promise made to the baby boom generation is kept is to provide the same level of access and care to everyone, and to provide this health care as a right. The pursuit of health is the foundation of whatever happiness we are fortunate enough to share with others. It is an inalienable right, and those who are 35 or 45 years old have as much right to it as those who are 70 or 75 years old. Health care is one of the essential critical fulfillments of social cohesion and requital. To diminish its status is to guarantee a debilitated social economy. If Sanders’s plan seems radical and daunting in its unfamiliarity to Americans, then they need to remember how badly both Democrats and Republicans handled the job crisis. They will do no better with their current plans (including Obamacare) to resolve the coming health crisis. Millions of economic lives would have been saved if Obama had acted with the boldness required in 2009. Millions of lives – literal lives, this time – are at stake, if we do not act with similar boldness in altering the health care system in the next four years.

A minority of our fellow citizens, however, would prefer to benefit from the unequal distribution of “health wealth.” This fraction of business as usual administrators has a vested interest in a system in which HMOs become “too big to fail.” Anyone can see what such a system has in mind: public money subsidizing private profits. Wall Street’s health is the only check-up they need to have an annual report on.


Part Two: The Checkmate Confrontation of Corporate Health and the Single-Payer System

Part Three: The “Life” Panels