Twenty or even ten years ago, if you mentioned single payer healthcare, even to Democrats, people would look at you like you had three eyes. Single payer healthcare, in case anyone doesn’t know, is the system the rest of the developed world enjoys — one that is more efficient, costs everyone less, covers everyone, is less complicated, and is far more humane than our profit-based system that relies on middlemen (the insurance companies) who interfere with and undermine the doctor-patient relationship (because they exist not to keep people healthy, but solely to make a profit off human misery — which is inherently immoral). No one in the developed world envies our unnecessarily complicated, cruel, mercenary, immoral, and unfair “healthcare” system, in which the quality of care you receive (or if you receive any at all) depends on how much you can afford to pay.
But in 2017, things have changed. Recent polls show that a majority of Americans (52%) support single payer healthcare, with 69% of Democrats, and 35% of Republicans supporting it (not a majority, but still pretty impressive). Even CEOs of Fortune 500 corporations are beginning to wake up to how single payer would benefit them by freeing them of the obligation to provide healthcare to their employees or pay a penalty if they don’t.
As the hardline (“Freedom Caucus”) Republicans and the Trump administration double down on their efforts to repeal and replace Obama’s signature achievement (his attempt to make healthcare more affordable for more people), many people are finally waking up to the fact that single payer is really the only option we have left — and the only option that will actually work. Obamacare is definitely an improvement over nothing at all and now more Americans are covered than were before 2010, but since it was originally a Republican plan developed by the conservative Heritage Foundation (and later used by Mitt Romney for his Massachusetts constituents), it still is based on a system of delivery where healthcare is funneled through profit-oriented insurance companies instead of the government, as it is in all other developed countries.
Now that Senator McCain has said he will vote “No” on the latest incarnation of Trumpcare (which means “no-care” to most of us), the GOP Senate is in full panic mode. They’re so desperate for a win that they are trying to scare people into supporting their abomination of a bill. Their latest scare tactic is to scream about “Berniecare” (a reference to Bernie Sanders’ “Medicare for All” bill) being socialism and how it will destroy America. They incorrectly insist that the ACA is a step toward socialism and a slippery slope to complete government control over our lives and everything we do. They tell us that any kind of socialized healthcare or any socialism at all will lead to dictatorship and the removal of all our freedoms and the death of free enterprise. They say that the only way to “freedom” is to kill the ACA and go back to the bad old days of having no healthcare plan at all where “personal responsibility” (code for ability to pay) was the only factor that decided whether you would receive care or not.
But they are gaslighting and projecting onto us. It’s almost laughable how hypocritical these claims are. It’s ironic that the party that is screaming about dictatorship and loss of freedom is the same one whose president is an intolerant, fearmongering demagogue who displays all the signs of being a budding dictator, who discredits and wants to silence the free press, who encourages police brutality and the militarization of police departments, who is backed by a party that is trying to roll back civil rights and freedoms, as well as consumer protections and protections for the environment. It’s laughable that the party that screams about freedom doesn’t want freedom for anyone but the rich, white, conservative, and Christian. If you’re poor or even middle class, non-white, liberal, or don’t subscribe to a viciously authoritarian and aggressive form of Christian evangelism (Christian dominionism) that believes the “elect” have been favored by God with wealth and power (and aims to replace the Constitution with Old Testament law), you aren’t worthy and you deserve to have all your freedoms and rights — or sometimes even your citizenship — taken away.
To these “federalists,” freedom means three things: property rights, the right to bear arms, and “freedom of religion” (to them, this means not what the Founding Fathers — who were products of the Enlightenment and believed in the separation of church and state — meant by it, but the freedom to force your religious beliefs on others using the law to do so). They talk about “small government” and believe the government should be responsible only for policing and the military (while closely monitoring and meting out punishment for the private behaviors of the people). Concepts like freedom from harm, freedom of speech, freedom of the press, and “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” apply to them only. If they had their way, they would outlaw any speech, press, or anything else that opposed their draconian, authoritarian, backwards views. To them, freedom means if you’re wealthy, you shouldn’t have to pay taxes or contribute to the common good. If you’re a corporation, it means you shouldn’t have to obey laws that require you to pay your employees a fair wage, not pollute the environment, or test products for safety before selling them to the public.
Capitalism works best when it’s leavened by socialism. Uncontrolled capitalism quickly becomes tyranny. What we have now is no longer a democracy. It’s an oligarchy, where corporations are “people” with unlimited power, money is “free speech,” and the very wealthy and powerful are above the law and don’t have to abide by the same rules the rest of us do. They can pollute, exploit, extort, abuse, and lie to the American people to their heart’s content. They can infiltrate politics and buy votes. That’s why the wealthiest .01% have so much power and we’re in the mess we’re in right now. This sad state of affairs started insidiously with Reagan’s tax breaks for the wealthy, the war on labor unions, and removal of corporate regulations. Now we have capitalism run amok, with our current government bought and paid for by the wealthiest corporate interests and assisted by an aggressive and powerful group of religious extremists. Far from being a road to freedom, theirs is a culture of narcissism, entitlement, greed, and exploitation that oppresses everyone except themselves and their wealthy donors.
“The definition of fascism is the marriage between the corporation and the state.”
— Benito Mussolini
They have gaslighted us all along by convincing people the government is our real enemy, when all along it was the corporate and moneyed interests who were buying our government. Now we have all three branches of government hamstrung by the most hard right of Republicans to the point we are nearly a one-party country.
Think back to FDR and the New Deal. After World War II, we became a world power like none before or since. Of course, winning World War II helped our economy immensely, but had it not been for New Deal policies and labor unions that narrowed the gap between the richest and poorest, relieved people from the ravages caused by the Great Depression, and made it possible for young families to buy a home and move into the middle class (and also freed them from the burden of having to house and provide round the clock, at-home medical care to an aging parent thanks to social security and Medicare), I doubt we would have become as prosperous in the postwar years as we did and the envy of the free world. These government programs and labor unions freed people from the burdens that kept people mired in toil, poverty, and hopelessness in the past, and allowed them to be able to move up into the middle class and even higher. They allowed older people to live longer, which increased our collective life-span. Hardliners rant about these programs being socialism, and they are right about that. But these “socialist” ideas have helped millions of people live freer and healthier lives.
Do you like having a post office? Do you like having access to libraries, parks, community pools, and museums, which are free to all? Do you like the national parks and monuments that are the envy of the world and create a thriving tourism industry? Do you like having bridges, tunnels, interstate highways (instead of toll roads or dangerous makeshift dirt roads like they have in third world countries), police departments, fire departments, efficient air traffic control, and the assurance that your aging parent won’t have to move in with you and force you to quit your job so you can provide them round the clock care? Do you like knowing that if your house is on fire, you don’t have to pay a private company to come put it out or watch it burn down and spread to other houses if you lack the money? If you’re a person of limited or modest means, do you like knowing your child has access to a free public education? Do you like knowing that the air you breathe and water you drink is safe, and that the food you eat is free of toxins that could kill or sicken you or your loved ones? Do you like knowing if your area was affected by a natural disaster, that you and your family would receive help from the federal government to get back on your feet? Do you feel secure knowing that there are scientists doing research on deadly contagious diseases that could become plagues without their efforts to combat their spread? Do you like the fact there are laws that keep factories from dumping toxic waste into your drinking water? Do you like the fact that companies by law can’t make you work for whatever they want to pay, which might be a dollar a day?
“The test of our progress is not how much we add to the abundance of those who have much; it is whether we provide enough for those who have too little.”
–Franklin D. Roosevelt
All these things are socialism. Now try to imagine what things would be like if these services and protections didn’t exist, or if you had to pay a private company or individual to get any of these things. Not very pleasant to contemplate, is it? You’d be looking at a country with a quality of life more closely resembling countries like Cambodia, dictatorships in central Africa, or banana republics in South America than to any developed western nation.
Denmark, Norway, Iceland, and Switzerland are the four happiest countries in the developed world. They are also countries that are social democracies — which means they combine capitalism and socialism. There is nothing wrong with capitalism as long as regulations to keep it contained exist, there is progressive taxation (the rich pay more), and there is a general recognition that not everything can or should be privatized. Some things simply work better and are more morally sound when they’re not privatized and are administered by the government instead. Things like police departments, fire departments, prisons, interstate roads, air traffic control, and the military should never be privatized. Some services (like long-term care for the elderly, treatment for serious chronic illnesses like cancer, and safety and environmental regulations) cannot be adequately administered by private charities either.
Healthcare and education should always have a public option, even if a private option is also available. In America, we have both public and private education. The right wing complaint about “school choice” is bogus, since no one is forced to send their child to a public school, if they’d prefer to pay for a private one, but the public option is available for those who choose it or cannot afford to pay for the private option. And that is as it should be, even though our current government is actively trying to dismantle public education. As for healthcare, in Germany, you can buy your health insurance on the private market if you wish, but most people opt for single payer. Socialist policies keep countries humane and civilized, and they counteract the negative, oppressive, malignant effects of unbridled capitalism which eventually lead to fascism and tyranny, as it is right now in the United States.
I think the problem so many people have with socialism is they equate it with communism. The Cold War led many of us to take a dim view of communism, which was an extreme form of socialism in which people were not allowed to own private property and all services were centralized and run by the government. So, instead of being able to choose a doctor and have the government pay the claim (as it works in social democracies who have single payer insurance), you’d actually see a “government doctor” in a clinic-like setting and receive less than ideal care. You could only watch State TV or listen to state-run radio or read state-run newspapers. You had to stand on long lines to obtain government issued food, and of course there were always shortages. None of these things are the case with European-style socialism.
Some extremists on the far right argue that countries such as Canada with “socialized medicine” require long wait times and that people die before they get to see a doctor. But this is a lie. Most Canadians (and people in other countries with single payer healthcare) are happy with the care they receive and knowing they won’t go bankrupt or risk reaching a “lifetime cap” or be denied care at all because they have a “pre-existing condition.” In fact, they laugh at us for being so backwards that we refuse to recognize that good health is a human right, and not a luxury that only the rich should be able to afford. If there are “wait times” in social democracies, it’s for services like cosmetic plastic surgery, gastric bypass surgery, or hip replacements — procedures that aren’t life and death emergencies and where there may be less invasive options that can be explored. In America, of course, there are long wait times too — even for medically necessary procedures in which you are forced to wait for a health insurance company that cares only about profit to “authorize” a procedure and possibly deny it.
Authoritarianism has no ideology. It can arise on the left or the right. Communism is on the extreme left; fascism is on the extreme right. Socialism (or social democracy, if you prefer) is more in the middle of the scale, although more to the left than capitalism. Extremes of any ideology lead to tyranny and oppression. Socialism taken to its extreme becomes communism; capitalism taken to its extreme becomes fascism. Both are caused by (and lead to) government corruption and both lead to the same terrible outcome: short and brutal lives dominated by oppression, hopelessness, fear, illness, violence, and widespread poverty. Balance is necessary for a system to work, and for a capitalist society to work for all its people, it must be balanced with socialism. Other developed countries recognize this, and until the Reagan years changed everything, so did we.
Supporters of unbridled, unregulated capitalism like to tell us “the markets” will fix everything, but this is not true. It has only led to disaster in the past, the most recent one being the housing crisis of 2008. The markets are not God, and leaving the markets alone to fix themselves only leads to both economic and social ruin.
When people scream about socialism, I wonder if they’ve ever been to western Europe, Canada, Australia, or New Zealand — countries which may not be world powers, and where people may have to pay higher taxes (but not as high as you might think), but where there is more equality, more tolerance of diversity, and where people enjoy better health, live longer lives, get paid a living wage, and are never burdened with the possibility of bankruptcy or being denied coverage should they or a loved one become seriously ill. Countries where people are generally happier, have more peace of mind, and where there is less hatred, violence, sickness, poverty, and selfishness. Countries where the common good is still valued more highly than power and greed. Countries that don’t deny scientific fact or the right of its people to have a free education, clean air and drinking water, and basic no-cost healthcare from cradle to grave.
People in these countries can start companies and engage in free enterprise and with a lot more ease too because they’re not burdened with the fear of losing their insurance if they quit a job to start their own business. They can leave a job they hate for a better one without fearing a “gap in coverage.” They are still just as “free” as we are, if not more so (and now they are leaving us behind as they move ahead in the global economy because they recognize that sustainable industry that respects the planet and all life is the wave of the future). The difference is they recognize what real freedom and real morality is — not the fake version of “freedom” that has come to mean “I got mine, so screw you,” and the fake version of “morality” that condescendingly tells us, “I’m better than you, so the rules I impose on you don’t apply to me.”