Transcript #165

Health Care Vote Post-Game Show: The Right-Wing Is Down, But Not Out (And Lying Even More Than Usual, If That's Possible)


Partially hyperlinked to sources.  For all sources, see the data resources page.



Your sources today include: the New York Times, the Associated Press,, the Nation magazine, the Washington Post, and the website of the Congressional Budget Office.


Consider this the post-game show to the just-finished round of the health care debate.  A bill was passed, but the long-term struggle will continue.  Many more rounds to go.


I'll start off by sharing with you three terrific letters to the New York Times.  They'll provide a springboard to discuss the broader context, including where we go from here.


Be sure to stick around until the end, because I have some killer poll information for you later on that you probably haven't heard about, but will wish you did!


Here's the first letter:


Those who voted against this historic legislation should be forewarned. They may have scored easy, even cynical, political points by opposing passage of a comprehensive and expensive health care bill. But 10 years from now, health care will be considered another bipartisan sacred cow, universally popular.

Forty years from now, the opponents of this bill will be remembered in the same vein as the opponents of the Social Security Act and the Civil Rights Act. I would not want to be in their historical shoes.

Not just remembered in the same vein -- understood to be the very same people doing today just what they did back then.  It was right-wingers who opposed the Social Security Act and the Voting Rights Act.  And also most germanely here, they fought against Medicare as well.  Listen to what the right-wing icon Ronald Reagan had to say in 1961 about a legislative forerunner to Medicare: 


audio: Ronald Reagan

Write those letters now, call your friends and tell them to write.  If you don't, this program I promise you will pass just as surely as the sun will come up tomorrow.  And behind it will come other federal programs that will invade every area of freedom as we have known it in this country.  Until, one day, as Norman Thomas said, we will awake to find that we have socialism. 

And if you don't do this and I don't do this, one of these days, you and I are going to spend our sunset years telling our children and our children's children what it once was like in America—when men  were free.

Sound familiar to the current right-wing scare talk?  You can remind your conservative friends about the ridiculous warnings they issued about Medicare.  Didn't turn out quite like they predicted, did it?


In a related vein, you may have heard that one of the ways the right is continuing their fight, is to challenge the health care legislation as unconstitutional.  Several state Attorneys General, all but one Republicans, filed suit seven minutes after Obama signed the legislation.


Right-wingers in the 1930's and 1960's also filed suits against Social Security and the Civil Rights Act when they were passed. 


Speaking of the suit against Obama's health care reform, Jack Balkin, constitutional law professor at Yale, said:


The attack on this bill is not merely an attack on the substance of this particular measure. It’s also a challenge to understandings that come with the New Deal.

Yes, this is all part of the right's efforts to destroy the New Deal.  Doubt that?  Listen to Rush Limbaugh:


audio: Rush Limbaugh

Roosevelt is dead.  His policies may live on, but we're in the process of doing something about that as well.

One claim in the current court action is that the insurance mandate is unconstitutional because it exceeds Congress's power under the Constitution's Interstate Commerce Clause.  Yet a right-wing leader like Newt Gingrich included such a mandate in his own insurance proposals.  But if Democrats do so, go to court!  What hypocrisy.


Most legal scholars, including some conservative ones, believe the present-day right-wing lawsuit will fail, just like the right's prior legal challenges to Medicare and the Civil Rights act failed.


Ok, on to the second letter:


I cry tears of joy for those who will be treated and cured as a result of this legislation. But I quiver and quake for those who are left in limbo between now and the proposed enactment date of 2014 for the major expansion of coverage. What of them?

…We cannot ignore them… [W]e must realize that but for a turn of fate they could be us.

This not taking effect until 2014 is definitely something we progressives should work hard to get moved up.  I mean, what exactly is the reason for this long delay?  I hear about, oh, it takes time to set up the bureaucracy, formulate rules, etc etc etc.  Bull.


The most recent estimate was that 45,000 Americans die every year from lack of health insurance.  They don't have access to preventive health care, diagnoses are made too late to be effective, follow up treatment is skipped because unaffordable.  Four more years would be another 180,000 dead Americans.  Sixty 9/11's.  Plus how many more hundreds of thousands, millions of people suffering unnecessary misery and pain?


This delayed date isn't the only thing that demands our immediate attention.  There will still be 23 million people uninsured in 2019. 


Even if we can't get single payer, Medicare-for-all-type health care now, at least make this private insurance-based reform, cover everyone.  23 million people without insurance will result in 23,000 unnecessary deaths each year.  That's unacceptable.


And if a right-winger tells you, "Oh, most of these are illegal immigrants," then reply: "OK, but 9 million aren't.  That would still be about 9,000 premature deaths of American citizens each year.  Is that OK with you?"


Unfortunately, to many right-wingers, that would be perfectly OK. And would fit in perfectly with a whole philosophical doctrine they've created to justify their callousness and greed, and the suffering it causes.   Which we'll get to in a moment.  Stay tuned.






How about one more letter?


Congratulations on a historic moment in your society. This reform was long overdue: as a Canadian I was dumbfounded by a country as wealthy and prosperous and innovative as the United States that discarded so many. For us, universal health care is as inalienable a right as your right to bear arms.

This is not about big-government intrusion as the Republicans would have it; it is about the well-being of human beings…

"It's about the well-being of human beings."  Well, isn't that a novel concept?  Totally alien to right-wingers.  Right-wing plans that purport to help people, don't.


When George W. Bush presented his health care legislation with much fanfare, a bit of analysis was done.  The White House was forced to admit that only about 1 in 10 people who were uninsured would be helped.  Not a real great effort, George.


How about current GOP "proposals" for health care reform?  Well, in case you didn't hear, according to the Congressional Budget Office -- whose analyses the right-wing has been touting when critical of the Democratic proposals -- according to the Congressional Budget Office, the GOP plan would leave the same percentage of Americans uninsured in 10 years, as now.


And the right-wing continuously yells about tort reform, let's cut back on fraudulent malpractice lawsuits.  Yet again, the CBO found that if right-wing tort reform is enacted, only $9 billion a year would be saved, less than ½ of one percent of our national health care expenditures.


Worth saving, but hardly any major part of the solution to a health care crisis hurting tens of millions of uninsured Americans.


I'm going to play you a one minute phone call from the Thom Hartmann radio show.  To me, this was the best phone call ever!


audio: Thom Hartmann, caller Caleb in Portland

Caleb:  This whole debate about the health care thing...1959, research by Russell Church, looking at empathy in rats.  Are you familiar with this thing? 

Seminal research.  It turns out you train a rat to press a little lever to get food, OK?  So the little rat's pressing a lever but it notices in the cage next to it, every time it presses the lever, it shocks another rat. 

Hartmann:  I am familiar with that research.

Caleb:  So then the rats don't do that—because they have empathy.

Hartmann:  That's right.  The rats would actually starve themselves rather than shock another rat.  Yes.

Caleb:  If rats can learn this, can't Republicans learn this?

Hartmann:  [laughter]  I'm not sure!

Caleb:  I know!

Hartmann:  [laughing] I'm just not sure, Caleb…

I love it! "If rats can learn this, can't Republicans learn this?"  Would you dare toss this line at your friendly local right-winger, next time he or she exhibits some unwarranted recalcitrance?


I checked: there was indeed such an experiment:


No one can say whether giraffes and lions experience moral qualms in the same way people do because no one has been inside a giraffe's head, but it is known that animals can sacrifice their own interests: One experiment found that if each time a rat is given food, its neighbor receives an electric shock, the first rat will eventually forgo eating.

Right-wingers actually have less morality than rats.  Why do I say that?


Just think about it: we're not asking right-wingers to starve to avoid hurting others.  We're only asking that they not be so greedy, that they be happy with mere millions, that they not need tens or hundreds of millions of dollars of wealth, to be satisfied.


You see, when a small number of people -- those who are in control, set the rules, award economic benefits -- when these people direct a greater and greater share of the national income to themselves, when they amass gargantuan, ever greater levels of wealth --- well, there's just not enough left for the rest of the population to get by.


For example, since 1980, the highest earning 1% of the population has nearly tripled its share of the national income pie, and vastly increased its wealth.  It's so extreme at the very top, that, get this (and I double checked to make sure this is accurate):  a few years ago, and it's probably still pretty much the case, the richest 400 families in this country had as much wealth as the entire bottom half of the nation, 57 million families, combined.


400 as much as 57 million.


Rats will starve themselves to avoid hurting a fellow rat, but right-wingers won't get by on a little less so that other people can get by at all.


I really must ask you: are right-wingers evolutionarily-challenged, a bit behind the curve on the road of human progress?


Consider this: in an experiment, people were asked to think about two alternative scenarios: giving a sum of money to charity, or, keeping that money for themselves.  Their brains were scanned.  The results?


[W]hen the volunteers placed the interests of others before their own, the generosity activated a primitive part of the brain that usually lights up in response to food or sex. Altruism, the experiment suggested, was...basic to the brain, hard-wired and pleasurable…

…[M]any aspects of morality appear to be hard-wired in the brain, most likely the result of evolutionary processes that began in other species.

Are right-wingers lower on the evolutionary scale, they don't have that hard-wiring that makes generosity pleasurable?  Perhaps this is why they're perfectly happy to repeatedly cause increased human misery, suffering, pain and death with their "destroy the social safety net," law-of-the-jungle policies.


Even beyond that  -- and if you remember this, you are a long-time listener to Blast The Right -- in one of my first podcasts, I argued that right-wingers display a signature characteristic of sociopaths: a lack of empathy towards others.  A lack of empathy allows sociopaths to, without a qualm, kill and maim and cause untold suffering to others.


Could anything describe the right-wing more perfectly?  I mean, when George W. Bush says he's going to solve the health care crisis, then puts forth a plan that doesn't help 90% of those that need help, what else could be at work, other than that, he just doesn't care about his brother and sister human beings?


When current-day right-wingers propose a heath care reform plan that leaves the same percentage of Americans uninsured in 10 years as are now, what else could be at work?  Letting 45,000 Americans die needlessly every year from lack of preventive care, late diagnoses, and inadequate treatment -- that's OK, perfectly fine, don't worry about it.


No one nailed the right-wing better than the noted late economist John Kenneth Galbraith when he wrote:


The modern conservative is engaged in one of man's oldest exercises in moral philosophy; that is, the search for a superior moral justification for selfishness.

Developing elaborate theories to justify your own selfishness and lack of empathy towards others, that in itself is sociopathic, isn't it?  A sociopathic credo!


And there is one!


It's called Social Darwinism.  You could look it up, as the expression goes.


Social Darwinism teaches that the poor are poor because they're unintelligent, lazy and immoral.  The rich are rich because, of course, they possess the opposite virtues.  The rich are smart, work hard and act with great morality.


The policy implications are, that if we allow the rich to become more rich, their virtue will increase.  Helping the poor is morally wrong because that would induce them to worsen their bad habits.


Here are two contemporary right-wingers, expressing the Social Darwinism credo, in all its sociopathic glory:


Radio talk show host Bill Cunningham:


audio: Bill Cunningham

The reason people are poor in America is not because they lack money, it's because poor people in America lack values, character, and the ability to work hard.

The inimitable Bill O'Reilly, shortly after Hurricane Katrina left residents of New Orleans stranded on their rooftops, crying out for help:


audio: Bill O'Reilly

Every American kid should be required to watch videotape of the poor in New Orleans and see how they suffered because they couldn't get out of town.  And then every teacher should tell the students, "If you refuse to learn, if you refuse to work hard, if you become addicted, if you live a gangsta life, you will be poor and powerless just like man of those in New Orleans."

Enough dealing with right-wing sociopathy.  My skin is beginning to crawl.  Hope you're OK.   In a moment, some analysis with a strong political bent.  Stick around.






In this last segment, let's focus mostly on some politics-oriented analysis.


One way to look at the health care reform bill is how the headline of an article on put it:


Dems Reap All the Red-Baiting Pain with None of the Socialist Gain

In other words, Democrats didn't pass a single payer system, or even a plan with a public option.  They gave the private insurance companies 30 million new customers.  Yet Republicans still succeeded in establishing in a not insignificant part of the public's mind, that Democrats were socialists who had shoved a government takeover of health care down the country's throat.


So since Democrats will be branded socialists no matter what they do, they should go for broke in the future, and pass a Medicare-for-all type program.  Whatever short term opprobrium they suffer, will be more than compensated for by the fact that as with Medicare itself, the public will come to love the Medicare-for-all scheme and credit Democrats for generations, for it.


It's also possible to look at the health care legislation's bright side.


I, for one, can't but remember how recently it was, that the concept that all Americans should have health care as a right, was not very widely accepted.  Now it is, and is the philosophical underpinning of the bill -- even if the way the bill attempts to achieve that goal, falls woefully short.


Also, the health care bill can be seen as a Robin Hood-type measure.


Here's David Leonhardt writing in the New York Times:


…The bill that President Obama signed on Tuesday is the federal government’s biggest attack on economic inequality since inequality began rising more than three decades ago.

The argument here is that the bill is funded in large part by taxing the rich, and its benefits go primarily to the non-rich.


The bill raises payroll taxes on households making over $250,000 a year.  In 2013, households making more than $1 million a year will pay, on average, an extra $46,000 in taxes. 


And at the other end of the economic spectrum, households whose annual income is less than four times the poverty level will receive subsidies to buy health insurance, or will be eligible to join Medicaid.

Not all a progressive would hope for, but pointed in the right direction at least.


We've got to give it a strong shove down that road, don't we?


Can we do so?  Recent indications of American public opinion, would say, yes.  Here's the amazing poll results I promised at the top of the show.


You probably believe, as I did, that the majority of Americans opposed the Democratic health insurance reform plan.  That part is correct.


But what some recently more detailed polling showed, is that all those opposing the plan aren't right-wingers who think the plan goes too far, that it's big government, that it's socialism.


For example:


One poll gave the usual broad-scale result: 47 percent opposed, 41 percent support.   But


[T]he pollsters went a step further, asking those opposed…if they were against the proposals because they "don't go far enough to reform healthcare" or because they go too far.

Over 1/3 of those opposing the plan, did so because it didn't go far enough.


So that means a 57% majority of the public supported the Democratic plan or felt it didn't go far enough.   And -- the critical point -- only 31% opposed the plan because it went too far.  The right-wing's government takeover/socialism propaganda was swallowed by less than one third of the American people.


A CNN poll which also asked the critical follow up question, produced a similar result, albeit a bit more favorable to the right-wing position.  38-40% of the public adopted the goes too far position.


In neither case, anywhere near a majority.


So we progressives can argue to Democrats now, that modifying the health care program to make it more progressive, may well be good politics.  In fact, opinion polls continue to show, specifically, that the American people want to have a public option available.


And to put this in an historical context, after Congress passed Social Security in 1935, the GOP presidential candidate in 1936, Alf Landon, based a good part of his campaign on repealing Social Security.  Like Republicans are calling for now with the health care reform bill.


In 1936, such a call didn't go over too well with the American people.  FDR beat Landon 61 to 38%.  The electoral college was an amazing 523 to 8.


How to proceed?


One measure that progressives could rally round, to take advantage of the public's apparent willingness to go further in health care, is a proposal by Florida Democratic Representative Alan Grayson.  His measure would let Americans who don't have health insurance, buy into Medicare.


As Congressman Grayson succinctly put it:


This simple four-page bill lets any American buy into Medicare at cost. You want it, you pay for it, you're in. It adds nothing to the deficit; you pay what it costs. 

The bill currently has 80 co-sponsors.


This would be a public option with legs.  If the American people saw what good care those who bought into Medicare were receiving, a hue and cry could well arise that Medicare should be modified to just automatically cover everyone, true national single payer.


There are other roads progressive activism can take on this front.  The Grayson measure is one good route.



Ok to close, let's listen a bit to that much maligned by right-wingers, uber-progressive in economic matters, Franklin Delano Roosevelt.  What he says harkens back a bit to our discussion about right-wing sociopathy.


audio: Franklin Delano Roosevelt

Governments can err, Presidents do make mistakes, but the immortal Dante tells us that divine justice weighs the sins of the cold-blooded and the sins of the warm-hearted in different scales.

Better the occasional faults of a Government that lives in a spirit of charity, than the consistent omissions of a Government frozen in the ice of its own indifference.

FDR didn't mince any words, did he?


I think that in plotting his health care strategy, Obama erred on the side of doing too little, not because of an icy heart, but because of a flawed political calculation, that it was all he could get now. 


You and I, we progressives will have to push him and Congress harder and harder to  make sure that the country as soon as possible gets the rest, the whole rest, and nothing but the rest of the health care it so richly deserves, so help us all.




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