This month’s poll probes Democrats’ views about the general approaches to expanding health coverage and lowering costs put forward by the candidates; the public’s health care prio…
This month’s poll probes Democrats’ views about the general approaches to expanding health coverage and lowering costs put forward by the candidates; the public’s health care prio…
The multilateral debating society that is known as the 2019 Democratic Debates has now had four such contests, and in keeping with the previous post, Medicare for All and the Democratic Debates, I want to discuss the issue of health care.
This was the first topic of the evening, and on both nights, it was a contentious, and long debate. The first night saw Sens. Sanders and Warren debating the other eight contenders over Medicare for All versus a public option.
The second night was more of the same, however, only NYC mayor Bill de Blasio argued for full MFA, while Sen. Kamala Harris argued for her plan that would enroll some Americans right away, while taking ten years to fully implement. All the rest, including former V.P. Joe Biden argued for either repairing the ACA, or adding a public option as a Medicare buy-in.
As I will report later in this article, there is a problem with the idea of a Medicare buy-in or a public option, and its impact on the ACA.
But before I do, I would like to discuss a few areas that seem to be missing from the candidate’s talking points on health care that need to be answered, addressed, or clarified. The CNN moderators, as was pointed out at one part of the debate, was questioning the candidates with what were essentially Republican talking points about MFA.
One area that was somewhat glossed over on the first night was the issue of middle class taxes being raised to pay for MFA. MSNBC host Chris Matthews of Hardball questioned Sen. Warren several times after the debate in the spin room on this very subject, yet she danced around the question by talking more about the savings people would receive.
Sen. Sanders agreed with Joe Biden when he said that those pushing Medicare for All without a middle-class tax hike are living in a “fantasy world.” In addition, Sanders said, that he knows middle-class taxes will go up, but maintained that the American people could still end up saving money on the other side.
In a CNN interview with Jake Tapper, Sanders said the following:
“The first thing that we have to understand is, under Medicare for all, similar to what Canada has, people are not gonna pay any premiums. They’re not gonna pay any deductibles. They’re not going to pay any co-payments. So if you call a premium a tax, we’re getting rid of that. But I do believe that, in a progressive way, people will have to pay taxes. The wealthy will obviously pay the lion’s share of the taxes, but at the end of the day, the vast majority of the American people will pay substantially less for the health care they now receive because we’re going to do away with hundreds of billion dollars of administrative waste. We’re gonna do away with the incredible profiteering of the insurance companies and the drug companies. People will be paying, in some cases, more in taxes, but overall, because they’re not gonna pay premiums or deductibles, co-payments, they’ll be paying less for their health care.”
Another area missing from the debates was the issue of what to do about union contracts. Rep. Tim Ryan (OH) made that a point in both debate appearances, and the question still has not been fully addressed, even though Sen. Sanders said he was very pro-union.
Finally, three other areas mentioned in the debates, but that may not have been fully discussed or explained, was the issues of private insurance and employer-based insurance. The third issue, pre-existing conditions was only mentioned in the post-debate analysis from the political pundits. At many times, it was argued by the anti-MFA candidates that those advocating MFA wanted to take away such insurance from over 150 million Americans. But as the following two articles suggest, private insurance and employer-based plans are part of the problem.
As reported by CheatSheet, the Supreme Court decision mandating that a for-profit corporation — in this case, Hobby Lobby — can actually mandate the types of healthcare provisions its employees receive, all based on the religious beliefs of the company’s owners. Hobby Lobby’s arguments were based on a stack of flawed science and misunderstood concepts, and the fact that the Supreme Court ruled that an employer’s particular religious belief — which can be made up off the top off their heads, for all the Court cares — now takes precedent over the medical needs of their employees.
CheatSheet concluded that the case in itself is ridiculous, but it brings us to one important conclusion: The era of employer-sponsored health care needs to end.
Reed Abelson in The New York Times wrote the following article, reprinted here in its entirety:
The New York Times
July 29, 2019
How a Medicare Buy-In or Public Option Could Threaten Obamacare
By Reed Abelson
It seems a simple enough proposition: Give people the choice to buy into Medicare, the popular federal insurance program for those over 65.
Former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. is one of the Democratic presidential contenders who favor this kind of buy-in, often called the public option. They view it as a more gradual, politically pragmatic alternative to the Medicare-for-all proposal championed by Senator Bernie Sanders, which would abolish private health insurance altogether.
A public option, supporters say, is the logical next step in the expansion of access begun under the Affordable Care Act, passed while Mr. Biden was in office. “We have to protect and build on Obamacare,” he said.
But depending on its design, a public option may well threaten the A.C.A. in unexpected ways.
A government plan, even a Medicare buy-in, could shrink the number of customers buying policies on the Obamacare markets, making them less appealing for leading insurers, according to many health insurers, policy analysts and even some Democrats.
In urban markets, “a public option could come in and soak up all of the demand of the A.C.A. market,” said Craig Garthwaite, a health economist at the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University.
And in rural markets, insurers that are now profitable because they are often the only choices may find it difficult to make money if they faced competition from the federal government.
Some insurers could decide that a smaller and uncertain market is not worth their effort.
If the public option program also matched the rates Medicare paid to hospitals and doctors, “I think it would be really hard to compete,” Mr. Garthwaite said. Even leading insurers do not have the leverage to demand lower prices from hospitals and other providers that the government has.
Whether to implement a public option or Medicare buy-in has become a defining question among Democratic presidential candidates and is likely to be a contentious topic at this week’s debates.
On Monday, Senator Kamala Harris took an alternate route, unveiling a plan that would allow private insurers to participate in a Medicare-for-all scheme, akin to their role currently offering private plans under Medicare Advantage.
The recent spate of proposals reprises some of the most difficult questions leading up to the passage of the A.C.A., in many ways a compromise over widely divergent views of the role of the government in ensuring access to care.
After a shaky start, the federal and state Obamacare marketplaces are surprisingly robust, despite repeated attempts by Republicans to weaken them. They provide insurance to 11 million customers, many of whom receive generous federal subsidies to help pay for coverage.
The A.C.A. is now a solidly profitable business for insurers, with several expanding options after earlier threats to leave. For example, Centene, a for-profit insurer, controls about a fifth of the market, offering plans in 20 states. It is expected to bring in roughly $10 billion in revenues this year by selling Obamacare policies.
In spite of stock drops because of investors’ concerns over Medicare-for-all proposals, for-profit health insurers have generally thrived since the law’s passage.
But a buy-in shift in insurance coverage could profoundly unsettle the nation’s private health sector, which makes up almost a fifth of the United States economy. Depending on who is allowed to sign up for the plan, it could also rock the employer-based system that now covers some 160 million Americans.
In a recent ad, Mr. Biden features a woman who wants to keep her current coverage. “I have my own private insurance — I don’t want to lose it,” she said.
A spokesman for Mr. Biden argued that a public option can extend the success of the Affordable Care Act.
“Joe Biden thinks it would be an egregious mistake to undo the A.C.A., and he will stand against anyone — regardless of their party — who tries to do so,” said Andrew Bates, a spokesman for Mr. Biden, in an email.
Major insurers and hospital chains, pharmaceutical companies and the American Medical Association have joined forces to try to derail efforts like Medicare-for-all and the public option. Mr. Sanders denounced these powerful interests in a recent speech.
“The debate we are currently having in this campaign and all over this country has nothing to do with health care, but it has everything to do with the greed and profits of the health care industry,” he said.
Other critics of the public option, including Seema Verma, the administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, argue Democrats’ programs will lead to a “complete government takeover.”
“These proposals are the largest threats to the American health care system,” she said in a speech earlier this month.
Some experts predict that private insurers will adapt, while others warn that the government could wind up taking on the sickest customers with high medical bills, leaving the healthier, profitable ones to private insurers.
It’s uncertain whether hospitals, on the other hand, could thrive under some versions of the public option. If the nation’s 5,300 hospitals were paid at much lower rates by a government plan — rates resembling those of Medicare — they might lose tens of billions of dollars, the industry claims. Some would close.
One variant of the public option — letting people over 50 or 55 buy into Medicare — is often depicted as less drastic than a universal, single-payer program. But this option would also be problematic, experts said.
This consumer demographic is quite valuable to insurers, hospitals and doctors.
Middle-aged and older Americans have become the bedrock of the Obamacare market. Some insurers say this demographic makes up about half of the people enrolled in their A.C.A. plans and, unlike younger people who come and go, is a reliable and profitable source of business for the insurance companies.
The aging-related health issues of people in this group guarantee regular doctor visits for everything from rising blood pressure to diabetes, and they account for a steady stream of lucrative joint replacements and cardiac stent procedures.
The 55-to-64 age group, for example, accounts for 13 percent of the nation’s population, but generates 20 percent of all health care spending, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.
People age 55–64 are responsible for one fifth of total health spending and account for a sizable share of the private insurance market. People 65 and older are eligible for Medicare and account for one third of total spending.
By The New York Times | Sources: Kaiser Family Foundation; Dept. of Health & Human Services. Data from 2016
Several experts said that designing a buy-in program that is compatible with the existing public and private plans could be daunting.
“You’d have to do it carefully,” said Representative Donna Shalala, a Florida Democrat who served as the secretary of health and human services under President Bill Clinton.
Linda Blumberg, a health policy expert at the Urban Institute, a nonpartisan think tank, agreed.
“The idea of Medicare buy-ins was taken very seriously before there was an Affordable Care Act,” she said. “In the context of the A.C.A., it’s a lot more complicated to do that.”
Many dismiss concerns about whether insurers can compete.
“Any time a market shrinks in America, insurers don’t like it,” said Andy Slavitt, the former acting Medicare administrator under President Obama and a former insurance executive. Mr. Slavitt noted that insurers raised similar concerns about the federal law when it was introduced. “They’ll figure it out,” he said.
In Los Angeles County, five private insurers that sell insurance in the A.C.A. market already compete with L.A. Care Health Plan, which views itself as a kind of public option, said John Baackes, the plan’s chief executive.
The insurer offers the least expensive H.M.O. plan in the county by paying roughly Medicare rates. “We’ve proved that the public option can be healthy competition,” he said.
But the major insurance companies, which were instrumental in defeating the public option when Congress first considered making it a feature of the A.C.A., are already flexing their lobbying muscle and waging public campaigns.
In Connecticut, fierce lobbying by health insurers helped kill a state version of the public option this spring. Cigna resisted passage of the bill, threatening to leave the state. “The proposal design was ill-conceived and simply did not work,” the company said in a statement.
Blue Cross plans could lose 60 percent of their revenues from the individual market if people over 50 are shifted to Medicare, said Kris Haltmeyer, an executive with the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association, citing an analysis the company conducted. He said it might not make sense for plans to stay in the A.C.A. markets.
Siphoning off such a large group of customers could also lead to a 10 percent increase in premiums for the remaining pool of insured people, according to the Blue Cross analysis. More younger people with expensive medical conditions have enrolled than insurers expected, and insurers would have to increase premiums to cover their costs, Mr. Haltmeyer said.
Tricia Neuman, a senior vice president at the Kaiser Family Foundation, which studies insurance markets, said a government buy-in that attracted older Americans could indeed raise premiums for those who remained in the A.C.A. markets, especially if those consumers had high medical costs.
But some experts countered that prognosis, predicting that premiums could go down if older Americans, whose health care costs are generally expensive, moved into a Medicare-like program.
“The insurance companies are wrong about opposing the public option,” Ms. Shalala said.
Dr. David Blumenthal, the president of the Commonwealth Fund, a foundation that funds health care research, said a government plan that attracted people with expensive conditions could prove costly.
“You might, as a taxpayer, become concerned that they would be more like high-risk pools,” he said.
Jonathan Gruber, an M.I.T. economist who advised the Obama administration during the development of the A.C.A., likes Mr. Biden’s plan and argues there is a way to design a public option that does not shut out the private insurers.
“It’s all about threading the needle of making a public option that helps the failing system and not making the doctors and insurers go to the mat,” he said.
Many experts point to private Medicare Advantage plans, which now cover one-third of those eligible for Medicare, as proof that private insurers can coexist with the government.
But the real value of a public option, some say, would stem from the pressure to lower prices for medical care as insurers were forced to compete with the lower-paying government plans, like Medicare.
Washington State recently passed the country’s first public option, capping prices as part of its plan to provide a public alternative to all residents by 2021.
“It’s couched in this language in expanding coverage, but it does it by regulating prices,” said Sabrina Corlette, a health policy researcher at Georgetown University.
The hospital industry would most likely fight just as hard to defeat any proposal that would convert a profitable group of customers, Americans who are privately covered at present, into Medicare beneficiaries.
Private insurers often pay hospitals double or triple what Medicare pays them, according to a recent study from the nonprofit Rand Corporation.
While Ms. Shalala supports a public option as an alternative to “Medicare for All,” she is clear about how challenging it will be to preserve both Obamacare and the private insurance market. “You can’t do it off the top of your head,” she said.
So, let’s see, the Republicans want to kill the ACA, and others want to fix it. But adding a public option, or including a Medicare buy-in, might harm the ACA. On the other hand, it has been shown that both private insurance and employer-based insurance are part of the problem.
The idea that people like their private plans, whether obtained from their employer, or from private insurance companies directly, and is part of the problem is being left out of the discussion.
And debate moderators who ask those questions to candidates are only echoing Republican talking points, or worse, taking their cues from the drug manufacturers and insurance companies.
So if neither fixing ACA, adding a public option, or providing a Medicare buy-in will solve the enormous complexity and confusion that the broken and dysfunctional health care system represents, that only leaves one alternative: Medicare for All, while currently not likely to be enacted, nevertheless is popular with the public until the issue of taxes is mentioned.
The moderate candidates, are either defending the drug and insurance companies because of campaign contributions, or have been part of the health care industry, such as former Congressman John Delaney, and therefore is an unlikely spokesman for progressive change. Let’s hope that he and the other bottom-tier candidates drop out soon, so that perhaps these other issues can be discussed and debated.
How the campaign will turn out, and who the Democrats will nominate is still far off in the future, but who ever is nominated, will have to eventually deal with the reality that health care must be solved, and that the march towards single payer will have already begun.
Dear Insurance company execs, pharmaceutical company execs, employee benefits consultants and executives, Wall Street investors, and all other stakeholders in the current dysfunctional, broken, complex, complicated, and bloated mess called the US health care system.
You have heard many politicians, and journalists, not to mention your own peers, or even you yourselves label the push for Medicare for All as “Socialism.”
We even have the Administrator of CMS, Seema Verma, calling it, and the public option plan, “radical and dangerous for the country” recently when she spoke to the Better Medicare Alliance’s Medicare Advantage Summit in Washington, D.C.
Her solution, and probably yours as well, is to keep selling Medicare Advantage plans, which only makes the current system worse.
So, to help you get over your fear and loathing of Socialism, and to prove to you that the only reason why the US is the only Western, industrial nation to not provide its citizens with universal health care is because you are making money off of other people’s health, or lack thereof.
You are doing so, because you are greedy. There I said it. Now I hope you will pay attention to the following graphic:
Do you see any socialist countries? Do you see any radical and dangerous regimes that are hostile to the interests of the US? Well, maybe Slovenia. After all, they did send us Melania and her illegal family.
But back to the case at hand. I defy any of you hotshots in the health care space to prove to me that all of these Capitalist, free-market countries are flaming Reds, or even a bit Pinko.
You can’t, because it is not true. You and those who call Medicare for All, Single Payer, or even the so-called “public option” radical, just don’t want the government to interfere with your looting the pockets of the American people for your financial gain.
And that is why we are the only country with an “X”, instead of a check mark below our name.
The Los Angeles Times reported Monday that a new study found that Medicaid expansion brought appreciable improvements in health to enrollees, but also that full expansion nationwide would have averted 15,600 deaths among the vulnerable Medicaid-eligible population.
This is in contrast to the view of opponents of Medicaid expansion who have said that lack of evidence that enrollment in Medicaid improves health and saves lives, and therefore they believed that expansion was a waste of money.
In the 22 mostly red states that refused expansion, the cause of the 15,600 deaths of their state’s residents was attributed to failure to expand.
“This highlights an ongoing cost to non-adoption that should be relevant to both state policymakers and their constituents,” the authors of the study said.
Fourteen states are still holding out, States such as Wyoming and South Dakota, the article states, have a warped sense of “freedom.” States such as Maine and Louisiana, who have had a change in governors from Republican to Democrat, have recently adopted expansion.
Fourteen states still resist Medicaid expansion, at great cost to their residents (Kaiser Family Foundation)
The article takes a dim view of the entire rationale for refusing to expand Medicaid, and cites a few noted Conservative voices against the entire idea of expansion and Medicaid itself.
Conservatives have worked hard to depict Medicaid as ineffective, the article reports. They’ve done so, it continues, by overinterpreting limited studies such as a 2013 study of a Medicaid expansion in Oregon.
Critics focused on the researchers’ finding of “no significant improvements in measured physical health outcomes in the first 2 years” of expansion, but they overlooked the findings that the expansion did “increase use of healthcare services, raise rates of diabetes detection and management, lower rates of depression, and reduce financial strain.”
Conservative health policy Avik Roy has crowed, the article states, that the result “calls into question the $450 billion a year we spend on Medicaid, and the fact that Obamacare throws 11 million more Americans into this broken program.”
Another right-wing critic of Medicaid expansion, and not to mention, also of Medicare for All, and now more recently, the public option for Medicare, is CMS Administrator Seema Verma, a Trump flunky.
(Credit: Getty Images ) Picture worth a thousand words was never more true. What a piece of work!
Verma has argued that the expansion hasn’t been a success despite its enrollment figures and has been a leader in undermining the program by allowing states to impose premiums, work requirements and punitive disenrollments on patients. (Her efforts have been blocked by a federal judge, for now.)
This is why advocates for Medicare for All are so passionate and determined, in the face of even the slightest opposition to improving the health and lives of millions of Americans for small changes to our nation’s health care system.
Failure to expand Medicaid, failure to enact universal health care, even if it is a public option, is challenged from the right for morally indefensible and reprehensible reasons.
The cry of “freedom” from conservatives is a smoke-screen to hid their true purpose. To dismantle all social programs and funnel that money to the wealthy and corporations, as they have already done with the Trump tax giveaway.
All these schemes have one purpose in mind, to kill off their most ardent supporters in Southern and Midwestern states that continue to vote for these sociopaths. To them, freedom means, freedom for a company to profit off of your misfortune, whether that misfortune is due to poor diet, poor personal habits such as smoking and drug abuse, and poor health outcomes due to poverty and economic distress.
Naturally, any attempt to improve the health and lives of the poor, black or white, or Latino, etc., is viewed as “Socialism” and is deemed bad for the country, as Ms. Verma did this week to the Better Medicare Alliance’s Medicare Advantage Summit in Washington, D.C.
No, it’s not bad for the country. It’s bad for the profits of the insurance companies, the pharmaceutical companies, the benefit managers industry, the health care consultants, and Wall Street investors.
Wanting to cut of food stamps, fail to expand even Medicaid, tightening rules for who is eligible for these programs, is not only bad for the health of average Americans, it is bad for the economic vitality of the nation in an era of global competition.
The men and women at Trump rallies are angry, but they are angry at the wrong people. The clown on the stage is the person they really should be angry at, and his entire swamp of “the best people.”
Richard’s Note: A shout-out to Don McCanne for posting this today from the Annals of Internal Medicine, which is providing the full article for free. The authors, Steffie Woolhandler and David Himmelstein, both MDs, should be familiar to readers as two of the authors I covered in my review of the Waitzkin, et al. book, Health Care Under the Knife: Moving Beyond Capitalism for Our Health. In the spirit of the AIM, I am posting the entire article below with link to the original. It is that important.
Once again, Joe Paduda has broken down why single payer is inevitable, and what will happen to millions if repeal of the ACA happens.
I won’t go over the reality of what the landscape would look like, because we have heard about it before, and does not bear repeating. However, what does need to be said is, repeal will lead to single payer, no matter what the medical-industrial complex says or does to stop it, and those who advocate an incremental approach, such as fixing ACA, or some other half Medicare measure, will eventually lose ground politically, especially those running for president.
And those of you who advocate for more competition and a truly free market in health care should pay attention to what Joe say about that.
Finally, check out the infographic at the bottom of the text. It is funny.
Here is Joe’s post:
Earlier this week President Trump called for the GOP to become “the Party of Great Healthcare.” He wants three Senators to come up with a “terrific, beautiful” healthcare plan. What Trump is actually doing is accelerating the day when Single … Continue reading Another reason Single Payer is inevitable
Revelations this week that the Orangutan Administration is going ahead with plans to repeal the ACA, as reported by myself and Joe Paduda, as well as the announcement by Education Secretary Betsy (I have ten yachts) DeVos, that her budget calls for cutting $18 million from Special Olympics, raises the question, “why are Republicans so mean?” and why do they hate the poor and those not like them?
This article will explore this question from an economic, ideological, political and sociological perspective, citing several previously published articles asking the same question as the title above. It is certainly not definitive, but does suggest some possible explanations.
To begin with, a little history. The Republican Party was formed due to the inability of the Whig Party to deal with the question of slavery and the disappointment many Northern Democrats had with their Southern brethren over this issue, one that occupied a central focus in the second quarter of the first half of the 19th century.
While that twenty-five year period ended in 1850, it is important to note that the GOP was founded in 1854, which is still in the range of the time frame.
After the Civil War, the Republican Party was made up of two wings: the Radical Republicans who favored Reconstruction and harsh treatment of former Southern Confederates (this will have a bearing on our discussion later) and the conservatives who were aligned with the Eastern bankers and industrialists.
In fact, it was the conservatives who, as pointed out in the Spielberg motion picture, “Lincoln”, that made it possible for the passage of the 13th Amendment when they were assured by the President that there were no Southern negotiators in Washington (They were on a riverboat in Virginia being guarded by African-American Union soldiers).
However, after the election of 1876, when Rutherford Hayes became President by promising the South to end Reconstruction, the Radical Republicans were slowly replaced by more conservative Northern Republicans loyal to the industrialists who would dominate the second quarter of the second half of the 19th century, and thus lead to future calls for reform and addressing of the effects industrialization had on the working class.
So as their wealth increased, so too did the misery and poverty of the working class, and this led to the rise within the GOP of a progressive movement, and a likewise movement among the rural population in the Midwest in the form of populism.
With the ascendancy of Theodore Roosevelt to the Presidency in 1901, progressivism took off, and many Republicans led the way for political, economic, and social reform. A brief return to the past in the 1920s under three successive Republican Presidents was followed by the election of FDR and the Democrats controlling Congress for decades to come, making more reform possible, and creating the largest middle class in history.
By the mid-20th century , the Republican Party had three wings: conservatives, moderates, and liberals. Barry Goldwater’s run in 1964, and Robert Taft’s in 1952 sort to change the dynamics in favor of the conservatives, but only meant they lost the battle, but won the war.
Then came Reagan, the first celebrity President. He brought victory to the conservatives and into government. Remember, he said that government was not the solution, government was the problem, and thus, that is how the GOP would operate when they took over.
Turning to the economic aspect of why Republicans are mean, let us look at something written a hundred years ago, Max Weber’s essay, The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism.
“capitalism in Northern Europe evolved when the Protestant (particularly Calvinist) ethic influenced large numbers of people to engage in work in the secular world, developing their own enterprises and engaging in trade and the accumulation of wealth for investment. In other words, the Protestant work ethic was an important force behind the unplanned and uncoordinated emergence of modern capitalism.”
So in this context, Protestantism, or rather its Calvinist form, which influenced the Puritans of New England, formed the moral and ethical basis for the rise of modern capitalism, and while the descendants of the Puritans today in New England are decidedly more liberal than in the past, due to evangelical missionaries in the late 18th and throughout the 19th centuries, in what historians call the Great Awakenings, these values were transmitted to people in the South and Midwest, or were carried with them during western expansion.
As for the South, as mentioned earlier, the debate over slavery has some bearing on why many of today’s Republican leaders in Congress are Southerners, and what that means for the country’s direction these past thirty years or so.
Sara Robinson’s article in Salon.com, attempts to answer why this is so, and sheds light on the difference between North and South. To begin with, despite the rise of Capitalism from Calvinist Protestantism, seen originally among the Puritan settlers, Robinson states that,
“For most of our history, American economics, culture and politics have been dominated by a New England-based Yankee aristocracy that was rooted in Puritan communitarian values, educated at the Ivies and marinated in an ethic of noblesse oblige (the conviction that those who possess wealth and power are morally bound to use it for the betterment of society).”
On the other hand, Robinson relates that the New England-based aristocracy is opposed by,
“…the plantation aristocracy of the lowland South, which has been notable throughout its 400-year history for its utter lack of civic interest, its hostility to the very ideas of democracy and human rights, its love of hierarchy, its fear of technology and progress, its reliance on brutality and violence to maintain “order,” and its outright celebration of inequality as an order divinely ordained by God.
Robinson cites David Hackett Fisher who,
“described just how deeply undemocratic the Southern aristocracy was, and still is. He documents how these elites have always feared and opposed universal literacy, public schools and libraries, and a free press.”
In addition, Robinson cites Colin Woodward, who wrote that,
“…From the outset, Deep Southern culture was based on radical disparities in wealth and power, with a tiny elite commanding total obedience and enforcing it with state-sponsored terror. Its expansionist ambitions would put it on a collision course with its Yankee rivals, triggering military, social, and political conflicts that continue to plague the United States to this day.”
However, Robinson writes that the most destructive aspect of the Southern’s worldview,
“is the extremely anti-democratic way it defined the very idea of liberty. In Yankee Puritan culture, both liberty and authority resided mostly with the community, and not so much with individuals. Communities had both the freedom and the duty to govern themselves as they wished (through town meetings and so on), to invest in their collective good, and to favor or punish individuals whose behavior enhanced or threatened the whole (historically, through community rewards such as elevation to positions of public authority and trust; or community punishments like shaming, shunning or banishing).”
“Individuals were expected to balance their personal needs and desires against the greater good of the collective — and, occasionally, to make sacrifices for the betterment of everyone. (This is why the Puritan wealthy tended to dutifully pay their taxes, tithe in their churches and donate generously to create hospitals, parks and universities.) In return, the community had a solemn and inescapable moral duty to care for its sick, educate its young and provide for its needy — the kind of support that maximizes each person’s liberty to live in dignity and achieve his or her potential. A Yankee community that failed to provide such support brought shame upon itself. To this day, our progressive politics are deeply informed by this Puritan view of ordered liberty.”
Conversely, Robinson states,
“In the old South, on the other hand, the degree of liberty you enjoyed was a direct function of your God-given place in the social hierarchy. The higher your status, the more authority you had, and the more “liberty” you could exercise — which meant, in practical terms, that you had the right to take more “liberties” with the lives, rights and property of other people.”
“Anytime a Southern conservative talks about “losing his liberty”, Robinson follows with, the loss of this absolute domination over the people and property under his control — and, worse, the loss of status and the resulting risk of being held accountable for laws that he was once exempt from — is what he’s really talking about. In this view, freedom is a zero-sum game. Anything that gives more freedom and rights to lower-status people can’t help but put serious limits on the freedom of the upper classes to use those people as they please. It cannot be any other way. So they find Yankee-style rights expansions absolutely intolerable, to the point where they’re willing to fight and die to preserve their divine right to rule.”
This would appear to not only apply to the justification for the South’s secession from the Union in the 19th century, but for the way Southern politicians, both Democrats (remember, many were Southerners who were promised committee chairmanships by FDR to get the New Deal passed) and Republicans after passage of the Civil Rights Act in 1964 led to Southerners fleeing the Democratic Party for what LBJ said would be for a generation, have acted towards any legislation that would cause them to lose their liberty. Today, we call that White Privilege.
For an ideological perspective, Marc-William Palen, in Foreign Policy in Focus, provides us with a clear understanding that the Republican Party is not merely a party of classical liberalism, but something different from what it was when it was founded.
According to Palen,
“From its mid-nineteenth-century founding, the Republican Party was the party of big government, high tariffs, and government-subsidized internal improvements. The exceptions to this rule were the Gilded Age Liberal Republicans. In their vocal calls for laissez faire principles, these Liberal Republicans quickly became the independent thorns in the side of the Republican elephant throughout the first decades following the Civil War. When the big-government Republican majority continued to prove intractable, these Liberal Republicans became known as the “Mugwumps” when they ultimately switched their support to the Democrats in 1884.“
Palen writes that classical liberalism was founded on moral sentiments, and that these moral sentiments, “are almost non-existent within the Republican rank and file, especially since the ultra-nationalist party draped itself in the red, white, and blue following 9-11, and led the jingoistic charge into Afghanistan and Iraq.”
“Nor is morality to be found amid the incessant Republican demands to cut social spending,” he says, pointing out what Grover Norquist, the driving force behind the GOP’s anti-tax, small government ideology when he said in 2001, he wanted to
“shrink government to the point where he “could drag it into the bathroom and drown it in the bathtub.”
Palen suggests that if the Republicans current ideology is not found in classical liberalism, then where does it come from? Palen says, Ayn Rand’s pronounced atheism and intellectual elitism certainly does not align with the ideological outlook of most Republicans. And, he says, there is perhaps an element of a Social Darwinian “survival of the fittest” ethos—although no Republican politician is likely to admit to subscribing to anything associated with the theory of evolution.
So where does it come from?
“…a large part of Republican ideological inspiration stems from fear. In particular, it is a reactionary ideological response to the turbulent upheavals inherent in an increasingly globalizing world. Such fears—let’s call it “globaphobia”—are frequently expressed on issues such as immigration, global terrorism, global warming, and American participation in international institutions like the United Nations. The massive federal intervention in the so-called free market following the global financial meltdown invariably exacerbated Republican fears that government intrusion in the market— and Keynesian economics more generally—would eventually undermine American individualism, citing Douglas LaBier.
However, Palen says it is not entirely satisfactory. According to Palen,
“their fear-driven ideological inspiration dovetails with the philosophy of Thomas Hobbes, who predated Adam Smith by a century and who expounded on an amoral philosophy of self-interested individualism, counterbalanced by acquiescence to authoritarianism. Hobbes believed that a strong state prevented “war of every man against every man,” a chaotic type of warfare that Republicans believe is contained within al-Qaeda’s radical philosophy.”
As we have seen, there is no one answer to why Republicans are mean. It seems to be a combination of factors all valid and relevant to today’s political climate in Washington and in the nation at large.
But nothing ever is just as simple as being mean. since we are dealing with human beings and not machines.
For our purposes, health care is just one more “liberty” conservatives are afraid of losing, so therefore, they will deny it to others, so that they can have more of it. Any discussion of universal coverage in a single payer health care system is a threat to their liberty, and therefore must be opposed. Add to that, the economic loss of profit and gain by those in the medical-industrial complex, and you get a clearer picture of the problem.
But to answer the question raised at the beginning, why are the Republicans so mean? It’s because it is in their DNA passed on from one generation of conservatives to another like our genes are passed down from our parents, grandparents, and so on.
Now the question is, what to do about it?