Saturday, December 29, 2018

A New Year's resolution suggestion for the Democratic Party: Reject centrism, embrace the New Deal, and educate conservative voters

Above: A WPA nurse visits a mother and infant in New Orleans, ca. 1935-1943. New Deal policymakers vastly improved America's public health--especially for lower-income folks--with new hospitals & clinics, immunization campaigns, home visits, more funding for medical research, health education classes, improved waste disposal & drinking water infrastructure, and much more. Today, the situation has reversed, with suicides & infectious diseases rising, rural hospitals & clinics closing, unacceptable infant mortality rates, children drinking lead from old infrastructure, and our healthcare under constant attack by right-wing politicians (politicians who want to run free market experiments on our lives). Photo courtesy of the National Archives.

The answer to our modern problems is not to cave to misinformed voters, but to educate them

Joe Donnelly, the Democratic Senator from Indiana who just lost his seat to Republican Mike Braun, recently told CNN, "But when you talk 'Medicare-for-all'... you start losing the people in my state... When we start talking about, 'Hey, we're going to work together with the insurance companies to lower premiums,' that's what connects."

First of all, I'm not sure that's true. For example, a recent poll showed that most people, including most Republicans, like the idea of Medicare-for-All. Second, Joe Donnelly appears to have received large campaign contributions from the insurance, healthcare, and pharmaceutical industries, so perhaps we need to take his advice with a grain of salt. And third, even if he's right, the answer is not to back down and whimper, "Oh, okay, you don't like Medicare-for-All? Sorry, sorry, no problem, I won't support it." Instead, the answer is to educate misinformed voters.

Anyone who believes that health insurance managed by greedy, selfish, profit-driven shareholders and executives, is better than health insurance run by We the People is clearly misinformed - especially in light of our deteriorating public health (see, e.g., "Deadly Hepatitis A Outbreaks Are Exposing Crumbling U.S. Public Health Infrastructure," Huffington Post, December 28, 2018).

The fact of the matter is, Americans, when compared to citizens other advanced countries--most of whom enjoy some form of universal health insurance system--are paying more to die younger. Yes, let me say that again: We're paying more to die younger. Conservatives need this explained to them, repeatedly; they don't need their lack of understanding catered to.

Conservatives need to be taught, for example, that profit-based insurance does not work very well for healthcare because (a) healthcare can be very expensive, and so (b) there is always an incentive to charge sky-high premiums, deny payments, or deny coverage altogether. They also need to be taught that paying higher Medicare taxes, for a Medicare-for-All system, is better than paying sky-high premiums, hefty deductibles, and pick-pocket co-pays; and better than being price-gouged by the pharmaceutical industry; and better than being forced into a medical bankruptcy; and better than being told, "Sorry, you don't get this drug or that procedure because you're not a millionaire or billionaire. Try a GoFundMe campaign."

Centrist Democrats are dim dull old objects, selling nutrient-free milquetoast policies

Claire McCaskill, the centrist & outgoing Democratic Senator from Missouri who just lost her seat to Republican Josh Hawley, recently and dismissively described new congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez as a "bright shiny new object," who's selling unattainable policies. I suppose, by contrast, this makes McCaskill a dim dull old object, selling nutrient-free milquetoast policies.

Imagine if Democrat McCaskill had been a policymaker during the New Deal. She would have opposed Social Security, voted against unemployment insurance, and tried to block the state & national park development of the Civilian Conservation Corps. She would have labeled the FDIC, the SEC, and the TVA as pie-in-the sky nonsense. And yet, all of these bold New Deal creations are things that we enjoy and rely on today, 80 years later.

The problem with the modern Democratic Party is that they don't sell progressive ideas (when they have them) very well. They hear conservative opposition and, instead of sticking to their guns and educating conservative voters, they back down and water down their agenda. They gently float the idea of Medicare-for-All, or a public option, for example, and then hear some opposition and quickly cower away and mumble something else, like "healthcare as a right" - a slogan that makes most of the criticism go away, but ultimately leaves us in a legislative & public policy fog. And this fog is a breeding ground for monsters like Ted Cruz, Paul Ryan, and Donald Trump. 

The Democratic Party needs to adopt a bold, progressive, New Deal-type platform, and then create a strong and well-funded public education office (it's unclear to me whether they even have a small public education office), to strongly & repeatedly explain to conservative voters why these policies will be better for them than the neoliberal, trickle-down policies that have devastated their lives.

If someone says, "I'm going to drain the oil from my engine and replace it with root beer, so it'll run better," you don't nod your head or cower away; instead, you educate them: "No, don't do that, it will ruin your engine." The Democratic Party needs to do the same with conservative voters. When conservative voters say, "I think we should give tax breaks to the rich, and it will make our lives better," the Democratic Party needs to educate them about the horrific results of our decades of trickle-down economics (e.g., soaring national debt, fewer good-paying jobs, crumbling infrastructure, stagnant wages, and deteriorating public health).

The Democratic Party needs to get its act together in 2019 & 2020, and stop being weak corporate puppets. Otherwise, the next Republican president might make Donald Trump look like Gandhi.

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