One thing I can say about this Barack Obama guy; he kicks my cynical ass every time. No way an African-American, liberal, neophyte can even show up to a fight with the Clinton machine, much less defeat it for a shot at the most powerful post in the land. Really? No way this guy can turn around and beat a white, right-wing military veteran in a mostly center-right and still annoyingly xenophobic nation. No? And there is no way in my lifetime there will ever be any sort of national health care reform, never mind a single piece of significant sweeping social legislation with the kind of national debt, unemployment and rabid anti-government fervor throughout the land. Guess what?
In a few days from the writing of these words, there could be an actual passing of a bill through Congress that will in some way ultimately affect—one side argues completely, the other slightly—17 percent of the United States economy.
Agree, disagree, whoop it up or gnash your teeth, this is a big one. As far as presidents and history go, a really big one; politically, socially, and perhaps even indefinably.
If you think 14 months of hemming, hawing, pushing, lying, paying-off, manipulating, decrying, backstabbing, protesting, more lying, and normal, ugly democratic silliness, then try over 50 years of it. This is how long this country and its elected officials, mainly Democrats, with the notable exception of Richard Nixon, have attempted in some way shape or form to tackle the enormous, and in many ways unwieldy, United States health care system.
Harry Truman, in the wake of an age of big foreign military triumphs and huge government reforms, coupled with the last gasp of overwhelming trust in the nation’s political system, could not do it. Neither could it be accomplished by the otherwise domestically effective Lyndon Johnson, the last chief executive to work with the legislative branch to this mass degree. The aforementioned Nixon gave it a go, but stalled. And the last guy to make it a political clarion call armed with a predominantly Democratic Congress, William Jefferson Clinton, mucked it up. Not this guy. It looks like this guy is going to pull it off.
Not since LBJ’s Great Society and the Civil Rights bill has a president asked his party to fall on a sword for a vote. In 1964, Johnson, a dyed in the wool Southern Democrat from the old-school, asked similar Southern Democrats representing racist counties all through the South to cast a vote that assured the extinguishing of their profession. It was filibustered and argued and threatened as tyranny then, as this bill is facing now, on the grounds of state sovereignty and other fair and salient legal and constitutional arguments. But the Civil Rights Bill and the martyrs from both sides of the aisle were on the side of not just a moral argument, but a Bill Of Rights one.
This time, however, there is no bi-partisan effort nor is there any more than a hazy ideological divide on what is exactly moral: allowing millions of Americans in the world’s richest nation to go without some kind of health care, or the stringent idea that it is something of a gained privilege to be able to afford to see a doctor if one is ill. And then there is the fall-out—simple human nature to inevitably abuse such programs, wherein an entitlement becomes just another teat for the unfortunate or even lazy to suck dry at the expense of the always-burdened middle class.
And how far to go? This is always the quarrel, whether it’s the extent and expanse of the unregulated business monopolies or creating massive government entitlements to curtail the damages of an historic economic meltdown. Sure, we need to fight the Commies, but at what cost, for how long, and how many lives are sacrificed for how many screw-ups? Sure, let’s federalize the banks, create a national highway system, or how about crush one half of the American economy at the end of the gun because slavery is immoral. Maybe all these restructures could have been piecemealed, brought along slowly to see what happens, but that‘s not the American way. It never has been.
When something needs to be done, we’re warring and banning and throwing money and political rhetoric around as if the very structure of existence depended on it, or we do absolutely nothing. It’s an either-or game we play with everything. What is also the American way is to water down what is left of the original intent of a progressive all-consuming government-controlled, single-payer pool, as practiced by Great Britain and Canada and other smaller, less diverse nations, to twist in the most convoluted way as to not be estimable by the most learned among us.
This is how things get done and have been done since those who came before us made it up and then amended it, and still there are the exceptions, like when two presidential candidates are battling out an election in the courts and one is handed the job and the rest complain that it’s illegitimate, but it’s really not, it’s just the way it goes.
And that’s history in a nutshell, from war and peace to bill-making and ballot-counting; petty, underhanded, spiteful, and mainly jerky. It is simple math. The majority of the vote sends those to their gig and they do what they will, and if it doesn’t sit right after a period of time, they go bye-bye. In November 2008, the United States elected Barack Obama and a boatload of Democrats. You would have to assume people, even those who use the Daily Show and Glenn Beck as their news sources, understand the ramifications of this maneuver. You’re going to get government stuff. Just as you know when you elect Oil Men, you’re going to get crazy wars for oil.
Still, it is hard to fathom it’s come this close, and if a Health Care Reform Bill becomes law this week, then this is what the Barack Obama administration will take into history as its legacy. Nothing done from here on in, barring another in an endless series of pointless wars, will be as significant for good or ill.
James Campion is the Managing Editor of The Reality Check News & Information Desk and the author of Deep Tank Jersey, Fear No Art, Trailing Jesus, and Midnight For Cinderella. jamescampion.com.