hearts and minds

August 18, 2009

Public Option, Insurance Co-op, Mandatory Insurance Purchase – Who Cares about the Fine Print in a Health Care Reform Bill?

Probably the same sort of person who is not certain what the future holds for her family, or who worries at times about the fine print in whatever health insurance policy currently “covers” them.

There are 3 serious consequences of the huge mistake or betrayal made by “public option” spokespersons, exemplified locally by Wisconsin Citizen Action, and nationally by Move-On, among others, when they declared that the single-payer solution was “off-the-table”.

1. Labeling the single-payer solution a “non-starter” before the public discussion even started meant that the concise, uncomplicated analysis available to the people by advocates of the single-payer solution was and is largely out of sight. Prior to the outset of this public discussion, the overwhelming majority of people of all economic strata rightly focused blame for the health care crisis on the health insurance corporations. Failing to present an analysis and a solution that clearly and unambiguously recognized the truth of that public perception squanders a critically important political and educational opportunity. That is why the sickness business corporations made clearing the decks of the single payer solution their number one agenda item before the public discussion of reform even began. (This consequence is the most serious of the three.)

2. Declaring the single payer solution off the table” left the “public option” to be characterized by corporate lobbyists, the politicians in their pockets, and the mass media, as a “far out radical” proposal, and it immediately became the next and much easier target of the corporations, their bought and paid for legislators, and the money-hungry strategists of both major parties.

3. Throwing in the towel on the single-payer solution by the “public option” spokespersons seems to have occurred in concert, very early, and without any concession from, or even negotiation with, the vested corporate interests. This is troubling because it makes no sense to unilaterally throw away your trump card before the hand has even begun to be played, and without getting an equivalent value discard, or trade-in-kind from the opposition.

The question that should occur to us is, “Are we dealing with massive deceit and betrayal, or with incomprehensible incompetence, or some of both?”

The current stymied effort to win health care for people, instead of sickness business for corporations, is directly a result of the incredibly outrageous distortion of the 14th Amendment to the Constitution by the Supreme Court at the onset of the Gilded Age, well over a century ago.

The 14th Amendment was ratified after the Civil War was over, right after the 13th Amendment was ratified (which abolished slavery in the United States of America). The 14th Amendment required that all states (not just the United States federal government) were bound to protect the right of every person to due process, and to equal protection of the law. In other words, individual states could no longer violate, or fail to protect those rights (including the Bill of Rights), which now belonged to everyone, in every state of the Union.

An assertion, made by a Supreme Court Justice (but with no recorded vote), as reported by a clerk of the Court in the ruling in Santa Clara County v. Southern Pacific Railroad (1886), stated that no testimony would be heard by the Court regarding whether corporations were “persons” in the meaning of the 14th Amendment. The clerk wrote that the Court assumed that corporations indeed had all the rights of actual living, human “persons” under the Constitution.

This was unjustified, but it has become the cornerstone of modern corporate law and led to the rise of mega-corporations, trans-national corporations, corporations and corporate officers virtually untouchable by the law, and the domination of “our” government by corporations. (The adverse effect of this assertion was notoriously extended by the Supreme Court ruling 90 years later, in 1976 that the use of money was equivalent to “speech” and thus legalized the bribery of elected officials and political parties through the hypocrisy of huge campaign “contributions”.) And that is why “our” legislators have not even considered the single payer solution (HR 676), and are even moving to eliminate any “public option” from further consideration.

Besides being unjustifiable, it was also unbelievably ironic, because that grotesque “corporations are persons” distortion of legislative intent occurred just a brief decade after the shameful, tragic renunciation of Reconstruction following the Civil War and the passage of the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments. Consequently, for the next century at least, the basic human and civil rights of generations upon generations of people of color in the United States, and the promise of the 14th Amendment to them (and to every one of us), were neither enforced nor honored (except by empty words) in America.

As long as the gross injustice precipitated by Santa Clara County v. Southern Pacific RR is allowed to persist, we will find it very difficult to win government that is of, by, and for the people, rather than by and for the corporations and the lobbyists. And without government that is of, by, and for the people (instead of by and for the corporations and lobbyists) we will find it very difficult to win guaranteed comprehensive health care for the people (instead of more profits for sickness business corporations).

The litmus test question that must be asked of each and every nominee for the Supreme Court, until this nightmare is ended, would focus on whether corporations should have or retain the same rights under our Constitution as living, breathing human beings. But we cannot wait for the Supreme Court to correct its own mistakes in order to get the health care we need now.

The appalling distortion of the 14th Amendment throws bright light on assertions of “public option” spokespersons’ that it was not Abolitionists acting on principle that ended slavery, but that the compromisers who were guided by “where the votes were in Congress”, who (according to them) should really be credited with ending slavery. They think this history shows why we should all support the “public option” compromise (whatever that is or is not) rather than the simple, proven, cost cutting (instead of cost increasing) principled single payer solution, H.R. 676.

The truth is that those who compromised with slavery cannot claim to have headed off or mitigated the brutality of the Civil War, which happened anyway. And it was the compromisers, caving in repeatedly to the brutally racist oppressors of human rights, who countenanced and effectively approved both the notorious Fugitive Slave Law (before the war) and the renunciation of Restoration which was followed by the horrible cruelty and injustice of Jim Crow, and the terrorism of lynch mobs, White Citizen’s Councils, and the KKK for another hundred years.

The Civil Rights Movement (with which those of us working for health care for people compare our movement) did not begin in the 1960’s. It began long, long before then, and certainly well before even the 1860s in the USA. Had the 14th and 15th Amendments been honored and enforced (for human beings, not for corporations) when they were ratified and thereafter, the tragic wholesale denial of basic human rights to generations upon generations of people of color in the United States would not have occurred. That denial was too heavy a price to pay in order to be guided by an appraisal of “the votes” of politicians instead of the principles of justice. By the same token, a serious mistake is being made now by people who are fascinated with conjectures about what’s going on behind closed doors in Washington, D.C. and are repeatedly and pessimistically counting the supposed votes in Congress in order to determine what they stand for.

If the simple health care (insurance) reform we need now cannot get enough votes in this Congress, we must spotlight that appalling fact, and the reason for it. And the reason is corruption of government by legalized bribery from corporations.

The single-payer solution to the health care crisis (HR 676 and S 703) provides educational and organizational opportunities that are incomparable and should not be squandered talking about what politicians and lobbyists are doing in D.C., and whipping up public enthusiasm, hostility, or ennui for proposals that haven’t been made explicit, and are being shaped and written by the lobbyists. Incredibly complex proposals (like the one the Clintons presented in 1992, and the similar nebulous, constantly changing proposals that are currently center-stage) only provide opportunities for confusing the issue and distracting the people. The reform we need won’t occur overnight, by magic. If this is the civil rights struggle of the 21st century, how could anyone think we could prevail if we weren’t in it for the duration? … whatever it takes.

These sickness business corporations have long known public outrage was building. The insurance corporations have expected that a grassroots demand to end corporate control of the health care that families need was coming for a long time. They have been preparing and implementing their strategy for years. It’s a big mistake to fail to clearly identify health insurance corporations, along with the pharmaceutical corporations and the mega-corporations that have “acquired” what once were community based and charitable non-profit hospitals and locally based physician owned private practice clinics, as the force standing between the American people and reasonable human-centered health care, administered for people’s health care needs, provided by America’s superior, caring medical professionals.

It was and is the epitome of unrealistic dreaming to think that we could win against those forces with a couple of months of house parties and public forums, and an unbelievably complex proposed “solution” that still has not emerged, and which will likely lock in even more “market share” and corporate control that distorts and continues to deny the health care American families need so badly. If you don’t stand for something, you’ll fall for anything.


P.S. Our gratitude and respect is due to Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, who acted on the street last weekend as an everyday person who is a genuine leader and a true hero. Those who would not have had the guts or will to act themselves will please forebear from supercilious second-guessing. Thanks for his example. May all citizens be inspired by his courage and by his sense of justice and civic responsibility.


  1. Clyde, thank you!

    Comment by Madaline R — August 18, 2009 @ 1:07 pm | Reply

  2. You are at the heart of the problem. Corporations having the rights of individuals continues to be a huge problem. Imagine if it was always individuals that needed to be responsible for lobbying.

    Comment by vic — August 19, 2009 @ 8:59 pm | Reply

    • Organizations of individuals, where membership is voluntary, and where control of the organization adheres to the democratic principle of one citizen, one vote, would (in my opinion) also be legitimate Congressional lobbyists. Campaign “contributions” in excess of some statutory amount, and/or from sources other than individual citizens or their democratically controlled organizations, however, should not be considered equivalent to speech, and should be prohibited. These two reforms would help to ensure government that is of, by, and for the people.

      Comment by clydewinter — August 20, 2009 @ 10:02 am | Reply

  3. Thanks for the great article.

    Comment by Insurance — September 1, 2009 @ 8:58 am | Reply

  4. […] Discarding the trump card of the single payer solution from the hand to be played on behalf of the people is such an obvious and continuing mistake, that “following the money” provides the only possible explanation. And a sad and sorry one it is, implying pervasive corruption in both major political parties […]

    Pingback by President Obama’s Inspiring and Historic Speech on the Health Care Crisis « hearts and minds — September 11, 2009 @ 2:29 am | Reply

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