David Sirota / Syndicated columnist
Health-care reform will silence the Braindead Megaphone
The moral case for universal health care is obvious. In the world's richest country — in a country that builds lavish sports stadiums and showers Wall Street with trillion-dollar bailouts — 18,000 people die each year because they lack health insurance.
If you're having trouble remembering what the recent election was all about, rest easy: You're probably not going senile — you're likely experiencing the momentary effects of brainwashing. For weeks, your television, newspaper and radio have been telling you America is a "center-right nation" that elected Barack Obama to crush his fellow "socialist" hippies, discard the agenda he campaigned on, and meet the policy demands of electorally humiliated Republicans.
This is the usual postelection nonsense from the Braindead Megaphone, as author George Saunders famously calls our political and media noise machine. When George W. Bush wins by 3 million votes, the megaphone blares announcements about a conservative mandate that Democrats must respect. When Obama wins by twice as much, the same megaphone roars about Democrats having no mandate to do anything other than appease conservatives.
It's confusing, isn't it? We hazily recall backing Obama and his progressive platform. Yet, the megaphone's re-educative shock treatment aims to wipe away that memory and conjure eternal conservatism from our spotless minds.
Luckily, we have polling to maintain our sanity. Public opinion surveys show most Obama voters knew the Illinois senator is a progressive when they cast their ballots — and those votes for him weren't just anti-Bush protests, they were ideological. According to a postelection poll by my colleagues at the Campaign for America's Future, 70 percent of Americans say they want conservatives to help this progressive president enact his decidedly progressive agenda.
Sensing the enormity of these numbers, Obama seems ready to back a "big bang" of far-reaching initiatives. "We can't afford to wait on moving forward on the key priorities that I identified during the campaign," he said in his first radio address as president-elect.
Based on advertisements, Obama identified no more important priority than guaranteeing health care for all citizens. As the Campaign Media Analysis Group reported, he devoted more than two-thirds of his total television budget to ads that included health-care themes. Consequently, a Pew poll found 77 percent of Americans said health care would be a decisive concern in their presidential vote.
The moral case for universal health care is obvious. In the world's richest country — in a country that builds lavish sports stadiums and showers Wall Street with trillion-dollar bailouts — 18,000 people die each year because they lack health insurance. We permit this annual massacre while our wasteful system exacerbates our debt and saps our economic competitiveness by forcing us to spend more money per capita on health care than any other nation.
That said, if morality alone prompted solutions, this problem would have been addressed long ago. Overcoming inertia on such a thorny issue requires budget pressure — which Obama definitely faces. While some claim the deficit should preclude bold health-care legislation, it's the other way around. The Congressional Budget Office says America's fiscal gap is "driven primarily by rising health-care costs," meaning a fix is an imperative.
"People ask whether (Obama) has the fiscal breathing room to push health-care reform," economist Jared Bernstein told The Washington Post. "He doesn't have the fiscal breathing room not to do health-care reform."
Additionally, as with everything in Washington, a political motive is needed for action — and even conservatives acknowledge Democrats have such a motive when it comes to health care.
Fifteen years ago, Republican strategist William Kristol warned that the Clinton administration's universal-health-care proposals represented "a serious political threat to the Republican Party" because, if passed, they "will revive the reputation" of Democrats as "the generous protector of middle-class interests."
As we all remember, Democrats failed to capitalize on the health-care opportunity. But Kristol's prophecy was correct then, as it is now. With huge Democratic majorities in Congress come 2009, only the Braindead Megaphone is in Obama's way.
David Sirota's new book is "The Uprising." He is a fellow at the Campaign for America's Future and a board member of the Progressive States Network. His blog is at www.credoaction.com/sirota
2008, Creators Syndicate, Inc.