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“The Long, Long Battle For Health Care Reform”: The Single Defining Goal Of American Progressivism For More Than A Century

So in this week of epochal Supreme Court opinions, even health policy wonks would not claim that King v. Burwell can match Obergefell v. Hodges in terms of its historical significance. There’s a reason the latter is stimulating spontaneous outbreaks of happiness among people who aren’t political and don’t follow constitutional law.

But at Vox today, Dylan Matthews reminds us that of the incredibly long hard path this country has followed to reach even the Affordable Care Act’s first timorous steps towards universal health coverage. Those conservatives who talk as though no one has ever seriously considered such a socialist abomination until now really are betraying their ignorance about history:

National health insurance has been the single defining goal of American progressivism for more than a century. There have been other struggles, of course: for equality for women, African-Americans, and LGBT people; for environmental protection; against militarism in Southeast Asia and the Middle East. But ever since its inclusion in Teddy Roosevelt’s 1912 Bull Moose platform, a federally guaranteed right to health coverage has been the one economic and social policy demand that loomed over all others. It was the big gap between our welfare state and those of our peers in Europe, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and Japan.

And for more than a century, efforts to achieve national health insurance failed. Roosevelt’s third-party run came up short. His Progressive allies, despite support from the American Medical Association, failed to pass a bill in the 1910s. FDR declined to include health insurance in the Social Security Act, fearing it would sink the whole program, and the Wagner Act, his second attempt, ended in failure too. Harry Truman included a single-payer plan open to all Americans in his Fair Deal set of proposals, but it went nowhere. LBJ got Medicare and Medicaid done after JFK utterly failed, but both programs targeted limited groups.

Richard Nixon proposed a universal health-care plan remarkably similar to Obamacare that was killed when then-Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-MA) walked away from a deal to pass it, in what Kennedy would later call his greatest regret as a senator. Jimmy Carter endorsed single-payer on the campaign trail, but despite having a Democratic supermajority in Congress did nothing to pass it. And the failure of Bill Clinton’s health-care plan is the stuff of legend.

Yes, Obamacare haters may dismiss the experience of virtually every other wealthy country by intoning “American exceptionalism”, as though we have some long-cherished right to die young that’s as essential to the national character as unlimited possession of guns. But this has been a constant issue in our own country, too, and it’s a token of how far our political system has drifted to the right that redeeming the vision of Teddy Roosevelt and Harry Truman and Richard Nixon strikes so many people as a horrifying lurch into socialism.

 

By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, Political Animal Blog, June 26, 2015

June 27, 2015 Posted by | Affordable Care Act, Health Insurance, SCOTUS | , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“The Country Paid Heavily For The Risks He Took”: It’s Not Too Soon To Judge George W. Bush’s Presidency On Key Issues

In the six years since he left the White House, President George W. Bush has often claimed that it is too early for historical judgments about his presidency. “It’s too soon to say how many of my decisions will turn out,” he wrote in Decision Points, his presidential memoir.

In this, Bush was indulging in what we will call the Truman Consolation. President Harry S. Truman was deeply unpopular during most of his time in the White House and in the years immediately afterward. Only decades later did historians begin to rate his presidency highly for the actions he took in the early years of the Cold War. At one time or another, when their poll ratings are slumping and their media coverage is biting, most modern American presidents like to believe they will eventually be vindicated, just as Truman was.

But Bush is largely wrong: In some of the most important areas of his presidency, it’s not too soon to draw conclusions. Just by judging against Bush’s own forecasts, some of the most far-reaching and important initiatives of his presidency didn’t work — or turned out poorly.

At the top of the list is the war in Iraq. Bush and his advisors badly misjudged what it would entail. They overestimated the international support the United States would be able to obtain for military action. They asserted before the war that American troops would need to stay in Iraq for no more than a couple of years. The administration’s public estimate before the war was that it would cost less than $100 billion; instead, it cost $2 trillion.

Intended originally as a short-term demonstration of American power and influence, the Iraq war over the longer term brought about the opposite. In its unhappy aftermath, Americans became increasingly cautious, more reluctant to become involved overseas. Overall, the war will go down as a strategic blunder of epic proportions, among the most serious in American history.

A similar fate will befall the second-most far-reaching aspect of Bush’s legacy, his historic tax cuts. Bush argued that they would stimulate the economy and spur economic growth. The short-term benefits proved dubious at best, but the harmful long-term consequences were incalculable, both for the federal government and, more importantly, for American society.

When Bush took office, America was in a brief period of budgetary surplus. There was actually a debate, forgotten and almost unimaginable today, about how to use the surplus: Pay down the debt? Launch new federal initiatives? Bush chose to cut taxes, and then did so in ways (tax cuts on dividends and capital gains) that proved immensely beneficial to the wealthiest Americans.

It’s true that President Barack Obama eventually allowed the Bush cuts on upper-income Americans to expire. But the damage had been done. Over the course of nearly a decade, the federal government became increasingly short of funds, while wealthy Americans built up greater and greater assets. Whenever you use a road, bridge or airport that needs repairs (or read a news story about the Pentagon complaining about budget constraints), you might pause to think about the Bush tax cuts and the role they played in shaping the America we see today.

Bush’s second round of tax cuts, in 2003, were historic in another sense. By then, he had already dispatched American troops to Iraq. In every previous military conflict since the Civil War, American presidents had raised taxes to help defray the costs. Bush bucked this historical trend: He lowered them.

It’s true that in a few other policy areas judgments of Bush’s presidency may improve over the years as events unfold and as more information comes to light.

The primary example could be counter-terrorism. The Senate’s recent report on enhanced interrogation techniques makes current judgments on that dark era even harsher than they would have been otherwise. Torture is torture, and no passage of time will change the moral judgments on that.

On the other hand, in the immediate aftermath of the Charlie Hebdo attacks in Paris, some Europeans began to ask why the attackers had not been kept under greater surveillance. If such terrorist attacks were to continue over many years, then judgments on the Bush-era surveillance programs might eventually come to be less harsh than they are today. Or they may come to be seen as the true beginning of a new surveillance state. More time needs to pass before historical judgments on this issue can take shape.

Overall, Bush’s presidency is likely to be remembered for his lack of caution and restraint. Once, in the midst of a discussion with his military advisors, Bush made a telling observation: “Someone has got to be risk-averse in this process, and it better be you, because I’m not.”

George W. Bush was certainly not risk-averse. He took gambles both in foreign policy and with the economy. Sometimes they paid off. Yet overall, the country paid heavily for the risks he took. History isn’t likely to revise that judgment.

 

By: James Mann, Los Angeles Times (TNS), a fellow in residence at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies; The National Memo, February 10, 2015

February 11, 2015 Posted by | Bush-Cheney Administration, George W Bush, Iraq War | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“We Need Our Police To Be Better Than This”: It’s Part Of Having The Badge And The Right To Use Force

In 1951, Harry Truman fired Gen. Douglas MacArthur during the Korean War. The two never got along, but that wasn’t why Truman canned him. “I didn’t fire him because he was a dumb son of a bitch, although he was,” explained Truman after the fact. “I fired him because he wouldn’t respect the authority of the president.” You expect soldiers of all ranks to understand the need to respect the chain of command, regardless of personal feelings.

Soldiers—and cops, too.

Which is one big reason the display by members of the New York Police Department at the funeral of slain patrolman Rafael Ramos is particularly disturbing. At Ramos’s funeral service Saturday, NYPD rank-and-file—along with members of police forces attending from around the country—turned their backs when Mayor Bill de Blasio delivered his eulogy. This was a very public fuck you to a politician widely perceived by conservatives and law-and-order types as weak on crime and in the pocket of social-justice warriors. Yet the cops’ protest illustrates exactly what drives so much fear of the police: the worry that cops react emotionally and impulsively in situations that call for cool rationality and a reliance on training and strategic restraint. “It wasn’t planned,” said one of the protesters. “Everyone just started doing it.”

“I certainly don’t support that action,” said NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton. “I think it was very inappropriate at that event.” Bratton—whom de Blasio appointed and who first served as commissioner under tough-guy Rudy Giuliani—is very much in the tradition of “Give ’em Hell” Harry Truman. Which is to say that he at times lets his emotions get the best of him, as when he spuriously implicated President Obama for strained relations between police and citizens, saying that cops feel as if they “are under attack from the federal government at the highest levels.”

But if de Blasio is in fact soft on crime, he made an exceedingly strange choice in tapping Bratton, credited with helping drive crime down in ’90s New York under Giuliani and in 21st-century Los Angeles, to lead the NYPD. As a cop’s cop, Bratton is in the best possible situation to restore respect for authority among New York’s finest.

The NYPD—and cops more generally—have a public relations problem in the wake of the Michael Brown, Eric Garner, and a long string of other cases. Acting like a bunch of high-school jocks protesting a ban on keg parties isn’t exactly going to win over many hearts and minds. It’s exactly the inability of the cops who killed Garner to restrain themselves that bothered so may of us who watched the video of the encounter. The same goes for the hysterical overreaction and escalation of force used against protesters in Ferguson over the summer.

Yes, cops are under stress and tension (though their jobs are far less dangerous than normally supposed). But they are trained to rise above mere emotional responses; that’s one of the reasons they are given a state-sanctioned monopoly on force. Yet even after the funeral protest, de Blasio was booed and heckled while addressing a new class of recruits as well.

That’s not the worst of it. In the wake of the murders of Ramos and Liu, the head of the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association, Patrick Lynch, immediately issued a statement claiming that “there’s blood on many hands tonight” and “that blood on the hands starts at City Hall in the office of the mayor.” In fact, Ramos and Liu were killed by deranged gunman Ismaaiyl Brinsley, a career criminal who shot his girlfriend in Baltimore, drove to New York, and bragged about “putting wings on pigs.”

I’m no de Blasio partisan, but the mayor’s willingness to entertain the notion that Eric Garner needn’t have died in police custody has about as much to do with the murders of Ramos and Liu as Sarah Palin’s defense of the Second Amendment had to do with madman Jared Loughner’s shooting of Gabby Giffords. Which is to say: nothing.

The New York Post reports that an email circulating among the NYPD declares, “We have… become a ‘wartime’ Police Department… We will act accordingly.” The email further advised that “two units are to respond to EVERY call,” regardless of the severity of the situation or “the opinion of the patrol supervisor,” a tactic that, the Post notes, not only bucks the chain of command but would “effectively cut in half the NYPD’s patrol strength.”

Prior to the killing of Ramos and Liu, the last time an NYPD cop was ambushed in such a way was in 1988; their deaths were the first in the line of fire since 2011. Yet the email references the 1970s, “when police officers were ambushed and executed on a regular basis.” We normally associate such massive displays of overreaction with pearl-clutching undergraduates calling for “trigger warnings” when faced with reading The Great Gatsby.

Echoing Truman talking about MacArthur, Bratton has said that it was wrong for cops to disrespect de Blasio at the Ramos service because “he is the mayor of New York [and] he was there representing the citizens of New York to express their remorse and their regret at that death.” The police commissioner is sitting down with the unions representing the NYPD rank and file to work through issues that range “far beyond race relations in this city” and include contract disputes about pay, benefits, and more (these latter issues suggest that police outrage at city leaders may be as much a negotiating tactic as in-the-moment reactions).

Based on the responses so far by the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association and the cops themselves, those won’t be pleasant conversations. But Bratton himself has granted that black people “of all classes” have told him they fear the police. Such attitudes join the growing discomfort with militarized police who always seem ready to escalate force and refuse to acknowledge any culpability when things go wrong.

As Bratton and the NYPD start talking among themselves, the commissioner will do well to paraphrase another Trumanism: “The buck stops here.” The police cannot ultimately control public opinion unilaterally. What they can do, though, is acknowledge that a change in their attitudes, behavior, policies, and willingness to engage in discussions about how people see them can help them win back the public trust.

 

By: Nick Gilllespie, The Daily Beast, December 31, 2014

January 2, 2015 Posted by | Bill de Blasio, NYPD, Police Brutality | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

   

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