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OpEdNews Op Eds    H3'ed 6/12/09

The Pompous or the Populists: Who Will Win the Healthcare Debate?

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Message Donna Smith
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You'd think after eight long and ugly years listening to pompous and wealthy officials slam their versions of social hatred down our gullets, we'd have sent those folks packing for good on January 20, 2009. You'd think as we debate healthcare reform for this nation, we'd have left the arrogance and the flaunting of greed back in the pre-Wall Street bailout days of summer 2008. And you'd think in the People's House, the United States House of Representatives, we'd at least have stood up and said that every single American is deserving of and yes, entitled to, healthcare and protected from going broke in the process of getting care when ill.

You'd think.

But, as the Republicans have swelled up in their opposition to meaningful reform that can finally provide a progressively financed, guaranteed single standard of high quality healthcare for all, the same old pomposity and crude disrespect for human life are surfacing and oozing from their every word.

There will be no bipartisan reform fellow citizens unless by that you mean the Democrats capitulate to every horrible and ugly instinct about the undeserving masses of poor working slobs in this nation who the Republicans see as lazy, fat, undeserving and certainly beneath their status in life.

I heard it all again yesterday in the hearing in the House Education and Labor sub-committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, as a hearing on a single payer option for reform brought out in its classic and clearest form the "blame the victims" strategy that the elitists in the Republican party have sold us on this issue and many others for decades - ever since the dawning of that "new day in America" in the early 1980s.

Listen to it. You know the gig. It's like asking a victim of rape what she was wearing and then doing the shoulder shrug, "Well, she asked for it," when you find her skirt was too short or her heels too high. Many Republicans want us to see those in need of healthcare the same way. "They eat too much, drink too much, and they smoke," we're reminded by the professors of economics and the think tankers and the wonks who count their speaking fees and ratchet up the language of hatred for the rest of us.

In yesterday's hearing, the one Republican witness didn't use the common sense, silent majority arguments I used to hear from many Republicans in the pre-trickle-down era to counter the single payer message. The GOP witness used arrogance, scoffing at the pain felt by millions and classic "I've got mine because I'm better than you" logic that millions in this nation turned out to the polls in November 2008 to throw to the curb.

David Gratzer, senior fellow from the Manhattan Institute, was the Republican witness, and unfortunately we have all become too familiar with his type of logic or lack thereof.  We've heard all their ugliness for years now - and the lack of justice and lack of caring he put forward was profound and I will continue to hope will someday be fully purged from the party that used to include my dad and mom as proud members. My dad was a World War II vet who fought to make sure every freedom we enjoyed was available to every person. My dad, a Republican, was a Christian man who believed in fiscally conservative policy and in sound government - and he taught me well. His GOP was not an exclusive, country club type alliance. But that party has evolved into something my dad would scarcely have recognized.

So, as I listened to the Republican witness mislead the Committee with his answers, I knew this battle for healthcare reform won't be about any level playing fields. We still have hate-mongers in Congress who don't want to sit in doctor's offices with the rest of us. We still have people who believe that you have no right to healthcare if you are deemed sub-standard by their measures - either economically or socially or racially. Yes, they still think the racial and gender bias still endemic in the healthcare system is acceptable because in their minds those folks just haven't yet worked quite hard enough or smart enough to achieve what the elite have done. And it makes me sick to think that our first African American President or this Congress would suffer this sort of ugliness for one more moment in the name of bipartisanship.

Thank God in that hearing for Geri Jenkins, RN, co-president of the California Nurses Association/National Nurses Organizing Committee, who spoke clearly and loudly for all human life. Thank God for Rep. Phil Hare from my native Illinois who spoke up for his constituents who write letters recounting horrific struggles within our current healthcare system - and Rep. Hare represents lots folks like my parents and me when he spoke. And Thanks God for Rep. Dennis Kucinich of Ohio who never forgets that working class folks are suffering and dying and that the arrogant asses who stuff hatred down our throats at every opportunity must be challenged aggressively lest they keep spawning the sort of hatred that divides good people from their better intentions. I hope all who didn't see the hearing will find it on the Web and watch it.

Finally, I have to raise the issue of honesty here. Why isn't it a punishable crime when witnesses lie to Congressional committees? The Republican witness yesterday talk all sorts of dribble about how terrible Canada's health system is and about all the Canadians he said are flowing over our northern borders to get healthcare as evidence of their failing system (to name just one of his misrepresentations). Lies. What he failed to point out is that the relatively small numbers who do seek care here often bring their Canadian government paid benefits with them. And a real expert on the Canadian system I spoke with later added, "In fact, it is the sign of a confident and wise healthcare system in Canada that we often determined that sending a patient to Fargo, ND, for care might be in the best interests of that patient and that we would serve them best by paying for that." Imagine that.

Could someone please amend the hearing record from yesterday with the facts? Better yet, I wish someone would press charges against the witness who lied with the intent not only to mislead the Committee but to mislead millions of Americans. I have had enough of the pompous. Give me the populists. Everyone deserves healthcare.

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Donna Smith appeared in Michael Moore's 2007 film, "SiCKO," and spent five years working for National Nurses United/California Nurses Association in Chicago and Washington, D.C., as their single-payer political organizer/educator.  She is now the executive director of Health Care for All Colorado and lives in Denver with her husband of 38 years, Larry

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