Who You Calling A Radical?

The other day, an article in the Chicago Tribune touched on former Vice President Biden’s potential 2020 presidential candidacy. The Tribune described Biden as a “moderate” when it came to tackling America’s health care issue. (He hasn’t taken a stand, yet.) That word choice bugged me because it implied that the present Democratic presidential candidates who have said they support some form of universal healthcare, usually described as “Medicare for All,” are not moderate in their views. – And if you’re not moderate, your views must be excessive, extreme. You are a “radical!”

Even news analysts who have established themselves as non-partisan have picked up on the “moderate” classification for any Democrat who stays away from taking a strong stance on the pursuit of progressive ideals. — This certainly isn’t the first time such word games have been played to the detriment of American progress. I will get to that in a minute.

Actually, to call Joe Biden a “moderate,” assuming today’s meaning of the word, is somewhat unfair. Back in 2007 when Joe was running for President he presented a plan to permit uninsured Americans to buy into an insurance program similar to the health care program used by federal employees and members of Congress. People would pay on a sliding scale based on income. His proposal also allowed people between the ages of 55 and 64 to buy into the Medicare program, with the federal government providing a subsidy to low-income individuals. True, much of Joe Biden’s plan did depend on the involvement of for-profit insurance companies selling their health care policies to the insured. But suggesting the widening of the Medicare model to include people down to the age of 55 was a big step toward what could have potentially become Medicare for All. 

As things turned out, Joe Biden became Vice President and the Obama Administration developed the Affordable Care Act, a public health care breakthrough that nevertheless had some weaknesses which Republican strategists were quick to exploit in our courts. The result has been a crippled system that has unquestionably improved healthcare access for millions of Americans but remains vulnerable to being further weakened by industry pressures and conservative courts. — And, I think most people agree it is less admired than our Medicare system.

But let’s get back to my earlier reference to how accusations of radicalism in the past have regularly been used as a weapon against progress.
The concept of universal health care in the United States has been around since at least 1943. Universal health insurance was first proposed in that year under FDR. Understandably, World War II pulled everyone’s attention away from that initiative. But soon after the War ended, the new 33rd President, Harry S. Truman, proposed a “universal national health insurance program.”

In his remarks to Congress, he declared, “Millions of our citizens do not now have a full measure of opportunity to achieve and enjoy good health. Millions do not now have protection or security against the economic effects of sickness. The time has arrived for action to help them attain that opportunity and that protection.”

Truman proposed that every wage earning American pay monthly fees or taxes to cover the cost of all medical expenses in time of illness. The plan also called for a cash balance to be paid to policyholders, in the event of injury or illness, to replace the income those individuals lost. – What a radical guy!

President Truman stated, “Under the plan I suggest, our people would continue to get medical and hospital services just as they do now — on the basis of their own voluntary decisions and choices. Our doctors and hospitals would continue to deal with disease with the same professional freedom as now. There would, however, be this all-important difference: whether or not patients get the services they need would not depend on how much they can afford to pay at the time……What I am recommending is not socialized medicine. Socialized medicine means that all doctors work as employees of government. The American people want no such system. No such system is here proposed.”

Truman’s plan was quickly converted into a Social Security expansion bill and looked like it might become a reality. But immediately the American Medical Association (AMA) capitalized on the nation’s paranoia over the threat of Communism and attacked the bill as “socialized medicine.” (Sound familiar?) They mocked the Truman administration as “followers of the Moscow party line.” The bill stalled.

Harry Truman won reelection and Democrats took control of Congress. But the AMA’s lobbying and advertising efforts, endorsed by more than 1,800 national organizations, including the American Bar Association, the American Legion and the American Farm Bureau Federation ensured defeat of universal health insurance for America at that time.

Americans then waited nearly two decades before President Lyndon Johnson was finally able to sign a bill in 1965 creating Medicare (another socialist scheme decried by Republicans). And then we waited another 45 years before the the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010, was signed by President Barack Obama.

As you can see, working toward universal health care is not a new concept, nor is it radical. America has been inching toward it for 75 years. Now it’s possible we could be in the final push before this long-overdue reform becomes an American reality. We’ve already begun to hear accusations from the right of, “Socialism!” “Communism!” “Radicalism!” — Exactly the same cries Americans heard with each progressive step toward where we are today. Social Security, Medicaid, Medicare, does anyone seriously believe we’d be better off without them?

Please think about that the next time you see someone labeled “to the left of moderate” with all that term implies, simply because they believe universal healthcare for America makes sense.

Nels Howard, NTD Member since 1973