Thursday, September 14, 2017

Why Medicare For All Matters

This week Bernie Sanders introduced his Medicare For All bill in Congress. In itself, this should not be a big deal. Congressmen like John Conyers have been proposing something like this for years. The difference is that enough prominent Democrats have rallied behind it that true universal health care has now essentially become a litmus test for Democrats.

This is a very important development. The last time that I felt this was the case was back in the early 1980s, when Democrats were still keeping the old time New Deal religion. After 1984, when Reaganism appeared to be the new reality, that changed. By the time a Democrat was able to propose a new health care system in the form of Bill Clinton, it crashed and burned. Barack Obama managed to get somewhere, but only by basically adopting a moderate conservative solution. Even that involved a great deal of struggle and opposition.

Now it appears that Democrats are willing to go all-in on a social democratic health policy. My hope is that this represents a major values change. The other side has profited from turning policy issues into moral issues. For example, the inheritance tax is opposed by saying "It's not right to keep someone from giving to their children." For years Democrats have failed to offer the proper moral argument in return, since that argument required a social democratic values system, as opposed to a neoliberal one. The Democrats have long been incapable of saying "It is morally wrong for the wealthy to perpetuate their power and advantage across generations," even though this was an uncontroversial opinion a century ago.

It is this values clarification that is necessary for the left to win out. Instead of getting lost in the weeds of policy wonkery, progressives are more willing to think big. This means starting from some assumptions, such as that every person's life has value and every person deserves to be healthy, safe, and protected. Even if the push for Medicare for all fails in this Congress, which is pretty much inevitable, it is changing the discourse in ways that are absolutely essential.

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