Erica Smiley | Political Affairs | October 1, 2009
While in a Florida union hall recently (yes, Florida!), I heard several members discussing the right-wing attack on Obama’s healthcare plan as a gateway to socialism, at which point one woman asserted, “If the public option is socialism then socialism is what we need!”
Ironically, when stopping at a turnpike rest stop later that week, I was overwhelmed by three busloads of New Jersey Tea Party activists returning from the September 12th “anti-Obama-care” rally in DC.
From these two brief experiences, I wondered why we weren’t taking more of an opportunity to engage working people in this battle of ideas.
Just like the Florida union activist, the “Tea-baggers” are often working-class individuals who are facing job loss, housing foreclosure, cuts in social services, etc. Just like the union activist, these extreme conservatives are angered by the negative impact on their lives of global finance capitalism in the form of factory closings or increased gas prices.
Yet, unlike the union member they blame the public sector, are persuaded by racism, and live in constant fear that the federal government, and President Obama in particular, is going to take away their freedom. You know … the freedom to not have healthcare, the freedom to not have a job, the freedom to not have a house.
The Tea Party Movement, supported by the large insurance companies and other sectors of finance capital and the ultra right, offers simplistic solutions to otherwise complex problems – not unlike the neo-fascist BNP (British National Party) in Britain or the Nazis in pre-World War II Germany. This we all know.
But what solutions are we offering?
In the current political moment, we obviously want the public option to prevail. If it doesn’t, it will be a damaging defeat for the Obama administration and the progressive agenda. But when the front page of the New York Times recently indicated that winning a public option is slipping away from the Obama administration, while reporting the Washington Tea Party protest as bigger than it really was, we need to fight back. After all, the Tea Partiers are not slowing down. They are planning another series of national demonstrations in October.
Our fight-back requires a strategy different from simply defending the Obama administration and the public option itself. As Communists, focusing primarily on defending the current plan does not provide Obama with any new political capital to get this thing through.
Let’s define what is meant by political capital in this particular fight. First of all, the administration won’t win anything without a visible mass movement of working people engaging in an active, vocal struggle for universal healthcare. The health care reform movement has been growing in strength, but it needs to grow even stronger. This has been our main focus.
The ideological battle needs attention too, however. De-regulation, private enterprise and pulling yourself up by your bootstraps is so entrenched in the American psyche, that the administration could benefit from from a genuinely socialist critique that points out the huge difference between a public health insurance option and socialized healthcare.
As real advocates for socialism, we need to step up and define what real socialized medicine is – a system where doctors, pharmacists, and hospital administrators are government employees. By doing so, add some clarity to the single-payer debate by debunking the myth that H.R. 676 (the United States National Health Insurance Act) is, for all its forward thinking, the “final fix.” We have the opportunity to open up the discussion and ask why something as important as healthcare is left in private hands at all.
On a more basic level, we need to put forward our opinions not simply in our own publications but in the broader press as well. Party organizations could hold our own public town hall meetings on the healthcare question, where the public option can be discussed in the broader context of private industry versus the public sector. We can also take the discussion even further and demand that the next stimulus package include funding to set up hospitals in the areas that need them most, with loan forgiveness for doctors and nurses who work there on a government salary. All of these are just a sampling of ideas of how we can help push a public option through, while broadening long-term support for universal public health care in general.
If there was ever a moment to talk about socialism, it is now. On September 14, 2009 the New York Times published an on-line forum discussion entitled “What is Socialism in 2009?” Back in March, the Nation magazine ran a similar story. The Communist Party also needs to be engaged in this discussion.
Let’s get ourselves more decisively to the table!
The Tea Party people, the general public, and the members of Congress who will ultimately make or break the public option, need to know that the present public option proposal is really a compromise solution and a far cry even from single-payer, and that we (tea-baggers included) need much, much more than that in order to achieve a truly socialist, universal healthcare system.