The Summer of Our Discontent

There’s been a lot of speculation that the Town Hall confrontations over health care reform have been generated by political operatives enlisted by politicians and other partisans who are in the pockets of the insurance and medical industries.

That may be true, but so what?

The point is that Americans are genuinely frightened and angry, and you can see how it wouldn’t take much to scare people over the prospect of the federal government mandating health care reform, never mind a government-run “public option.”

Americans have watched their jobs, savings, and homes evaporate. Trillions of dollars of taxpayers’ money has been spent by the government to “stimulate” the economy and guarantee the speculation and debts of the swindlers who caused the crisis; but for most Americans, the government’s spending has brought no relief from the misery. Big bonuses are back on Wall Street, and so are “derivatives,” the arcane securities that led to the crash; the stock market is soaring, and we are told that the recession is over. Meanwhile, credit card companies have slashed the credit lines of 58 million Americans while they jack up the interest we pay to borrow our own money from them.

Is it any wonder that people are seething with rage?

The federal government did not cause the crisis, but could have prevented it. As we documented in "Sold Out: How Wall Street and Washington Betrayed America,” politicians and regulators in Washington, engorged on the Money Industry’s largesse, stripped away decades of protections put in place after the Great Depression and looked the other way as Wall Street claimed to have perfected alchemy – the transformation of paper into gold.

Just as Wall Street shattered our economy, the health insurance industry’s greed is responsible for the collapse of the health care system in this country. To the 46 million uninsured (as of 2007 – before the crash - PDF), add another 25 million whose insurance covers only a fraction of their medical expenses – that is, if you can get the company to pay what it owes you before it’s too late. Like our financial system, reform of our health care can only come from government.

But in the context of the financial debacle and Washington’s response to it, it’s legitimate for Americans to wonder whether the government’s health reform will help them. The White House’s secret deal with the drug industry to win its support – at a cost to the health care system of tens of billions of dollars in excessive drug prices over the next ten years – replicates the backroom bailout deal-making between the U.S. Treasury and Wall Street firms that began during the credit crash last fall and continues unabated today. There is plenty of reason for Americans to worry that the final product will benefit the special interests – the insurance industry, the American Medical Association, the drug industry – at the expense of everyone else.

Which is exactly what will happen, of course, if the public is struck with a collective amnesia and relapses into the anti-government, the free-market-solves-everything mentality of the last thirty years. It has not even been a year since the financial collapse, yet the same ideologues who took America’s economy down with their mantra of financial deregulation, and the corporate interests who quietly fund them, are the ones now arguing that government cannot be trusted to reform our health care system or to provide a Medicare alternative to private insurance companies. They are vectoring the public’s unassuaged outrage over the economy to defeat health care reform. If they succeed, we will have only ourselves to blame.