It’s Class Warfare, Stupid. The GOP crusade against Health Care

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

The struggle over health care in the United States is a form of class warfare, complicated by racism.

The Republican proposal for the “American Health Care Act,” as they called it, made this warfare clear. The bill was not so much a health care act as a massive tax cut for the wealthiest Americans, paid for by tossing 24 million people off health care insurance.

In fact the bill failed because it made the class warfare too transparent. You can’t give CEOs $500k tax breaks and throw 24 million people off health insurance and still be maintaining that you represent “the people.” When the GOP congressmen spoke on t.v. of letting the market solve health care, what they really meant is that the poor who can’t afford health insurance would just not be able to have it. In the US, unlike India, the poor don’t vote, so Congress has no reason to fear the poor. And since the corporations managed to largely get rid of unions, they don’t fear workers, either.

The outrage is Trump’s bait and switch. He campaigned on making sure everyone has health insurance. Then his healthcare bill massively reduces the number of people who have health care plans.

The US has a two-tiered society. The higher tier has health insurance through work. The lower tier is disproportionately uninsured. Uninsured in the US means, you get your health care at the emergency room, and there is enormous expense to taxpayers, and that you have little physician access or preventative care. (studies show that health depends on preventative care and physician access.) Or if you have a little money and you need a scheduled surgery, e.g. you lose your home or bank account to pay for it, pushing you into the ranks of the poor.

The US is the only major industrial society that does not guarantee access to health care insurance to everyone.

The rich did not for the most part want the Affordable Care Act (“Obamacare”). They instructed all the Republican representatives and senators to vote against it, and all did. (Despite the occasional populism of some of them, the Republican Party politicians mainly represent the interests of the richest people in society.)

The Democratic Party is a hybrid, representing the middle class and also some types of corporation (Hollywood, Silicon Valley, etc.) I think President Obama genuinely cares about people, but for a professional politician who is a Democrat, the ACA had many advantages– helping constituencies that vote Democratic and underlining the usefulness of government.

It seems fairly clear that the American public does not understand class conflict. They mostly were never taught sociology in school. The government turned over the limited resource of bandwidth to corporations that make money by broadcasting commercials by other corporations. Television tells generations of consumers from childhood that corporations are your friend, they are sort of like a loving big brother, they get you things that are neat, they have your best interests at heart. And this propaganda does seem to sink in.

In fact, for many in the top 0.01 percent, the ACA/ (Obamacare) involves a slight tax increase. Since they are fabulously wealthy, that tax increase did not hurt them. But they minded it because if you are fabulously wealthy you are trying to take over other millionaires and need every single bit of the resources you can muster for this game of “Masters of the Universe.”

So why isn’t the public enthusiastic about an Obamacare that insures them and their relatives?

In part it is because Republican statehouses have figured out the vulnerabilities of the program and deliberately pulled funding, making it expensive for some people in some states, or introducing other defects. Deliberately.

In part it is because of fears that the government will tax white people and give the money to brown and black people.

In fact, half of those under the poverty line are white. But the corporations and wealthy who do not want their resources being used to keep the poor alive will make sure to play on these racialized fears.

So the GOP attempt to destroy Obamacare was a raid by the filthy rich on the slim resources of the poorer neighborhoods. It was a bank robbery.

It failed, this time. But bank robbers are persistent. Willie Sutton (1901-1980), a notorious such criminal, was asked why he robbed banks, and he replied, “That’s where the money is.” The wealthy and their hired guns in Congress will be back at the earliest opportunity. And most Americans won’t even know what hit them.

Related video:

CBS News: “Trump lashes out at Democrats after Ryan pulls health care bill”

22 Responses

  1. Willie would also have been a great Secretary of the treasury.
    Tax “where the money is” is an excellent tax policy.

  2. An interesting viewpoint, Professor Cole.

    But also, you need to remember that the ACA–even with it’s flaws–has given millions something they never had before: affordable health care and piece of mind. And yet it was difficult to pass it into law. Nonetheless, I’ll give President Obama credit for realizing that the GOP would try to trash it after he left office–but would fail.

    Twelve years ago the GOP, under another Republican President, tried to monkey around with Social Security. That move failed, and for reasons similar to the failure of the AHCA–many people were comfortable and/or depended on SS and would fight tooth and nail to prevent any attempt to get rid of it or privatize it.

    And finally, I am glad Obamacare still lives–it saved my life two years ago and took care of covering the bills when I had to be hospitalized and treated for a severe illness. I shudder to think what would have happened had I not signed up with Obamacare.

  3. Juan says that Obama genuinely cares about people. Juan says

    President Obama genuinely cares about people, but for a professional politician who is a Democrat, the ACA had many advantages– helping constuencies that vote Democratic and underlining the usefulness of government.

    Did Obama have a genuine care for people when he tried to shove through TPP at the end of his term?

    Here is a look at where Obama was in 2006. A junior senator who had already for a year been in dialogue with Bob Rubin about how to help out the people who have been left behind by globalization. Obama spoke at the kickoff meeting of The Hamilton Project in 2006. Bob Rubin from Goldman Sachs and involvement with Clinton’s movements away from the New Deal was the co founder of The Hamilton Project.

    Obama says that change will not be a bloodless process.

    Why was the junior senator from IL the only senator to attend this kickoff of a neo liberal foundation??? Was he elected or selected?? I don’t know the answer to that question but the point is what Obama stood before being president as a key to how he acted as president.

    The video of the speech and a rhetorical, color coded analysis of the speech is in this post from 2013

    Obama at the Hamilton Project, 2006: “This is not a bloodless process.”

    • I agree with you Don, I was not happy with much of what Obama did, but by the time ’08 had come around I was so disillusioned that I figured if he just did one thing, to wit, health care, I would be satisfied, knowing full well that he would be no better in terms of foreign policy (most likely) than what we had been getting in this country, well, forever. Yes, the thousands who have died abroad from his policies and who will be impacted is very bad – nay savage, but after suffering through (in my lifetime) the lies of Johnson and Nixon, the folly of Ford, the cruelty and racism of Reagan and its continuation by Bush I (and his horrific bombing of Panama and the horrors of the Iraq War as it was conducted and carried out), after the turn right by Clinton and his overseeing the growth of the prison-industrial complex and his betrayal of decency in his implementation of welfare reform (talk about class warfare!), and then the sheer horror of the men of stone that was the Bush II administration, what is anyone’s realistic alternative?

      I was a realist, and the ACA has had a tangible impact on my family – my sister-in-law and her family (three children) who live on our farm depend on it. She is diabetic and has a daughter who suffers from severe asthma and depression, who would likely be dead without the ACA. My sister-in-law divorced after she found out her husband was molesting kids – she did the right thing by divorcing him because she wanted to protect her own kids, but she ended up having to sell her business and became impoverished in the process – I imagine this sort of thing happens over and over and over in this country, and is not an exceptional case. I hoped Obama could accomplish one big thing and he did, and he was relatively decent when it came to environmental issues too (though by no means perfect).

      I think the failure of this savage bill is a testament to the thousands who have taken to the streets, airports, and the town halls – my only fear is that this will ease, and I think we need to keep a lot of pressure on the oligarchs in congress, in the White House, and among our elite. I think this time it worked. Get in the street; be a body at a town hall; call, email, and write to your reps daily. Run for local office or help support progressives who will run. Do as Juan suggests and try to live as “green” as possible. We can do this because there are more of us than there are of them, and remember a majority did not vote for this in November.

      But in terms of demanding perfection, remember the brilliant Thomas Jefferson owned slaves, and Lincoln, an idiomatic genius if ever there was one in the presidency, presided over the bloodiest war in our nation’s history all the while presiding over continued genocide of the native population in the western United States. There is no perfection – all you can do is support those who can get something accomplished that will build on the common good, and call out policies that are venal, cruel, and not in keeping with the values that will make for an inclusive democratic society and livable planet.

      The Republicans are down at the moment. We need to be relentless in our kicking until they pack up their hedge funds and high-tail it to their offshore villas, and realize that their brainsick raptures of rolling everything from rights for women to Social Security have no place among us.

      • As a realist, then I know you must want to put things in perspective as you try to do here. While I agree with many of the criticisms of Clinton and Obama, their foreign policies need to be highlighted in contrast to that of Republicans. Under Clinton the only real intervention was in Bosnia, which was to aid Muslims, and cost not one American life to combat and had very few civilian casualties. While drone strikes have been heavily criticized, they basically stopped the last year of the Obama presidency. Additionally, the last report of civilian casualties due to drone strikes, as I recall, was around 700 by several NGO’s such as Amnesty International. Compare that with over 100,000 Iraqis under Bush.

  4. I keep thinking the Republicans will all end up adorning poles along our city’s ring roads, but, somehow the rubes keep reelecting them. The whole AHCA debate came down to “Can we just make it a little more evil?” Maybe if the Democrats keep growing that spine they are working on….

  5. Thank you Juan. You are one of the few to even mention the possibility of class warfare in the media (I know you are just a blogger, but we have to take what we can get in America).

    The control of the media by the powerful/wealthy is so airtight in the US that class warfare is very rarely even mentioned in the media. And when it is mentioned it is usually to deny it’s existence.

    • There’s actually more of a prefunctory ad hominem dismissal usually given when the concept is voiced, since its history is a bit pink.

      The phrase is also often appropriated by the Right preemptively, whenever they make a move like this one on healthcare. Its like how Israel has learned to scream as loudly as possible about the Palestinians, at the moment the Israelis instigate new violence. The first thing a pickpocket does when you catch his hand is to start screaming about how you’re assaulting him.

      So, whatever else one might day about this administration, one should also add “incompetent”, for failing to deploy the indicated invective, as they have in the past.

  6. Why was “repeal/replace Obamacare” the on the legislative agenda before tax reform? The $3B cuts to Medicaid were supposed to offset proposed tax cuts to the filthy rich.

  7. Gore Vidal nailed it years ago when he labeled the U.S. government as proto-fascist.

    The question now is, “When, if ever, will the American people wake up?”

  8. I think it was the night of the 2008 election and a panel at CNN was discussing the results. Some conservative said some nonsense about the Democrats using class warfare. David Gergen, hardly a radical and actually a moderate conservative, said something which you almost never hear on TV. A close paraphrase is that he said, That war is over and the rich won. People who criticise Obama from the left will almost certainly agree that we live in an oligarchy. Yet they seem to think that a progressive can assume office and completely turn around a system that has developed over 30 to 40 years. The ACA is basically a Republican plan. The reason the Republicans hated it is not because, as they said, that it wouldn’t work, but because they knew it would since it already had in Massachusetts. The ACA wasn’t just about providing health care, it was also about changing the paradigm established by Reagan that the government is the enemy and the free market is the solution. That belief is the cornerstone of the power of the elite and it’s one reason the ACA is so important.

  9. Thanks for bringing up the class issue.
    Funny but not funny- Marx wrote that “religion is the opium of the people” back in the 19th century.
    Today, many go straight to the opiates.

  10. For years we have heard from the GOP that we must protect the US from terrorists because they want to come into this country and kill people.

    On January 29 David Himmelstein and Steffie Woolhandler, two well-respected health policy experts, reported that 43,000 American would likely die annually with repeal of the ACA.

    Republicans were trying to do this ON PURPOSE. So please do tell me, where is the real terrorist threat coming from that genuinely threatens this country?

    The GOP has a morality as barren as are the sands of Libya – they are men of stone. When policy is proposed as willfully cruel and savage as what they had proposed it is time to call it out.

  11. Professor Cole and with all due respect – The malevolent behavior of the current GOP is far more than a bank robbery, it is a full-blown slow-motion takeover of our country and everything associated on behalf of those few whose cynicism, h8 and avarice know no bounds.

    The devious extreme right-wing conspiracy which has INFESTED the GOP h8s anyone who does not funnel them MONEY$ or passion. Driven by naked racism and false prophecy, the agents of the “filthy rich” are more dangerous and unAmerican than any al Qaeda group who brings down buildings, the current GOP in concert with an illegitimate maladministration are in the process of IMPLODING OUR ENTIRE COUNTRY from the inside.

    Clearly describing these divisive acts against the people of our nation is vital and necessary but what to do about it is another issue altogether? The Romanov and Kennedy solutions must be ruled out, immediately. The resulting repression would incite and the order of succession is impossible.

    The current GOP by way of wide screen churches, peer group pressures and workplace bullying are dominating the educationally impoverished regions of the electorate which are also heavily gerrymandered and voter suppressed. This devious extreme right-wing conspiracy has also been very effective at a national level by promoting voter apathy through media both corporate-owned and the FAUXNews opinion-disguised-as-fact orifice.

    This GOP is now in the process of permitting a powerful foreign power to interfere with our national elections on their behalf which is tantamount to treason.

    Surely, there are actual loyal American Republicans out there who love and value the future of their country and are becoming aware they are being dangerously misled? If they remain duped, our country is in great peril and perhaps doomed?

  12. No plan along theses lines begins to touch the underlying problem of unrestrained, runaway health care costs due a monopolistic system, which cannot in this case be resisted, since we cannot really shop.

    The industry grumbles but makes do because of this reality. Its still business as usual for them under any such plan. Neoliberal economic doctrine falls on its face under theses circumstances, but its easy to understand and self-serving, so the GOP clings to it, even as the industry sucks the blood out of the overall economy.

    Healthcare has to be addressed by a single payer model or you’ll get what we’ve got, going downhill, every time.

  13. excellent piece.
    As I understand the process of obtaining the massive tax cuts for the very wealthy, there was a direct link to the repeal of Obamacare. Here goes: in order to be eligible to pass the Senate with a bare majority (instead of 60 votes, which would never happen) the loss in revenue from the tax cut has to be balanced by an equal cut in expenditures; this is called “reconciliation.” That is where the cuts in Medicare and Obamacare came in. The total amount to be taken from the poorest and given to the richest (including Trump) was supposedly to be some $500 billion. This was Paul Ryan’s scheme, which he dishonestly described as “healthcare.” The details didn’t really matter to him. Of course, they didn’t matter to Trump either, his first priority was probably to humiliate the illegitimate Kenyan black man, and he would certainly have profited bigly from the tax cut. Ryan counted on the 7 years of Obama-hating propaganda to allow him to blow the plan past Congress on party lines.
    Whether it would have passed the Senate is anyone’s guess, but the truly astonishing part of the story is that the reason it failed in the House was a substantial number of tea baggers for whom the massive taking from the poorest WAS NOT MASSIVE ENOUGH. i.e. they wanted essentially no health care for the poorest. Even eliminating maternal care, newborn care, and yearly physicals was not enough for them. By the time all that was cut out, the bill was totally bizarre and could not even pretend to be healthcare, even for the “moderate” GOP’ers in Congress.

  14. “In fact the bill failed because it made the class warfare too transparent.” It failed because the so called Freedom Caucus, aka Tea Party, Republicans didn’t think it was draconian enough.

  15. I think its less about racism and more about an Objectivist worldview, which brooks no redistribution by government, -or even public services other than law, pollcing, and the military. This and strict father morality has been heavily promoted by the right wing foundations, and I believe it is having an effect. Of course it is easy for racism to arise, as identifiable minorities that are seen as being less successful, must be intrinsically inferior, as social or environmental causes are almost completely discounted. I think this discounting of social and environmental determinations comes largely from the fear that admitting their existence would lead to demands to use government power to mitigate them.

    To me this seems consistent with the fact that many Trump supporters claim they are not racists, and are deeply resentful of the charge. They simply see a policy of rob from the poor and giving to the rich as a moral way of being.

    • Very insightful. Seems to me this issue is so much more directly important to peoples lives that it easier to track and perceive the underlying realities.

      How things are handled and resolved becomes more telling about Americas fate as a nation than relatively abstract issues, like how ISIS is dealt with.

      Of course, in both cases the question is what the country and its citizenry stand for.

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