If you have time for just one political article before the election, make it “The Lie Factory,” by historian Jill Lepore in the Sept. 24 New Yorker.
It concerns a California firm called Campaigns Inc., which Lepore identifies as the very first political consulting firm, founded in 1933 by Leone Baxter and Clem Whitaker, two people whom I, and probably most readers, had never heard of.
But Lepore tells an amazing story. Campaigns Inc. got its start running a progressive campaign against a referendum proposed by Pacific Gas and Electric. The utility was so impressed it hired Campaigns Inc. for its later referendums.
But the real significance of Baxter and Whitaker is that they coined the slogan that has prevented Americans from enjoying the benefits of the universal health insurance system enjoyed by everyone else in the world.
They started in 1945 when Earl Warren – later U.S. chief justice but then California’s Republican governor — proposed a public health insurance system. Warren, a wealthy man, had suffered from kidney disease and wondered how other people could afford the hospital bills.
Let’s pause right there. Had Warren been successful, at least one state would have had universal health care before anyone else — before the European pioneer, Britain (1948), and long before Canada’s national system (1984).
But, of course, he wasn’t. Campaigns Inc. coined the term “socialized medicine” to describe Warren’s bill, even though there was nothing remotely socialistic about it. It merely used public dollars to purchase insurance — exactly the same approach used by Medicare and Medicaid (1965), although those landmark programs fall far short of covering everyone.
Worse, the “socialism” described had nothing to do with European progressives. It referred to the National Socialism of Adolf Hitler. In one vile passage, here’s how Campaigns Inc., in 1945, described the dangers of public insurance: “Certainly we don’t want to be forced to go to a ‘state doctor’ or pay for such a doctor whether we use him or not. That system was born in Germany — and is part and parcel of what our boys are fighting overseas.”
Warren’s bill proposed no “state doctors.” It would merely have permitted everyone to see one. What Campaigns Inc. did was to take an actual Hitler technique, the Big Lie, to defeat a measure that could have produced a better future for all Americans.
Had Warren prevailed, we would not now be paying 50 percent more than any other country for health care, while still leaving out 50 million Americans. And we wouldn’t still be struggling over the Affordable Care Act, which will cover most of the uninsured but only at the cost of huge payoffs to for-profit insurers and drug companies.
Campaigns Inc. reprised its act when President Harry Truman proposed national health insurance in 1949. Congressional mail went from 4-1 in favor of the plan to 4-1 against. The American Medical Association, allegedly representing physicians, spent $5 million to amplify the false “socialized medicine” claim.
Read the article and see if it doesn’t change your view of the last 75 years.
Campaigns Inc. lives on. Mitt Romney used the last “foreign policy” debate to renew his pledge to repeal Obamacare. Considering that his major achievement in his only elective post, governor of Massachusetts, was a remarkably similar plan, the Republican presidential nominee’s hypocrisy is staggering.
His answer for the 50 million uninsured is the same as George W. Bush’s eight years earlier — visit the emergency room; they’ll do something. To suggest that Americans with heart disease and colon cancer should wait until they can’t function, when these preventable conditions could have been easily treated years earlier, is insulting.
In New Hampshire, the Democratic candidate for governor, Maggie Hassan, wants to accept the federal offer to expand Medicaid to thousands of uninsured residents, 100 percent paid for. Her Republican opponent, Ovide Lamontagne, wants to skip the expansion and have the federal government hand over the cash so New Hampshire can somehow design its own health-care system. Seriously, folks, that’s his plan.
Everyone says this election is about the economy, but four years after the biggest financial crisis since the Great Depression, things are improving slowly and neither Romney nor Obama will have a huge impact. The bigger factors are how Congress crafts the budget and how the Federal Reserve handles the money supply.
The big issue is health care: continue Barack Obama’s great experiment or do nothing with Mitt Romney. Before you vote, consider whether we should still be going down the long, dismal path that Campaigns Inc. helped set us on all those years ago.
Douglas Rooks is a former daily and weekly newspaper editor who has covered the State House for 25 years. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.