Friday, 26 March 2010

The Obama Healthcare Bill - a victory for common sense?

Last Sunday the House of Representatives in the United States voted to pass a landmark healthcare bill, at the heart of President Barack Obama's agenda, by 219 votes to 212. The bill is set to extend healthcare coverage to 32 million more Americans, and marks one of the most significant changes to the US healthcare system since the Social Security Act creating Medicare and Medicaid was signed into law by President Lyndon Johnson in July 1965. Following the vote Obama remarked, "We proved that we are still a people capable of doing big things," adding "This legislation will not fix everything that ails our healthcare system, but it moves us decisively in the right direction". For those of us accustomed to comprehensive healthcare coverage, a fully-fledged welfare state and a history of state intervention in a number of areas of our lives, the passing of this bill will be seen as perfectly logical. Indeed many understandably fail to recognise why it has been such a struggle for President Obama to enact legislation such as this. However the fact that we in the United Kingdom, and indeed most other European nations have a history of the state being involved in the everyday lives of its citizens; indeed this is seen as a fundamental part of the 'social contract' associated with democratic societies, that in return for engaging with the political process, and paying taxes to fund the state it will in return provide a range of services, including healthcare, unemployment relief, and council-run housing programmes. In the United States this is not the case, for a significant proportion of Americans deem freedom to be 'freedom from state intervention', being allowed to own a gun, not being forced to pay taxes, and not being forced to subsidise the survival of others. The phrase 'survival of the fittest' was arguably invented to sum up the general American psyche. Therefore it is almost, and I repeat almost understandable that the struggle between advocates of said healthcare bill and its opponents look set to result in a near civil-war. The fact that the bill was passed devoid of any Republican backing is certainly an indication of the fight Mr. Obama faces to bring about his personal vision for America's future. It remains the case that Republicans would much rather finance an oil war in the Middle East, and send some of the poorest Americans to die in aid of bringing 'democracy', which more often than not manifests itself as years of instability, insurgency, economic collapse, social degradation and terrorism, than permit the Democrats to infect the 'home of the brave' and 'land of the free' with what they term 'socialism'.

It appears to me that a certain number of citizens residing in the United States may require a full definition of socialism, however in attempting to provide one I may find myself the victim of twenty-first century 'McCarthyism' for propagating the views of an 'evil' ideology that is in actual fact manifested in only a handful of nations around the world in its true form. Getting back to the healthcare bill, it seems the backlash from Sunday's momentous decision is beginning to be unleashed, with ten members of Congress supportive of the proposal reportedly having received death threats. The FBI have been called in to investigate a number of incidents in which bricks were thrown through the windows of certain Democrats and menacing phone messages have allegedly been left for politicians who supported the bill. Now forgive me for bringing in yet another international comparison, but I can't imagine anybody throwing bricks through David Cameron's windows if he were to support a slightly controversial proposal regarding changes to NHS funding, unless of course he were to move to Peckham and unfurl a banner reading 'I am richer, more educated and therefore better than you.' A brick thrown through the window of a Democratic Party office in Rochester, New York at some point over the weekend had a note attached, which read "Extremism in defence of liberty is no vice," quoting 1964 Republican Presidential candidate Barry Goldwater. Democratic member of the House of Representatives Bart Stupak was the victim of a number of deeply offensive and aggressive voicemail messages, which his office has since released. One male caller left a message saying "I hope you bleed ... (get) cancer and die," whilst at least one obscene fax message was said to have been received. Democratic Rep. Louise Slaughter, whose New York office window was smashed, revealed her concern saying "it's more disturbing to me that Republican leadership has not condemned these attacks and instead appears to be fanning the flames with coded rhetoric."

One can only hope that Americans learn to realise just what was achieved on Sunday, and that the Republicans who feel the need to protest in such a way can overcome their prejudices, and realise sooner rather than later that such bullying tactics are not only sickening but deeply in contradiction of the democratic process. In the meantime Barack Obama should allow himself a congratulatory pat on the back, as after years of chanting 'yes we can!', finally he has delivered what BBC North America editor Mark Mardell called the most significant victory for the president since he took office 14 months ago. However Obama's task is only likely to become more and more difficult, as he attempts to turn America from a 'disgraced world policeman' to the internationally respected, peaceful nation his rhetoric is calling for. Yet whilst Obama is set on reform, it will take a good few years for him to unite the nation behind any sort of consensus, if indeed such an achievement were ever to be possible. With Republican party leader John Boehner stating "We have failed to listen to America," following the successful vote, it will be interesting to see whether the swingometer that is American public opinion will back its President, or support the regressive Republicans in their crusade to bring the United States back into the nineteenth-century, and undo this brilliant achievement in favour of another illegal war in everyone's favourite area of conflict, the Middle East.

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