By Enrique Lopetegui
Texas activist Jim Hightower's take on the health mess.
All this "grassroots" anger... What’s real and what’s been orchestrated?
I think there’s a lot of real anger across the country about health care, the Wall Street bailout, the way corporations send jobs out of the country, how they get tax breaks and take advantage of tax payers. A wide range of people are pretty fed-up with Washington. But these particular town hall meetings is an astroturf effort by insurance companies and right-wing groups headed by the likes of Dick Armey and Rick Scott, who’s been very active and has been presenting himself as a business expert who knows about health care, when in fact he got dumped by his own board of directors from the largest hospital chain in the country, Columbia/HCA, about ten years ago. He is known for the fraudulent practices that ACA, under his leadership, was doing, including bulking Medicare. So they fired him, and he’s running around, orchestrating… He’s doing ads on TV. That part of it is totally illegitimate and cynical.
What’s the difference between, say, FreedomWorks and MoveOn.org?
The difference is that MoveOn alerts people on actions that they take, and then people respond to that. [The others] actually set up the meetings, actually target certain members of Congress who are having town hall sessions and even move people in and provide the talking points, the placards… And the oil industries are involved in the same thing. The oil industry had twenty rallies across the country to oppose climate change legislation in Congress, and they set up this organization called Energy Citizens in Houston. They just had a big gathering there, days ago, and the oil companies provided T-shirts for them, things like “I’ll pass on $4 gas,” which is ironic, since it was the oil companies who brought us $4 gas. They’re creating these events. If you are an employee at a gas company and ask for time off to be with your daughter, they’ll say “we’re not a charity.” But they gave time off to employees and had buses to drive them over to a little corporate rally on behalf of oil corporations. There’s plenty of regular folks who come to these meetings, but they’re used and confused, and usually are unaware of it. When they say “”keep your government off my Medicare…” for example… (laughs) Medicare is a government program! This is a right-wing orchestrated protest, and there is nothing wrong with people being out there. But they need to get a grip on who is using and confusing them. Not too many of the old-time [right wing] populists would’ve rallied on behalf of health insurance corporations.
But Obama still sounds optimistic about getting the bill approved, even with a public option. Do you believe him?
It’s still up to Obama to push that and push it hard and stop wobbling. He’s the one who started the problem last weekend, when he and [Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen] Sebelius said “it’s not absolutely necessary” to have a public option. If you surrender that, then you surrender the whole fight. He’s got to push it and he’s got to push it hard. Yes, the public supports a public option. It will work for people and once the program is actually implemented, just like Medicare was in the 60s, people will say “Oh, this is what it is! I like this!” And they’re going to like this public option, if it is done right.
Do the democrats need the blue dog democrats or they can do it by themselves?
No, and that’s why there’s got to be a lot of pressure on those blue dog democrats. These people need to say whose side they’re really on, because without a public option this is just a bogus reform.
What should people do?
That’s the key right there: it’s not going to come from Washington. That’s where the lobbyists have the control. Don’t go to Washington, these people live in your districts, you have their offices and phone numbers. Go see them. Bring two or three people. Have a lot of people going to see them. Obama has a network of millions of people on the Internet. That’s the only thing that’s going to make it happen.
What’s the problem with non-profit co-ops?
There’s co-ops and co-ops. Many co-ops nowadays are private corporations operating as co-ops. It’s very hard to organize those, you’re not certain of getting the real contrast you’d get from a government-financed insurance company. I’m for co-ops, but it’s not guarantee that by calling it a co-op is going to be any different than the existing insurance companies.
I’m just reading that Obama “guarantees health care reform will pass,” but not a mention of a public option…
Yes, he’s going to pass health care reform, but what kind? It’s got to have [a public option], or it will not be a real reform. It will pass in the House, I think.
The Senate is a little more complicated…
Yes. First of all, Obama handed the authority to write the bill to Max Baucus, a corporate democrat from the get-go. This guy’s not on our side!
But Obama needs to claim some kind of victory, even without the public option, or he's totally screwed. But in that case, won’t Republicans also claim victory?
[No public option] is not a victory, it’s a capitulation to the insurance companies.
What if Obama gets real and is able to pass it with a public option? What would that mean for the mid-term elections?
It will give people some faith that change is possible. That’s the key for me. If he doesn’t stand up, if people don’t see that he’s standing up, or if he talks but doesn’t deliver the goods, then he has a problem.
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