Vox Populi, Vox Invisibilia
As I write this, the Republicans of the U.S. House of Representatives have just voted to repeal the Affordable Care Act in favor of legislation of their own making. That the American Health Care Act is a complete disaster almost goes without saying; it will rob millions of people of the already inadequate health insurance that they currently have, and render many of them unable to ever get insurance again. It is an almost impossibly cynical move, a naked grab for cash by the billionaire class, a complete betrayal of the American public in the guise of protecting them. It is a perverse and singular occurrence, but in a way it seems like part of a continuum of events that has been happening for the last few years.
That the AHCA is itself an abomination is self-evident. It has been the work of the Republican Party for at least a hundred years to fellate the rich and punish the poor, but since the emergence of the Contract With America crowd in the 1990s and the subsequent rise of the Tea Party movement in the 2000s, the savage cruelty with which they have stripped the public of any pretense of government assistance and aided the transfer of the nation’s wealth upward to the billionaire class cannot be underestimated. Coming during the same week that the current administration is attempting to allow discrimination under the guise of religious freedom, gut the few remaining regulations on the financial industry that caused the most recent financial crash, and allow churches free reign to interfere in politics, there can be little doubt that they are fighting a class war and fighting it without quarter.
Exempting the Democrats from blame, however, would be a huge mistake. While it is true that no one from the alleged party of opposition voted for the AHCA, the tactical and strategic errors they can’t seem to stop making of late helped bring them to this position already. The decision to abandon the 50-state strategy helped Republicans decimate Democratic strength all over the country, and many of the congresspeople who pushed the vote forward ran largely uncontested. The Democratic leadership, not limited to but embodied in the obnoxious Nancy Pelosi, didn’t fight nearly enough against the plan, on the ridiculously overconfident assumption that they were simply giving their opponents enough rope to hang themselves. (This naïve and ahistorical attitude, reflected in other House Democrats joyously singing at the passage of the act, reflects a contempt for the victims of this kind of political gamesmanship that rivals that of the G.O.P. itself, and a downright bizarre tendency to publicly celebrate the party’s failures.)
More importantly, though, Pelosi illustrates an important point about the silencing of progressive voices in the public discourse. Before the vote had even been cast, she insisted that universal health care coverage in the form of Medicare expansion was off the table for the 2018 elections, and across the country, liberals and centrists alike are demonstrating that they would rather stay on the defensive and pretend the status quo should be preserved than to risk proposing something better. Democratic partisans, ignoring the constant rightward creep of their own elected officials, pretend they are part of some imaginary resistance while spitting venom at the so-called ‘purists’ of the left who wonder why they can’t be bothered to side with any legislation that would actually help vast numbers of people without condition or means. They hide behind the Trump victory, pretending it was a national mandate for racism and reaction instead of a narrow triumph enabled by an incompetent opposition, and insist America in 2017 will never go for socialist programs like universal health care to justify their milquetoast opposition.
There is ample evidence that this is not true. Trump voters, who never represented anything remotely like an electoral landslide, have been pretty vocal in expressing their displeasure with the Republican replacements to ACA; while they may have voted on the promise of its repeal, they certainly seem eager to keep it now that they’ve gotten a good look at the big nothing the G.O.P. wants to put in its place. Universal health care also polls extremely high amongst voters — the most recent polls showed 61% support for Medicare-for-all, numbers that exceed those for all other health care proposals and which are consistent across parties and demographics. More importantly, non-voters tend to favor universal health care by huge margins, and it is non-voters who have far more potential to sway elections than the kind of nibbling away at high-status suburbanites that Democrats continue to hope in vain will deliver them the White House. It would also represent an overall decrease in health care costs, despite the arguments of penny-pinching conservatives and gun-shy liberals.
So if universal health care, which is a political reality in practically every country on Earth, is such a political winner, why are the Democrats so reluctant to embrace it? This question is not difficult to answer, but the answer is distasteful to most liberals, who continue to insist that theirs is the party of kindness, humanity, and public service. The answer is that the Democrats are, for all their shows of social justice, a party of the wealthy, and have been for some time. They would rather see millions in misery than admit that programs common to socialized economies would work perfectly well here. A universal health care system would fundamentally shift the political landscape of the United States and open the door to not only a voice for those on the left, but real power as well. This, far more than the beatings they have received at the hands of the Republicans in recent years, would likely spell an end to the neoliberal status quo and a huge decline in their fortunes.
You can see this pattern repeated everywhere. Our ideas, as the Situationists said, are in everybody’s heads; even the most reactionary elements of the populace will talk themselves into socialism given half a chance. But while support for socialist programs are at an all-time high, socialist voices are silenced or ignored everywhere you look. Conservatives demonize them; centrists ignore them; liberals marginalize them. You will never hear a voice in support of even the mildest socialist programs on television, or see them in the editorial pages of any respectable publication; as recent events have made evident, you are far more likely to read articles in favor of fascism in the nation’s periodicals of record than you are to read articles in favor of a free college education. A health care initiative supported by a significant majority of the American population is so completely neglected in the everyday political discourse of our country that it might as well be a fairy tale out of Wendish folklore.
If we are to win, this must change. We on the left must make ourselves impossible to ignore. We must not speak; we must scream. We must take a lesson from our comrades who have come before in civil rights, in gay rights, in feminism: we must not let ourselves be made invisible. If Democrats will listen, we will teach them what to say: they say the words “universal health care” to the point of saturation until it is made a reality. If they will not listen, we will find someone who will.