Why Everyone’s Afraid of the Big, Bad Socialist (and why it’s a sheep in wolves’ clothing)

If you want to destroy a program, call it “socialist.”  Unfortunately, most people who invoke this term of late have no idea what it means.  For those defacing pictures of Obama to make him look like Hitler, Socialism is not Nazism.  Hitler was a fascist – meaning that he crushed opposition, symbols of power and race were paramount, and the nation was exalted above the people. Socialism, on the other hand, merely means that the government manages the production or distribution of certain goods.  For the love of God, please stop conflating socialism with the Nazis or communists. Socialism may be ugly in its extreme, but there is nothing ugly about many stripes of socialism.

Public education is socialist.  The preservation of streams and clean air is socialist.  Public libraries are socialist.  Requiring car insurance is socialist.  Disaster relief is socialist.  Medicare is socialist.

If Medicare is a federal program overseeing health benefits for those over 65, then why does it stir up hysteria when the government suggests a similar option for the rest of us who are under 65?   Probably because lobbyists have done a great job of confusing the issues.  They are making it seem like the government will take away your insurance and replace it with sub-standard care.  This is a misconception. The president’s current plan does not limit choice, it expands it.  If you are under-insured, the plan merely provides another option similar to what members of Congress have.  There would be no “death panel” that decides whether you receive care.   Rather, you would be given information on options and risks of intubation and feeding tubes, and YOU would decide what to do.  Incidentally, we have data that indicate that people who receive end-of-life counseling are not less likely to get care; in fact, it improves quality of life and attitude.

We also have data on health care reform.  It all points in the same direction.  We need to cut costs.  We need to insure more people and divorce employment from insurance.  We need to stop incentivizing the liberal ordering of unnecessary tests.  We need to realize that for every dollar we spend on futile measures, we are taking away resources from effective prevention and treatment.

When it comes to highly politicized issues, we almost never have access to the kind of data that we have here.  For starters, we know that Americans pay twice as much as other industrialized nations and we have far worse outcomes.  We rank in the bottom percentiles on life expectancy and infant mortality, and we have roughly two times the rate of heart disease, stroke, and diabetes. Apparently, more is less.

But insurance company lobbyists would have you believe that the status quo is amazing and no one wants change.  In order to get a sense of the true health care climate, what we really need to do is chat with those who are sick.  They will tell you that they spend their Saturdays fighting insurance companies to pay for claims. They are forced into bankruptcy due to cancer and they’re kicked out of their homes despite having a lifetime of good credit.  We need to stop listening to corn-fed cattle, herded to the townhall meetings by insurance lobbyists who are hoping to create a real-life episode of the Simpsons – complete with the mob psychology. Maybe if they confuse us enough we will shoot ourselves in the foot and squash important change.

But why is change so unattractive?  Are we dragging our feet because we believe that only other people get sick, and if they do, it’s their fault? Are we naively wedded to the American ideal that we don’t need the government to help us out of problems (unless, of course we are “too big to fail,” then please send the government checks.  Sincerely, Corporate America.)  Surely, now more than ever, we realize that none of us is immune from losing our jobs and insurance.

Health care is a public good – like libraries, education, and the environment.  Should the free market provide education, while poor kids slip through the cracks?  Should capitalism decide how much of our forests to destroy?  Of course not. We need to stop invoking socialism as an automatic conversation stopper.  Widespread socialism can be wasteful.  But in some cases, socialism is not only moral, it’s critical to the sustainability of our society.  — Teneille Brown