It’s an election year in the USA and passions are running high. And that’s a good thing. A passionate electorate is the engine of democracy. But undisciplined passion can run awry and when emotion trumps reason, the debate on which democracy depends can descend from constructive spit-balling (throwing out ideas for discussion and expressing solutions to a problem in order to see how they are received) into uninformed name-calling (a form of verbal abuse in which insulting or demeaning labels are directed at an individual or group).
This election cycle, the big spit-ball is Medicare for All, a plan to replace all private health insurance companies in the country with a government-run, single-payer system, supported by taxes that, according to its proponents, will guarantee comprehensive healthcare services for every American, including the currently uninsured, at a lower cost than now exists within the private sector.
Over on the name-calling side, the most commonly-heard epithet hurled at the supporters of Medicare for All is “socialist.” The use of that word is intentional; worldwide, socialism has had a checkered history, and although there have been many instances of successful socialist administrations in American political history (think Milwaukee for much of the 20th century), the word’s association with less than successful and even repressive and sometimes brutal foreign, “socialist” regimes, makes it a convenient bugaboo for those who want to attack reforms that shift any power away from corporate capital and into the hands of the broader citizenry.
If you call your opponent a socialist, you infer that he or she wants to completely take over all private enterprise in the country and turn America into, not just a socialist state, but a failed one at that, with all the attendant misery that exists in the ones that have tried some variant of “socialism,” often after a successful military coup or popular revolution, but in the end, could not sustain its aspirations and wound up no better than the governments they had replaced. It’s a strong argument, but it’s laden with more emotion than reason, because the fact is America, itself, is, and always has been, a mixed economy – free market capitalism mixed with some measure of government control and enterprise, i.e. “socialism.”
A mixed economic system is one that protects private property and allows a level of economic freedom in the use of capital (we do), but also allows for governments to intervene in economic activities in order to achieve social aims and for the public good (we do that, too). All levels of government in America – local, state, and federal – have always played a role in the economic affairs of the nation, and over the course of our history, many services have been provided under the direct control of the public sector – education, the courts, roads and infrastructure, postal delivery, national defense are all examples of socialist institutions that exist within the greater part of America’s capitalist economy.
To be clear, we are not advocating for Medicare for All; we are merely criticizing those who would rather name-call than join in the spit-balling. Because the argument is not capitalism versus socialism; we have both, so it’s disingenuous to deny it. It’s about what do we think (just spit-balling here) is the correct ratio between the two? Medicare for All would be a major realignment of the balance, that’s true, but the balance has always been shifting to one degree or another in America’s economic history. There have been times when more of a laissez-faire economy existed (think the Gilded Age in the late 19th century), and times when government exerted more control (think FDR and the New Deal).
So, no doubt, the balance with keep shifting and this debate will continue well into the rest of this year, and if past is prologue, for many years to come. We only hope that the arguments will be about the merits of any new healthcare initiative, or indeed, any proposed program or policy put forward by any of the vast number of candidates – local and national – looking for support, and not descend into ad hominem verbal attacks.
In other words, let’s keep our tempers cool and our passions just a tad more disciplined, citizens. November is a long way off, and nobody was ever harmed by too large a dose of civility. So how’s about it: a lot less name-calling and a bit more spit-balling?