Friday, February 5, 2016

Bernie vs Hillary and the Fierce Urgency of Now

There is a Republican debate sometime soon, but I'm still reeling from that masterful 2 hours the Democrats gave us, courtesy of Maddow and Todd and MSNBC.

Ms. Clinton and Mr. Sanders confronted the actual thinking which voters, if they are intelligent, will have to consider before casting their votes. For the 40% of the nation who are weighing whether it should be The Donald or Cruz or Rubio, the process of thinking is irrelevant, but for the Democrat or the Independent, last night gave everyone something to chew on.

The basic argument is not whether change is needed. Both candidates want to get the country to the same place. What they are arguing about is what strategy will be most likely to succeed. Ms. Clinton says America does not change by revolution, by large leaps forward, however much we might wish it would. Mr. Sanders says the forces he wishes to overthrow are so dug in, the only way to dislodge them is with a frontal assault: a Wall Street which embraces as its business model fraud, a system in which wealthy individuals and corporations are expected to buy politicians, which is inherently, structurally corrupt cannot be changed by nibbling around the edges.

Sanders, in fact, sounds much like Martin Luther King, who was constantly being counseled to move more slowly, to appreciate it will take time to change minds and hearts, to not push his fellow countrymen to move faster than their culture would permit. But King argued for the "fierce urgency of now" and the movement he led could not possibly have succeeded by incrementalism. 

Some would say that movement did not, in fact, succeed in the end. Yes, the Voting Rights Act was passed to allow Blacks to vote in the South and yes, Blacks were admitted to elite colleges and yes, Blacks entered the professions and the suburbs in greater numbers. But there was fierce resistance. There were riots over busing in Boston. And now the Supreme Court has nullified the Voting Rights Act, and the proportion of Blacks in elite colleges is falling and white flight left many upwardly mobile Black families living in a new ghetto, walled off from wealthy white gated communities.

In fact, Ms. Clinton has history on her side in the case of Medicare. In 1965, when LBJ managed to get Medicare signed into law, the law was a vestigial thing, a mere embryo of the colossus it would become. It covered only the fees of physicians seeing patients in hospitals, not the hospital charges, not the lab or radiology tests, not drugs, not follow up care and no outpatient services at all. Of course, the Republicans and the American Medical Association said it was the first toll of the bell of imminent collapse of American civilization and outright communism. 

The men in the government who fashioned the law, civil servants working with Congressional staffers, figured if they could just start small, just get the one thing covered, and if that worked out okay, then next year they might add something else. And that's exactly what happened, and now fifty years later, Medicare has become an institution it is hard to imagine we didn't always have. How could we live without Medicare?

Bernie Sanders is saying someday we'll all be shaking our heads wondering how we could have been so foolish as to not see that Medicare for all was inevitable.

But Hillary knows nothing in government is inevitable and she is saying the way we'll get where Bernie wants to go, to universal Medicare, is the way we got to Medicare in the first place, small steps.

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