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Health-Care Reform Key Issue in 2008 Campaign: What Happened?

The current state of the health care "debate" illustrates, even with the election of Barack Obama and large Democratic majorities in Congress, we might have already lost the vocabulary for collective moral discourse.

Health-care reform was the single biggest issue in the 2008 campaign. Everywhere any of the candidates went, especially town hall meetings, they were peppered with the question: "What are you going to do about the dismal state of our nation's health care system?" There weren't any 'Tea Baggers' descending on these places demanding the candidates pledge that they do nothing to change the miserable private health care system we currently have.


Even John McCain and Sarah Palin had to pretend they had a plan and talked up all sorts of nice sounding "reforms," such as shopping for insurance across state lines, that would do little (if anything) to stop the insurance and pharmaceutical corporations from gaming the system. What happened that so changed the terms of the health care debate?

Adam Smith, in The Wealth of Nations, refers to capitalist business elites as "an order of men whose interest is never exactly the same with that of the public, who have generally an interest to deceive and even to oppress the public, and who accordingly have, upon many occasions, both deceived and oppressed it."

The same type of business people Smith identified 233 years ago run our political economy today. For them the system works best when elites make the most fundamental decisions for our society, unencumbered by the trappings of "democracy," and when the population is depoliticized, misinformed, or both.

Single payer? "Off the table."

Tax the windfall profits of health insurance and drug companies? "Off the table."

Volume buy drugs to control costs? "Off the table."

Public Option? (We'll see).

The elites have spoken.

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Forty years ago, the social theorist Paul Baran pointed out that contemporary capitalism's emphasis on marketing and advertising is designed "to make people want what they don't need, and not to want what they do." It's painfully obvious that we need a national health care system that provides every American with access to affordable, quality care. But with the "Running of the Tea Baggers" this August we see the power of elites to "deceive and oppress" the public, and to confuse people about what's in their best interest.

Even in times of peace and prosperity the corporate media environment produces false needs and uses corporate marketing techniques to manipulate consumers. This media environment also knows how to push all the right buttons that dwell in the hearts of "low information" citizens to allow elites to dictate national policy and to block reforms that will cut into their bottom line.

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The corporate-tool-Congressman-from-Louisiana-turned-corporate-tool-lobbyist-for-Big Pharma, Billy Tauzin, cut a deal with the White House so his clients, who have gorged themselves at the public trough, cannot be charged more than the arbitrary amount of $80 billion over a 10-year period because that just wouldn't be fair. And this calculation comes after George W. Bush, Thomas Scully, and Tauzin himself engineered a huge giveaway of taxpayer dollars to the pharmaceutical industry with the passage of the 2003 Medicare prescription drug bill.

Tom DeLay rammed it through Congress while the Bush White House lied about its true costs. Lying to Congress about the costs of a major overhaul of the nation's Medicare system might sound like an impeachable offense to some of us, but in the halcyon days when the Republicans controlled everything and had the corporate media cheerleading for them we heard nary a peep of criticism. Tauzin, Scully, and their buddies instantly became fabulously wealthy -- who wouldn't want to rake in over $2 million a year as a shill for Big Pharma?

The current state of the health care "debate" illustrates, even with the election of Barack Obama and large Democratic majorities in Congress, we might have already lost the vocabulary for collective moral discourse. Whenever someone says health care is a human right or that the federal government is capable of managing a large part of the nation's health care system (as it already does) these ideas are generally met with scorn, indifference, and an onslaught of lies.

Joe Palermo

Joseph Palermo

Originally published by The Huffington Post. Reprinted with permission from the author