Adam Cohen, writing in the New York Times, discusses FDR’s skill in defining and maneuvering public option towards constructive social goals. Cohen skillfully argues a very fine point here, and picks a great example to make it: Roosevelt’s championing of a different sort of public option. Can you imagine how different American life would be today if something like this was a legacy of the New Deal? WHO in their right mind would have been against this?!?!
As governor of New York, Franklin D. Roosevelt crusaded for “public power,” government-owned electric plants. He was outraged by the high prices that monopolistic utility companies were charging and by their refusal to bring electricity to rural parts of the state, which, they said, could not be done economically. Public plants, Roosevelt said, could bring power to those who needed it and serve as a yardstick for measuring and keeping in check the prices charged by private power companies.Nice one, Adam Cohen. As he goes on to point out, our government has long been in the health care business, running Medicare, Medicaid and the GI hospitals. The entire essay is essential reading.
Many decades later, a major point of contention in the debate over health insurance reform is the so-called public option, a government-run program that would compete with private insurers. Critics have tried to paint it as a wild-eyed experiment, but it echoes F.D.R.’s battles for public power — in fact, the entire New Deal he later created. The argument Roosevelt made — that a government program could fix the flaws in a poorly functioning private market — applies with even more force in health care.
In the early 20th century, electricity was a hot political issue. It was expensive and did not reach many parts of the country. To Roosevelt, it was an important social justice issue. “When he talked about the benefits of cheap electricity he did not think in terms of kilowatts,” a top adviser said. “He thought in terms of the hired hand milking by electricity, the farm wife’s pump, stove, lights and sewing machine.”
When he ran for president in 1932, Roosevelt made public power a cornerstone of his campaign. In a speech in Portland, Ore., he explained that it could be a “birch rod in the cupboard,” which the citizenry could use to punish private power companies that were gouging the public or not providing good service. Critics accused Roosevelt of Bolshevism, but he was not deterred. Public power was no more radical, he said, than the public mail.
Today we have a bunch of anti-FDRs, assholes like Joe Lieberman who pats himself on the back every chance he gets that he personally is the deciding factor in the entire health care debate. Lieberman is a war-mongering class-warrior (he’s got his, who cares about you?) who would rather spend America’s tax receipts in Iraq or Afghanistan than pay for your health care.
How much longer are we going to put up with this nonsense?