A nation of children roots for the Mafia
By Joe Bageant
Every day I get letters asking me to weigh in on the healthcare fracas. As if a redneck writer armed with a keyboard, a pack of smokes and all the misinformation and vitriol available on the Internet could contribute anything to the crap storm already in progress. Besides that, my unreasoned but noisy take on this issue is often about as welcome as a fart in a spacesuit. None of which has ever stopped me from making a fool of myself in the past. So here goes.
There ain't any healthcare debate going on, Bubba. What is going on are mob negotiations about insurance, and which mob gets the biggest chunk of the dough, be it our taxpayer dough or the geet that isn't in ole Jim's impoverished purse. The hoo-ha is about the insurance racket, not the delivery of healthcare to human beings. It's simply another form of extorting the people regarding a fundamental need -- health.
Unfortunately, the people have been mesmerized by our theater state's purposefully distracting and dramatic media productions for so long they've been mutated toward helplessness. Consequently, they are incapable of asking themselves a simple question: If insurance corporation profits are one third of the cost of healthcare, and all insurance corporations do is deliver our money to healthcare providers for us (or actually, do everything in their power to keep the money for themselves), why do we need insurance companies at all? Answer: Because Wall Street gets a big piece of the action. And nobody messes with the Wall Street Mob (as the bailout extortion money proved). Better (and worse) presidents have tried. Some made a genuine effort to push it through Congress. Others expressed the desire publicly, but after getting privately muscled by the healthcare industry, decided to back off from the idea. For instance:
- Franklin Roosevelt wanted universal healthcare.
- Harry Truman wanted universal healthcare.
- Dwight Eisenhower wanted universal healthcare.
- Richard Nixon wanted universal healthcare.
- Lyndon Johnson wanted universal healthcare.
- Bill Clinton wanted -- well we can't definitely say because he made sure that if the issue blew up on him, which it did, Hillary would be left holding the turd. Is it any wonder that woman gets so snappy at the slightest provocation? First getting left to hold the bag on healthcare, then the spots on that blue dress.
So why did American liberals believe Obama would bring home the healthcare bacon? Because they live in an ideological cupcake land. It's a big neighborhood, a very special place where "Your vote is important," and "by electing the right candidate, you can change our beloved nation." Most of America lives in that neighborhood, even though they've never personally met. It's a place where the shrubbery and flowerbeds of such things as "values" and "hope" bloom. Hope that our desires coupled with the efforts of a good and decent president can affect "change." Evidently these voters never heard the old adage, "Hope in one hand and piss in the other, and see which one fills up first."
The slaughter of the innocents by the healthcare lobby has pretty much extinguished the political usefulness of the word hope. Nobody, especially Obama, uses it now.
The first on-stage scuffle of the Obama administration, government assured healthcare, quickly settled down into the accustomed scenario of very rich and powerful people in expensive suits "finding middle ground," otherwise known as the status quo. Single payer healthcare soon became "a consumer government alternative to private insurance," and is now "a system of health cooperatives. Next comes "slightly better health insurance (but not medical services) than before, from the same insurance companies but at twice the price; don't worry though, we're increasing your tax load so you can afford it."
The televised screaming matches, having served their purpose, are over now. The presidency and the nation have settled back into the normalcy of the officially sanctioned state consciousness and its curious non-language, one modified and shaped daily by corporate and government symbiosis. Over generations we've come to internalize this imagistic language, which is quite theatrical when heated up for public consumption and dully bureaucratic when attention is to be avoided. But always it is void of content and any sort of truth. In the corporately managed theater state, it's not whether a thing is true that matters, but how it sounds and looks and what you call it. Call end of life counseling a "death panel," and you've just turned mercy and choice into one more Great Satan.
In the end though, healthcare American style comes down to the preferences of two elite castes, Congress and corporate powers, neither of which can exist without the other. Corporations need the government to sanction their methods of extracting wealth from the public. Congress needs corporations to finance its campaign chariot races. Right now members of Congress have an excellent chance of putting the arm on healthcare industry lobbyist for some real cash:
Senator Smedley Heathwood: "Oh, I dunno, I'm sort of liking Obama's alternative."
Godzilla Healthcare Inc.: "Here, take this suitcase full of gold bullion, call me if you run short. And remember, we've got that ‘Life is a pre-existing condition' bill coming up in the Senate soon."
Siamese twins, joined at the hip, they share the same goal, preservation of control -- the government's social control and the corporations' economic control. And you cannot have one without the other.
Obama got elected on hope of reform, despite that one cannot reform a mafia, only pay increased extortion moneys. He's fortunate that it was not a genuine demand for reform, just hope. We're fortunate we did not demand reform because we're not going to get it. Obama doesn't have to reform the healthcare industry mob. All he has to do is look like he took a shot at it, and hope it's convincing enough. What we've seen is probably his best shot, too. Why not? There is always the off chance it might work, in which case his "presidential legacy" would be assured. And if it doesn't, well, the serious progressives who are screeching mad at him now will still have to vote for him as the incumbent in 2012. Or learn to love somebody like Mitt Romney, Sarah Palin, Mike Huckabee, Jeb Bush, Rick Santorum (take your pick) or some as-yet-unknown the GOP drags out from under the hen house and ballyhoos as a "new face." Luckily, Dick Cheney is out of the question, barring a coup by the far right wing of the schizophrenic GOP. But still, after Palin, one shudders at the prospects.
Whatever happens, we will not see Congress stand up against the extortion of its people by the healthcare industry. We will not see even the most ordinary kind of healthcare declared as a human right, as it is in so many other nations. We will see, however, greater access to the public treasury by the insurance corporations.
Every nation in the world is now party to at least one treaty that addresses health as a human right, including the conditions necessary for the delivery of health services. Healthcare is a right under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Hell, even Saddam Hussein provided healthcare.
That Americans cannot grasp this fundamental aspect of human rights (but then we cannot even get child nutrition, or limiting the number of times you can taser an old lady in an airport, out of the starting gate) and join the civilized world and assure its people of such things is testimony. Testimony that we live in a vacuum exclusive of the accepted standard of mercy and decency common to civilized democratic nations elsewhere. Testimony that even we the citizenry would rather maintain and spread lies than accept truths such as most people in countries with universal healthcare would not ever give it up in favor of the U.S. system.
Most of all though, it is testimony that we live under an induced mass hallucination where spectacle replaces fact, information and common sense. In place of actionable information, we are served up screaming red faces -- angry mobs manufactured for TV protesting "government interference in the people's healthcare choices." One must wonder what inchoate anger is really being tapped by the organizers of these strange "citizen protests." As usual, the straw boogeyman of socialism is once more invoked. "Oh my god! I'll have to give up my $1,100 a month insurance bill, which only pays 80% of my insurance costs AFTER I pay the initial $5,000 of those costs! If that ain't Joe Stalin all over again, I don't know what is!" We get the false media drama of "death panels."
And being captives of spectacle and hyperbole, we friggin love it. The idea of death panels plays to our childish attraction to the extreme and entertaining. Killing Grandma is far more entertaining to our imaginations than say, guaranteed access to chest screens and blood pressure medicine. Two generations into this national infantilization, it's now the only national life we know -- the ideological spectacle made real.
To steal a page from Guy Debord, society has become ideology. We live in an antidialectical false consciousness, imposed at every moment on everyday life as spectacle. We are held in thrall. Our faculty of ordinary encounter has been systematically broken down. In its place we now have our unique social hallucination. Never do we encounter anything directly, yet we get the illusion of encounter. This includes encounter with each other. Anyone who lives in meatspace with his or her fellow Americans could not deny 57 million of them health. In this society no one is any longer capable of recognizing anyone else. Instead, we see others as the screamers at the town hall meetings, or as communists who want to give free healthcare to illegals and establish death panels. Or as Christian fundamentalists, or as liberals or conservatives. Or as celebrities or as nobodies.
But most importantly, whenever we must reach any significant agreement as human beings, whether it be about something as globally insignificant as U.S. domestic policy (we are only 6% of the world population, and though it hasn't soaked in yet to most Americans, we're also broke and owe the Chinese loan shark a wad) or as significant as global warming, we immediately cede the field to ideology. We simply don't know how to do anything else.
Ideology has utterly triumphed. It has separated us from ourselves and built itself a home inside our consciousness, from whence it operates now as our reality. There is no going back, only forward. Given that we are a nation of children who prefer to close our eyes and make a hopeful wish with Tinkerbelle, rather than give hope the piss test, then let us hope to high hell. We may as well go for broke. So let us hope that, in going forward, new and unforeseen developments in the national consciousness occur. Developments that offer an escape from this one so deeply colonized by the corpo-political machinery we created -- and which in turn recreated us. One that will break us loose from enthrallment. Maybe collision with a giant asteroid. Or that Garth Brooks will be barred from making a fifth comeback tour. That's one hope. A consciousness shattering event by American standards.
Another hope is for an absolute and total collapse of the system.
At this point, I'll take what I can get.