Victory for all 

Tonight ... we rose above the weight of our politics. We pushed back on the undue influence of special interests. We didn't give in to mistrust or cynicism or to fear. Instead, we proved we were still a people capable of doing big things and tackling our biggest challenges.

—President Barack Obama, March 21, 2010

Finally, amazingly, thanks to courage and legislative skill, health care reform is going to happen. The president and most of his party held firm, despite having their jobs threatened by relentless, sneering, ruthless and furious foes, for whom no lies were too great.

No, it isn't perfect. But it is so much better than what we've had, and as time goes on further reform will broaden and deepen and improve and extend these reforms.

"This is not the end," Churchill said after the Allies won their first victories against the Nazis. "This is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning."

Think of it. Most Americans still don't understand what this bill does. Thirty-two million people who have no health insurance will be able to get it. Sadly, some will have to wait four years or even longer. Starting this year, however, insurance companies will no longer be able to cancel policies because people get sick, or charge women more than men. More poor people will be able to get Medicaid.

Though all the features in this health care reform bill won't be fully phased in for a decade, some people will find relief pretty much immediately. Within three months of the law going into effect, those who haven't been able to buy any insurance at all because of a "pre-existing condition" will be able to get subsidized coverage.

Buy it, that is, through a private, for-profit company that will now be required to sell it to them. That was denounced as a "government takeover of health care" by House Minority Leader John Boehner of Ohio, a sleek, tanned pseudo-fascist, who naturally, as a congressman, gets excellent government health care.

It was a bad night for Boehner; he knew he had failed his real constituents — the insurance lobby and other special interest groups.

"If you don't stop this [so-called health care reform] and I don't do it, one of these days you and I are going to spend our sunset years telling our children and our children's children what it once was like in America when men were free." But oops; that wasn't Boehner; that was Ronald Reagan in the 1960s, talking about Medicare, which George H.W. Bush called "socialized medicine," in 1964.

Interesting that neither of them breathed a word about repealing it when they got to the Oval Office. Bush minor did start muttering about making Social Security "voluntary." That made sense to him. After all, Republicans had denounced Social Security as a plan right from the Kremlin when it was passed in 1935. Yet when Bush started talking about getting rid of it, Republicans, who then had a majority in Congress, sent him a message even he could understand: Shut up.

Every year since I started to teach at Wayne State University, I have run into desperate students who have no health coverage at all, because they are legal adults and had been knocked off their parents' policies. Some tried to medicate themselves when sick, or just showed up at the ER. Some later took crappy jobs they didn't really want, jobs outside what they'd studied, just for health care.

But within six months of this bill becoming law, they will be once again eligible for health care under their parents' plans.

For many members, voting for this bill took courage. The torrent of lies about it was formidable, and the Republicans did an admirable job of brainwashing the country, from the men in the boardrooms who should know better, to the trailer park trash who regard Sarah Palin's reckless contempt for knowledge as profound.

Some courageous Democrats may well be defeated in November, partly as a result of their vote on this bill. That's also a risk that goes with leadership. Some senators who dared to oppose the outrageous impeachment of President Andrew Johnson lost their seats afterward. Those who do the right thing are always threatened. But nobody who isn't willing to do that should be in Congress.

But while passing health care reform was a victory for the people, and for common sense, we should be vaguely uneasy that the Republicans are behaving more like a gang of street thugs than statesmen. It wasn't that they just opposed the bill in lockstep, after their leaders made clear that not to do so would be political suicide. The problem was that their arguments against the bill were largely a tissue of lies.

At the end, after the bill passed, U.S. Rep. Dave Camp of Midland, one of Congress' richest members, tried a parliamentary trick to get it sent back to committee, claiming it wasn't anti-abortion enough. His fellow Michigander, the hard-core "pro-life" Democrat Bart Stupak, got up to say that indeed it was. At that, some Republican congressman shouted, "Baby killer!"

Classy, eh. This health care reform package relies entirely on the private sector to take care of the nation's health care needs.

If that's socialism, let's make the most of it.

Here's something to think hard about: Though we've all been endlessly worrying about President Obama's health care bill, the local business community and media have been starry-eyed true believers over the deal to sell the Detroit Medical Center to a private, for-profit Nashville company called Vanguard Health Systems. Hearts were fluttering when they promised to keep everything open for at least a decade, assume old debt, and plow in $850 million to upgrade facilities.

But has anyone asked why they would do this — or even if they can? One story, buried deep inside the Saturday Free Press, noted that Vanguard is "a relatively small hospital operator burdened by high debt." The story quoted a senior financial expert in New York as saying Vanguard "lives on the edge ... nothing better go wrong."

Whew. Now that's reassuring.

Just wondering aloud:
Everybody was sniggering a week ago, after the governor awarded a $9.1 million state tax break to one Richard Short, who claimed to be on the verge of starting a new company in Flint that would hire hundreds of workers and make environmentally friendly stuff for poverty-stricken Africa.

Unfortunately, nobody in the Michigan Economic Development Corp. checked Short's credentials. Turns out Short is not only a convicted felon and embezzler, but he owed $96,000 in restitution payments for his past crimes, and had failed to make payments.

When this was learned the next day, they immediately threw Short back in the can, where he will likely be for some period of time like, say, infinity. All well and good, except, ...

Isn't not making your restitution payments what got the Kingfish, er, Kwame Kilpatrick, in trouble? He owes quite a bit more than the Flint flim-flam man. So why isn't the mayor in jail too?

I can't wait to see who comes up with the most creative answer.

Jack Lessenberry opines weekly for Metro Times. Contact him at [email protected]

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