Sunday, June 1, 2008

The first two questions

Out of purely historical interest—were it only so—, here are the first two questions at the "town hall meeting" hosted by KSTP in the Twin Cities on April 8, 1994.
Mr. Rob Horner [from St. Paul]: Hi. Welcome to Minnesota. It's indeed an honor. I'd like to talk philosophically. The philosophical basis for universal health coverage. I'll go first. Then I'd like to hear your philosophical arguments in support. I've got an interest in the ethics of redistribution. I firmly believe that the redistributionist policy undermines the basic sense of personal responsibility by transferring authority for decisions, crucial life decisions, from individuals to the state. When a do-everything government assumes control over a person's most personal responsibilities, we lose faith in our capacity to make our own decisions. And we've seen the deleterious effects of dependency upon an institution such as...

KSTP: Go ahead and ask your question.

Mr. Horner: OK, my question is: Is your plan really a health plan or is it a power grab? I'd like the philosophical arguments in support of your plan. I do not want to hear compassion. I want something more concrete.

President Bill Clinton: Compassion is part of my philosophy. But anyway.. Philosophically, I don't believe the government can solve all the problems for people and I don't think you should rob people of their personal responsibilities or their personal choice. That's why I don't have a government-run plan. It's private insurance, and people who don't have insurance have the responsibility to provide it themselves. But I believe philosophically it is wrong for people not to assume responsibilities for themselves and let other people do it. And what's happening today—let me just give you two examples. Self-employed person X decides, "Well, I"m not going to have any insurance." Then they get in a wreck. They show up in the emergency room. They can't pay. They could have had insurance, but they didn't do it. That's fine for them. Except they get the care. Nobody lets them die, and nobody thinks they should, and then the rest of us pay for it, and that is irresponsible. Another example: Restaurant X and restaurant Y next together. One covers employees. The other doesn't. One is fulfilling a responsibility not only to himself and the employees, but to the rest of society by not asking us to bear the risk of anybody getting sick. The other isn't. The other has a competitive advantage in business. I don't think that's right, and the system we have is not an individual responsibility system. It's an irresponsibility system. I don't plan to take over the health care system. I don't want the government to run it. I think the government should help to organize the markets so that small business people and self-employed people can afford to have insurance, and so that they're not disadvantaged as compared with big business and government, and I think it is irresponsible for people not to provide for their own health care and irresponsible for the government not to make it possible for people to do it no matter what their station in life.

KSTP: Mr. President, Angela has your next question on the other side of the room.

KSTP: Mr. President, this is Shirley Kaiser. She's a school principal from St. Paul, and she's concerned about losing certain benefits. Shirley...

Ms. Shirley Kaiser:
Good evening, President Clinton. I have been real concerned about the health policy. I followed it along since your beginning presidency. I wondered about your and Hillary's true concerns, if this is... I've been concerned that it might be a political issue with you, and I wondered how it will affect all Americans.

Will we really receive better service? I wondered, like people who have insurance, will we have to pay more. Will we get less then? Will we have less choice of doctors, less choice of hospitals? Will the doctors have less choice of the services that they could provide? Will we have more government debt? Will we have more taxes? I'm wondering if your program is about controlling rather than better service. And I realize that we in Minnesota are ahead of many states, but I do have real concerns.

President Clinton: Well, let me try to answer two or three of those questions. You asked ten at once, so, hah.. I, uh,.. The only real tax we have in this plan.. We have to raise funds to pay for the unemployed uninsured, which we're all paying for anyway, folks. When they get sick, they wait till it's too late, it's too expensive. They show up in the emergency room, and we pay. Under our plan, we would raise a fund to pay for them and to pay for the discounts on small business from two sources: one, a tax on cigarettes, and the other, a modest assessment on the biggest American companies that will get the biggest windfall from this. That is, most big companies are paying way too much in insurance now to subsidize the rest of us. They'll get a windfall. We ask for a portion of that back to create a fund for discounts for small business and for the unemployed uninsured. There will be more choice under our plan. This idea that every American today has a choice of doctors is a myth. More than half the American people who are insured in the workplace today don't have a choice. They get one plan, and that's it. Ninety percent of the American people who're insured in small businesses with twenty-five or fewer employees have no choice. Under our plan, there well be more choices. That's why so.. one of the reasons why so many medical groups have endorsed this plan. Not just the nurses, but the family practitioners, the pediatricians, any number of other medical groups have endorsed our plan because they know it guarantees more choice. Now, if you have a plan today that is better than the one in our bill, you can keep it. In other words, if you have a plan today where your employer pays one hundred percent of your health insurance, not eighty percent, and you continue to do that, that's perfectly alright. We don't change that at all.

Ms. Kaiser:
[Barely audible (It won't cost me more if)] ... it's an individual when you go for universal coverage? If I were to have a policy isn't it true that it will cost people that now pay for insurance more?

President Clinton: No, if you don't pay your.. If your employer pays all of your insurance now..

Ms. Kaiser: They don't pay for all of my insurance. I..

President Clinton: Well..

Ms. Kaiser: .. carry family coverage..

President Clinton:
.. the question is whether it will cost you more...

Ms. Kaiser: [inaudible, still speaking]

President Clinton: It depends on a lot of factors. In all probability you won't. All the.. Not our studies but all the non-partisan studies that have been done show that more than half the people will get the same or better insurance for the same or lower cost. By and large, the people who will pay more are people who aren't paying anything now, people who have only very bare-bones coverage, and young single workers will pay more so that older people can pay less and we can have a large community rating. Otherwise, most other people will pay the same or less. But if you have a better plan than we require, what this does is to put a floor under you.

[increasingly flustered...]

We've got—keep in mind—I mean, I don't know where.. You know.. I understand.. I saw all those ads putting out all that propaganda. This is just politics. This is just a power play and all that. Tell that to these people who are disabled, who can't get insurance. Tell that to these old people who choose between medicine and food every month. Tell that to the one hundred thousand Americans a month who lose their health insurance. Tell that to the farmer and the small business people who insure at thirty-five percent and forty percent higher rate. I mean.. This is a bunch of hooey.

If people don't agree with me, let them come forward and contest me with their ideas, but I am sick and, I think, a lot of you must be sick of all this hot-air rhetoric in all these paid television ads and all these hit jobs for people who are making a killing from the insurance business that we have today. It is wrong, and we should change it.

KSPT: Mr. President..

President Clinton: I don't.. Let me just say something. I don't go around.. First two questions.. I don't.. I don't.. I mean, I don't mind doing this. I'll do this all night, but it never..

One of the things I've learned in twenty years of public life is you don't get very far questioning other people's motives. Most people I've met.. Contrary to what you read, most of the people I've met in public life are honest, well-meaning. They're not crooks. They're trying to do the right thing. We have differences of opinion. But this health care debate in my judgement has really been retarded, in more ways than one, by all this motive-throwing-around we've had. You know, if I hadn't wanted to take on a tough issue, I could have found something else to do with my time. I believe we have to do this, and if we don't do it, you're going to have more people without insurance, more people who can't afford what they got and a terrible situation in this country, and that's why I did it. That doesn't mean I'm right, but let's argue about what should or shouldn't be done, and not talk about other people's motives. I've even tried to convince the insurance industry I don't want to attack their motives. I just want us to argue about what we should do.
Transcribed by Casey Bowman (1994)

Is universal coverage really a power grab? Is it about controlling?

I wrote a letter to the Minnesota Libertarian, which was published in their June 1994 issue
Now President Clinton is attempting to socialize the health insurance system. Beyond the issue of dependency discussed in the last newsletter, there is another essential point to see: insurance companies invest. Beware of those who would like to control via government where these investments go, whether to their favorite businesses or movements. As one advisor of the Clintons, Mr. Michael Lerner, put it in his book The New Socialist Revolution (a self-described "attempt to explain why the only changes that will make sense in America are those that will move this country to socialism..."): "The rub, as in so many areas, is the absence of money."

I suspect that these "new socialists" are going after our nest eggs. There lies the real power grab.

See - "The Meaning of the Politics of Meaning", Wall St. Journal, p. A15 (Jun 3, 1993). Lerner writes,
Hillary Clinton has been under fierce attack for having advocated a "politics of meaning" and advocating a societal tilt away from selfishness and toward caring and community. According to Paul Gigot on these pages last Friday [May 28], I am Mrs. Clinton's guru in these matters.

It's certainly true that the Clintons and I are on the same wavelength on this issue. But what, exactly, is so frightening about the politics of meaning?

For more and perhaps an answer to Lerner's question, and the "first two questions", read - Michael P. Lerner (1971) The New Socialist Revolution: An Introduction to its Theory and Strategy. Lerner writes,
This book is an attempt to explain why the only changes that will make sense in America are those that will move this country to socialism... (p. xi)

The collapse of the American economy ... would create international havoc and thus the conditions for significant struggle in all of the advanced industrial societies, where revolutionary forces would find it easy to seize the moment.... (p. 275)

There is every good reason to think that a revolution will not occur in this country before fifteen or twenty years, and it may be as far as thirty years away. (p. 276)

Probably one of the first actions of a socialist government would be to make free such essential services as health care.... (p. 310)

The rulers must come to understand that if there is to be a sea of blood, it will be made of their blood as well. The one thing that can make the American [socialist] revolution less violent is the clear and public determination of a majority of people to defend that revolution with violence. (p. 279)

The pleasant gentleman on the Long Island Railroad reading his Wall Street Journal or the quiet technician working in Palo Alto or on Route 128 in Massachusetts, the Wall Street banker or the assistant secretary of state or agriculture or defense, the professor of political science who runs the institute on Latin America or the liberal senator—all participate daily in making decisions that sustain the daily violence upon which this system rests. ... [S]urely the violent men who surround us, with their gentle manners and sweet smiles and well-manicured lawns and all the rest of the petty concealments that hide a life of "honorable" crime, should be tried for their crimes by the peoples of the world. (p. 271)

But what do we want? In a word, "socialism." ... But let us be clear what we mean by "socialism." Socialism is the ownership and control of the means of production, and, through that, the control of all areas of life, by the majority of people who work.... Socialism is radical democracy, democracy extended to every area of our collective lives. (p. 287)

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