Round Three

ABC News and Univision hosted the Democratic debate at Texas Southern University in Houston on September 12th. Those putting questions to the candidates were ABC News anchor George Stephanopolous, World New Tonight anchor David Muir, Univision’s anchor Jorge Ramos, and news correspondent Linsey Davis, who asked the toughest and brightest questions.

The ten candidates chosen by the DNC were: poll leaders Bernie Sanders; Joe Biden; and Elizabeth Warren, all of whom are 70 and older and white; Amy Klobuchar; Kamala Harris; Cory Booker; and Beto O’Rourke, ranging in age from 47 to 59; then Julian Castro, Andrew Yang, and Pete Buttigieg, all of whom are 45 or younger.

A friend thought Castro’s going after Biden for “forgetting” what he had just said about his healthcare plan was a cheap shot — and I agreed. But it was a self-inflicted wound since Biden was caught either denying the truth or really had forgotten his own health plan’s buy-in requirements. They say that lying only makes it worse — and they’re right. Biden also proved himself incapable of apologizing for past mistakes.

Following the debate, the talking heads scored candidates as if it had been a boxing match: how many punches landed, how many punches suffered. The talking heads said that Castro had disqualified himself. Maybe, but the low punch he landed on Biden had been effective — and instructive. Voters now know that Biden can’t keep his composure debating the Liar-in-Chief.

Linsey Davis asked hard questions of Kamala Harris, and I’m not sure Harris stood up to the scrutiny of her own criminal justice record. Like Biden, she seemed incapable of apologizing for past mistakes. Buttigieg is eloquent but inexperienced. Much of the time he sounded like he was delivering an award-winning high schooler speech to the VFW. Bernie had lost his voice and never managed to explain his views to voters as well as Warren, and Booker neither gained nor lost traction but, for me, was unmemorable. Andrew Yang has always been the candidate to save Capitalism from the income inequality it produces — by giving people some crumbs to live on. That’s his whole shtick.

Beto O’Rourke is an earnest, decent guy with a mix of great and not-so-great positions. But his position on guns is what all Democrats should aim for — hell, yeah, we’re coming for your AR-15s. The talking heads said his quip was a gift to Republicans. Democrats practically wet themselves in shock. David Cicilline of Rhode Island, who sponsored an assault weapon ban himself, took pains to say that O’Rourke’s comment “doesn’t help.” Pete Buttigieg, who knows the damage the weapons can do, agreed that O’Rourke’s remark was just too much truth for voters to handle. Apparently, for mainstream Democrats, an assault weapon ban doesn’t really mean owners have to part with their weapons of war.

Finally, there was Amy Klobuchar, with her polite Midwestern version of “screw it, here’s what I think,” talking about legislation that could be voted upon today. While Klobuchar is a Centrist and hardly a visionary or a reformer, I can well imagine her at Donald Trump’s empty Oval Office desk, plugging away in an earnest bipartisan fashion at issues and political realities the country faces. If Democrats really need a Centrist to win, perhaps this is one that the progressive wing of the party may learn to grudgingly respect.

Ask your doctor if Republican talking points are right for you

Last night’s installment of the July Democratic debates was a mess. With Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren standing at center stage, CNN’s questions seemed designed to invite attacks from the Center and the Right. A common theme was that the Democratic Progressives are far too radical for America and that “reasonable” and “pragmatic” people from the Heartland are America’s only hope. Buttigieg, O’Rourke, Klobuchar, Hickenlooper, Ryan, and Bullock had thus been chosen for this media-staged matchup. To their credit, Warren and Sanders defended their positions admirably. Particularly on Medicare for All.

Early in the debate, CNN host Jake Tapper asked Bernie Sanders to respond to a talking point by fellow candidate John Delaney: “You support Medicare for All, which would eventually take private health insurance away from more than 150 million Americans in exchange for government-sponsored health care for everyone. Congressman Delaney just referred to it as bad policy, and previously he’s called the idea political suicide that will just get President Trump reelected. What do you say to Congressman Delaney?”

Delaney, an informed viewer would know, is a healthcare executive (and three-term Maryland Congressman) who made $230 million by first providing home health care services by using underpaid workers, and then founded a health care investment corporation to take a cut of your medical premiums. While in Congress, Delaney served on the Financial Services Committee. His top campaign donors were J.P. Morgan Chase, Alliance Partners, Capital One Financial, and several other insurance and investment companies. Delaney is the human personification of everything that is wrong with American healthcare — and, to some extent, the Democratic Party.

Objecting to the framing of the question, Bernie Sanders replied, “Jake, your question is a Republican talking point. And, by the way, the healthcare industry will be advertising tonight, on this program…” — before being cut off by Tapper.

And Sanders was exactly right. During the ad break, CNN broadcast a commercial for Otezla, which “partially clears skin at the cost of nausea, diarrhea and depression at a listed prices of $3,400 for a 30-day supply.”

The American Prospect‘s David Dayen wrote that, besides hearing from the pharmaceutical industry, debate viewers also heard from “the anti-single payer group Partnership for America’s Health Care Future (PAHCF), funded by hospitals and drug companies, and an Alzheimer’s disease patient advocacy group that takes major funding from drug companies.”

“The unfiltered 90 seconds of three of these commercials in succession comprised more screen time than anything in the debate about money in politics,” Dayen wrote. “The country cannot afford to have CNN creating the proscenium through which America gets informed.”

Unfortunately, half the Democrats on stage sounded exactly like Republicans when it comes to health care. Delaney, Ryan, Bullock, Hickenlooper, and to some extent also Klobuchar all said that Americans would fight tooth and nail to preserve their healthcare plans. All gravely warned that any talk of removing the private option would frighten voters into the hands of Republicans.

Certainly no one should ever underestimate the credulity of the American public, but it would help if the issue were not being improperly framed by corporate media like CNN (and its advertisers) and by Big Pharma’s and Big Healthcare’s friends in both parties.

“Don’t take my healthcare away!” is absolutely the wrong demand, and an abuse of the English language.

Like organized crime, insurance companies don’t provide healthcare. They take a cut of your payment to your doctor. These companies are in it for the money. For journalists and presidential candidates to associate “healthcare” with the insurance industry is professional and linguistic malfeasance. And little more than corporate propaganda.

These are companies that require customers to spend hours and hours trying to adjust rejected or screwed-up claims. Do consumers really want to preserve relationships with these companies? Maybe it’s just me, but the best relationship with the insurance companies would be none at all.

I’ve seen it myself in Germany and Canada. I simply pay my premiums (through taxes or other deductions) and I don’t get nickeled and dimed on copays, approved pharmaceuticals, or have to worry about scheduling treatment because I haven’t yet hit some arbitrary annual dollar amount. I simply go to the doctor or the hospital and everything’s been paid for. Without the possibility that some unusual condition or treatment will bankrupt me. That’s my definition of healthcare. And if I were a small businessman in America, I wouldn’t need to spend half my time negotiating deals with insurance companies.

“Healthcare” is provided by healthcare experts. Doctors, nurses, midwives, physician assistants. “Healthcare” has nothing to do with the corporate parasites who currently profit off human frailty and mortality. If there is a healthcare relationship I want to preserve, it is with my doctor, not an insurance company.

While Sanders was plainly frustrated with Democratic friends of Big Pharma and Big Finance — who refused to allow that a national healthcare plan is most certainly possible because every other Western nation in the world has already done it — Elizabeth Warren did a better job of explaining what the stakes are. Like Sanders, Warren was cut off by CNN while trying to recount the tragic story of Ady Barkan, who has ALS, and whose illness is bankrupting his family despite premium private medical insurance. Still, Warren made her point.

“We are not about trying to take away healthcare from anyone. That’s what the Republicans are trying to do,” said Warren, a co-sponsor of Sanders’s Medicare for All bill. “And we should stop using Republican talking points in order to talk with each other about how to best provide that healthcare.”

Rank hypocrisy

A year ago, on June 30, 2018, I attended a Families Belong Together rally in New Bedford, one of hundreds of similar events taking place nationwide. Between 400-500 people attended, overflowing into the balcony at the Bethel AME Church on County Street, to hear New Bedford’s expressions of solidarity and concern for families separated at the border.

Despite his actual history of voting for anti-immigrant legislation, one or more of the organizers invited U.S. Congressman Bill Keating to speak at the event. Keating shed his tie, rolled up his sleeves, and gave an energetic speech — all clenched fists and faux outrage at the Trump administration’s caging of six year-olds.

The only problem with this performance was not the dramatic oratory; it was the rank hypocrisy. Keating has voted repeatedly for GOP anti-immigrant bills. H.R.3009 punished Sanctuary Cities. H.R.4038, the American Security Against Foreign Enemies Act, restricted absorption of Syrian refugees. H.R.3004, “Kate’s Law,” took a hard line against desperate people who re-enter the United States. And Keating’s “On the Issues” statement on immigration reads like it was written by Tom Hodgson:

“Bill Keating opposes amnesty. As a District Attorney, Bill Keating enforces our laws and believes that everyone must obey them. His office has prosecuted thousands of criminal cases that resulted in defendants being detained for immigration and deportation action. Bill believes that we must secure our borders, and wants to punish and stop corporations that hire workers here illegally. Bill does not support giving people who are here illegally access to state and federal benefits.”

On July 12th Keating was at it again. At a New Bedford rally called Lights for Liberty, some of the same organizers had again invited the Congressman, and there he was — delivering the same shtick in precisely the same way. This time he huffed and puffed at the concentration camps the Trump administration is running on the southern border.

But Keating himself just voted to expand them. The Washington Post reported “House passes $4.6 billion border bill as leaders cave to moderate Democrats and GOP.” Ninety-five Democrats opposed the legislation, which placed no constraints on how Trump could use the funding. House leader Nancy Pelosi even abandoned language to earmark funds specifically for humanitarian aid. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez blasted the capitulation: “Well, too bad. This is our job. Cancel vacation, fly the Senate in. Pass a clean humanitarian bill and stop trying to squeeze crises for more pain.”

These appearances remind us how easily machine Democrats and their friends can so easily exploit and co-opt humanitarian issues they repeatedly refuse to fix. And Keating reminds me how little will change until these good buddies of the GOP are retired and replaced.

By coincidence, a day before Keating’s theatrical performance in New Bedford, Stephen Kinzer, a well-known historian of American Empire, wrote a blistering piece in the Globe excoriating the Congressman:

“My own representative, Bourne Democrat Bill Keating, takes campaign donations from arms makers and repays them by endorsing mind-boggling Pentagon budgets. He has cosponsored a bill promoting increased US arms sales to Ukraine, voted to allow the deployment of US troops to Libya without Congressional approval, and called President Trump’s 2017 missile attack on Syria ‘necessary and proportional’. […] Most recently he was one of 129 Democrats who voted with Republicans to fund the network of immigration prisons along our southern border without any requirement that inmates be given water, soap, blankets, or toothbrushes.”

We clearly need a new Congressional Representative in the 9th District. And, as luck would have it, Kinzer even wrote the want ad:

“Urgently Needed: Dynamic activist from Cape Cod, Nantucket, Martha’s Vineyard, the South Shore, New Bedford, or Fall River. Job entails a year of 16-hour days, knocking on doors, and organizing to defeat Representative Bill Keating in the Democratic primary in the fall of 2020. Benefits include the satisfaction of speaking every day about the need to defend human rights, build strong communities, combat climate change, and end foreign wars. No pay, but seat in Congress if campaign succeeds.”

NOTICE: The Democratic Party does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin, sex, age, disability, or any other status protected by law or regulation. All qualified applicants will be given equal opportunity and selection decisions are based on job-related factors only.

Just kidding. It will be an uphill battle all the way. But Massachusetts needs another Ayanna Pressley and one less Blue Dog.