The election of Donald Trump was a nightmare. But we already need to be thinking beyond his administration, imagining another way forward.
The problem is, the past is not so easily overcome. That’s particularly true when it comes to the damage Hillary Clinton’s primary campaign inflicted—in a ruthless, no-holds-barred attempt to defeat Bernie Sanders—on the idea of single-payer healthcare.
I was taken in, too.
Back in February, I criticized the mainstream liberal attacks on Sanders—with their over-the-top language (of “puppies, rainbows, and unicorns”) and their use of the ultimate threat (that choosing Clinton’s opponent would serve to elect Trump). But I did note one exception, the “careful, critical” study of Sanders’s Medicare for All healthcare plan by Kenneth Thorpe.
I thought it strange at the time, that Thorpe, who had lent his support to single-payer programs on the federal and state levels, was so critical of the plan Sanders’s campaign had come up with. But he was the sympathetic “expert” and, I said to myself, perhaps the numbers Sanders was touting didn’t in fact add up.
Well, as Michael Corcoran [ht: db] explains, based on leaked emails, Thorpe turns out to have been a political mercenary, one more soldier in the liberal battle against Sanders.
In an email dated January 19, 2016, members of the Clinton campaign, along with some outside advisors, were discussing the effectiveness of attacking Sanders on single-payer. Jake Sullivan, a policy advisor for Clinton, wrote: “The idea would be to get someone (Ken Thorpe?) to join Brian Fallon to make the following points … [it hurts many] poor people on Medicaid right now … working seniors … [and] many young people under 26.”
Just eight days later, Thorpe published “An Analysis of Senator Sanders Single Payer Plan,” which, in addition to attacking Sanders on cost, included the three primary points of emphasis the Clinton camp had suggested: the plan’s impact on “working young adults,” (or “people under 26,” to use the Clinton camp’s language), “Medicaid households” (poor people on Medicaid right now) and “Medicare beneficiaries” (seniors). A few days after that, according to another leaked email dated February 3, 2016, which included the line, “here is a round-up thus far”), the staff were monitoring responses to Thorpe’s paper in the media.
The damage was done, as liberal media outlets embraced and disseminated Thorpe’s findings.
While the Clinton-Sanders race and Clinton’s ignominious failure in the presidential campaign are now history, the fallout from the Clinton team’s attacks on the idea of universal healthcare may be with us for a very long time.*
*Still, we need to remember that, at least as of May, the majority (58 percent) of Americans favored the idea of replacing Obamacare with a federally funded healthcare system that provides insurance for all Americans. Since I don’t expect the new Republican administration to come up with anything better than the Affordable Care Act (and likely will do even worse), it’s still possible the idea of universal healthcare will survive the damage done by Clinton’s campaign.