Only in America


From John Wight in Scotland, first published on Socialist Unity, on the lunacy of many in the US about Obama and health care. I knew John when he lived in LA and we volunteered with ANSWER helping organize big antiwar protests. His writing is getting seriously good, and this piece is funny, biting, and hits home. — Bob

Sixty-one years ago the National Health Service was rolled out across the UK. In that time two generations of men, women, and children have known nothing else except healthcare which is free at the point of need, involving no paperwork, no insurance company, no humiliating means testing, and no stress or anxiety over how to pay for treatment.

It was, and still is, a shining example of human progress, and still to this day stands as the finest achievement of any British Government, past or present, not to mention the high water mark of the Labour Party.

And, yes, though today it comes with certain limitations – e.g. the introduction of payment for dental care and prescription charges – and though the UK can no longer claim to have the best health service in the industrialised world – it remains an island of social justice and egalitarianism in a society in which most of the hard fought gains of the working class have been rolled back in the midst of a neoliberal assault begun under Thatcher and intensified during 13 years of New Labour Government.

However as yet no British Government, either Tory or Labour, has dared mount a full on attack on the NHS. They know that no matter what, recession or no recession, this is one institution that firmly and unequivocally belongs to the people and is off limits to the market. Even attempts to usher in privatisation incrementally and piecemeal through PPP and PFI schemes with regard to funding infrastructure projects and providing ancillary services have enjoyed very little support among the British public, and are rightly viewed with a great deal of suspicion.

The NHS stands as a reminder of the kind of society that used to exist in this country, where a living wage, affordable housing, fully funded public services, a 40 hour week, and higher education as a right and not a privilege, all funded via progressive taxation, were the cornerstones of one of the most, if not thee, equitable societies in the industrialised world.

Compare this to the furore currently taking place in the United States over the Obama administration’s attempts to reform what is the most barbaric healthcare system in the entire world, never mind the industrialised world.

In just eight months, Obama has gone from enjoying the stature and popularity of a fifth Beatle to being compared to Hitler and Stalin incarnate, intent on attacking that American holiest of holies – the freedom to be poor, get sick, and die without government interference.

Everyone knows that a fair proportion of our American cousins are victims of ignorance. After all, this is a country in which approx 40 percent of the adult population believes in that scientific theory otherwise known as ‘creationism’ – in other words, the theory that God created the world 5000 years ago at 12 o’clock in the afternoon and that Noah did exist, he did build an ark, aboard which the animals came two by two. As for their knowledge of the world outside the land of the free, when only 13 percent of the population actually own a passport it’s understandable that geography isn’t a strong point. In fact, I still recall when living there being asked once what kind of food ‘folks ate in Scatland?’

As they say, though, you can’t blame a mushroom for growing in the dark.

But, in the year 2009, to associate the reform of a healthcare system which excludes a full 50 million human beings with communism and fascism takes the biscuit even for them.

It gets funnier. Over the past few weeks that quintessentially American breed of right wing right nutjob, whose representatives colonise the print and broadcast media, scumbags like Rush Limbaugh and Bill O’Reilly to name but two, have taken to describing our own NHS as ‘totalitarian’ and, wait for it, a ‘breeding ground for jihadists.’

At a series of town hall meetings across the US, designed by the Obama administration to take the message of healthcare reform to the people and thereby put pressure on a Congress which, despite Obama’s landslide election victory, remains in thrall to the corporate lobby, officials have been threatened, verbally abused, and fights have broken out. At one such meeting in Delaware a few days ago a woman in the audience stood up holding her birth certificate and questioned whether or not the President is a natural born citizen. She then led a recitation of the US Pledge of Allegiance.

All this in resistance to the concept of, not an NHS-style free healthcare system, but to a tinkering of the current US system in the form of government assistance to allow those who presently can’t afford even the lowest standard of cover to pay for health insurance, funded via an increase in taxes for those earning more than $350,000 dollars a year.

But, no, this won’t do. It’s the first step on the road to communism as far as people like William Kostic are concerned. At the President’s very own town hall meeting in New Hampshire on Tuesday, Kostic staged a one-man picket outside, complete with hand gun and poster which read, ‘It’s time to water the tree of liberty’, inspired by the words of Thomas Jefferson, who once wrote: ‘The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants.’

So as things stand it looks as though it’ll be quite some time before anything approaching a humane, civilised, and universal system of healthcare provision will come to pass in the land of the free.

Rosa Luxembourg’s ‘socialism or barbarism’ speech has never been more fitting.

Perhaps, however, the last word on the subject should go to Nye Bevan.

During an essay on the NHS in 1952, he wrote:

‘A free Health Service is a triumphant example of the superiority of collective action and public initiative applied to a segment of society where commercial principles are seen at their worst’.


  • Steve

    Thanks Bob for posting this.

  • Sue

    People get the government they deserve, and perhaps they get the healthcare they deserve, too.

  • As I recall, Scatland is next to Cuba. It must be, because they’re all commies who want to ram affordable health care down our throats. Damn Scatlanders.

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