Election 2016

Sanders' Courageous Stand for Universal Coverage

Chelsea Clinton misrepresented Senator Sanders’ position, and her premiere performance on the stump backfired, producing a flood of political donations to Sanders.

Sen. Bernie Sanders.
Photo Credit: YouTube

The Clinton campaign just made a serious mistake.

They sent Hillary and Bill Clinton’s daughter Chelsea out on behalf of her mother to bash Senator Bernie Sanders on the issue of health care.

What’s so wrong with that? Don’t all candidates use family surrogates when and where they can? The Kennedys, for example, deployed a horde of kinfolk for Jack’s campaign for president, then Bobby’s, then Teddy’s.

But when it’s the first time (as this was for Clinton the younger), the surrogate should be sure whereof she speaks, and had better stick to talking about her candidate, not the opponent. Unfortunately, Chelsea Clinton misrepresented Senator Sanders’ position, and her premiere performance on the stump backfired, producing a flood of political donations to Sanders.

Here’s what she said: “Senator Sanders wants to dismantle Obamacare, dismantle the [Children’s Health Insurance Program], dismantle Medicare, and dismantle private insurance.” Whew! She would have us believe that the Vermont senator is a one-man wrecking crew, an enraged King Kong – or, to be modern about it, a mendacious Darth Vader – proposing “to go back to an era – before we had the Affordable Care Act – that would strip millions and millions and millions of people off their health insurance.”

Uh, not exactly. In fact, not even close. As Karen Tumulty noted in The Washington Post, Bernie Sanders has long been a champion of a single-payer health care system as the only way to assure that all Americans receive medical coverage. Rather than “strip” millions and millions of people of their health insurance, he wants to be sure millions and millions of people actually get health insurance.

This was Sanders’ position as far back as 1993 when newly-elected President Bill Clinton put First Lady Hillary Clinton in charge of reforming our disheveled and unjust health care system. Her task force huffed and puffed in secret for months, calling in legions of experts and academics, ultimately producing a plan so complicated and impenetrable – not to mention unexplainable – that it would have collapsed of its own ponderous weight even if the Republicans had not propagandized it into a laughing stock of pretensions and inefficiencies that could only make matters worse.

And here’s an ironic note: During that 1993 quest for a health care plan, Secretary Clinton sent Sanders an autographed picture of the two of them, wishing him the best and thanking the senator “for your commitment to real health care access for all Americans.”

All these years later, Sanders is still fighting the battle for single payer, Medicare-like coverage for all, even as fellow Democrats capitulated to the siren songs of the health and insurance industries. President Obama, himself a one-time advocate of single payer coverage, buckled to the insurance companies and its lobbyists and minions in Congress and agreed to health care legislation (the Affordable Care Act) that would continue to treat healing the sick as a profit center instead of a basic human right.

And look at former presidential candidate and single payer advocate Howard Dean, Bernie’s fellow Vermonter, who went on MSNBC this week and said that the Sanders plan “would in fact undo people’s health care… That is something people should be concerned about.”

Why the change of heart? Maybe because Dean “now serves as senior advisor to the law firm Dentons, where he works with the firm’s Public Policy and Regulation practice, a euphemism for Dentons’ lobbying team,” Lee Fang reports at The Intercept. “… The Dentons Public Policy and Regulation practice lobbies on behalf of a variety of corporate health care interests, including the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America [PhRMA], a powerful trade group for drugmakers like Pfizer and Merck.”

Fang notes that, “Incumbent health care interests, particularly drug companies and insurers, have long viewed single-payer as a threat to their business model,” and points to documents that we uncovered in 2009 on Bill Moyers Journal with the help of former health insurance executive, now whistleblower Wendell Potter. They showed a systematic plan by health insurers to discredit single payer.

As president of the Clinton Foundation, the richly endowed philanthropy that has become the family’s private station for public causes, Chelsea Clinton must know this. The cynic might think the more than $2.6 million given so far by the health industry to Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign and outside groups supporting her (three times that of any other candidate, Democrat or Republican) might be leading Chelsea Clinton to use the same kind of false accusations so long used against her parents. But why would any of the family, their campaign team, advisors and supporters assume that the public would accept such a wild and irresponsible distortion?

Bill Moyers is the managing editor of Moyers & Company and BillMoyers.com. 

Michael Winship is the Emmy Award-winning senior writer of Moyers & Company and BillMoyers.com, and a former senior writing fellow at the policy and advocacy group Demos. Follow him on Twitter at@MichaelWinship.