Democrats Had an Opportunity with the Fight for CHIP - and Dropped the Ball

The odd silence surrounding the near death of CHIP (Children’s Health Insurance Program) offers further proof of what is rapidly becoming clear: American politics is adrift from the moral universe.


For months, Republicans, operating according to their credo of family values, refused to provide funding for the reauthorization of the program responsible for the health care of millions of children in every state of the country. The Democratic Party, liberal pundits in the mainstream media and even the most dedicated critics of Donald Trump barely mentioned the modern monstrosity of threatening to remove medicine out of the mouths of children, choosing to instead focus on the more inflammatory and scandalous issues — albeit important ones — of the president’s puerile and racist tongue, the ongoing Mueller investigation, and scenes from the next episode in the D.C. soap opera, full of plot twists, intrigue and tabloid suspense.

It is worth examining how and why the American media has become so hypnotized by the transformation of politics into entertainment and the severity of Democratic Party incompetence, that the difference between saving children’s lives, and placing them at greater risk of death, does not rate as a story worthy of coverage or a cause of galvanization.

The Democrats, managing to shock even the most politically savvy of observers, managed to score a victory by securing the necessary budget for CHIP, but even they, in their television appearances and social media activity, downplayed the fight to protect sick and injured children. Which is not to say that the Democrats have been idle; their high-profile fight for DACA is a truly necessary war to protect immigrants and their children from the hateful stupidity of the Trump administration. Anyone with a conscience should strongly advocate for Dreamers. There's no reason why the Democrats couldn't use those strategies to fight publicly for CHIP with equal aggression, too.

Doctors Nana Matoba and Angira Patel, writing for The Hill on Christmas day, explained that in Illinois, where they both practice medicine, 325,000 children receive treatment and prescriptions through CHIP. They told one story that demonstrates not only the necessity of the program but the evil of risking its elimination:

One of those ill children we recently cared for in the neonatal intensive care unit. The infant had complex medical needs due to prematurity, gastrointestinal problems and congenital heart disease. This baby will have prolonged hospital stays including surgery and post-operative recovery.

He will need equipment at discharge from the hospital, from feeding tubes to ventilators requiring around-the-clock home nursing. The family asked our team how can they ensure their baby receives the care he needs. The father works seasonally as a construction worker and while they can afford private insurance in the summer, they rely on CHIP to provide coverage in the winter when he is not insured.

The costs of his care without insurance could approach hundreds of thousands of dollars. Without this care, he will likely die.

CHIP provides health care funding for nine million children — 12 percent of all Americans under the age of 18. Republican Senator Orrin Hatch, who helped author the bill that brought CHIP into existence, assured skeptics that he would “personally see to it” that CHIP survived budget negotiations.

A rich irony is that by saving the lives of children, CHIP murders that mindless idea of Reaganite Republicans, mutated into Trump zombies, that every problem is attributable to the Satanic conspiracy and incompetence of big government and that anything Lucifer’s instrument touches will soon suffer for all eternity.

Parents of patients, health practitioners and independent researchers coalesce to support the conclusion that CHIP is not only efficient, it is excellent. States, through CHIP funding, form their own health care programs for children and in doing so, provide high quality, specialized care satisfactory to all parties involved. The next time a right wing commentator, imagining he is funny and profound, makes a predictable joke about the DMV or Postal Service to elucidate the evils of “big government,” the immediate response should include the nine million children who largely owe their lives to an activist and interventionist social welfare state.

The late Senator Edward Kennedy would often argue that the best way to convince skeptical Americans of the efficacy of public health care programs is not to argue for the creation of something new, but merely make the case for the expansion of popular programs that already exist, namely CHIP and Medicare.

The elementary wisdom of Kennedy is long gone, and the bumbling Democrats of today would not know a good argument if it arrived to Capitol Hill in a package labeled, “Good Argument.”

And yet all of the attention on Donald Trump’s madness has distracted Democrats from seizing opportunities to aggressively argue in favor of the material interests of millions of Americans. Chuck Schumer, Kirsten Gillibrand and other Democratic leaders seem to operate under the precious delusion that appeals to the abstract morality of Americans will ingratiate them to the electorate. Democrats should come to the realization, even if it is a cynical one, that health care for children has a high likelihood of hitting home for many Americans, thereby giving them more reasons to vote Democrat in the coming elections.

Joe Biden recently told Judy Woodruff on PBS NewsHour that his party needs to devote greater time and energy to winning the faith and confidence of American families in which both parents work onerous hours to maintain a middle class lifestyle for their children, without the hope that their burden will become lighter in the next ten years.

He has often made this point in an invisibly veiled criticism of Hillary Clinton, whose campaign often seemed disconnected from the economic arguments dominating the headlines. Among her policies were the brilliant and noble ideas of lowering the entry age for Medicare to 55 and offering free public university education to any student from a household with a combined income under $85,000. To test whether Biden is correct, ask the average voter if they were even aware of these Clinton proposals.

If a tree falls in the forest, but no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?

Vox recently compiled polling data to identify a nauseating but not shocking conclusion: Accusations of racism and sexism do not have any measurable impact on President Trump’s approval rating.

While everyone speculates about the Trump pivot to sanity, which will never happen, Democrats should telegraph a more important pivot. They must offer America an alternative and grand vision for the improvement of day-to-day life.

It is hardly complicated: We will enable you and your children to have high quality health care. We will make college education affordable for you. We will offer a just and attainable path to citizenship, if you need it. We will enable you to take time away from work, with pay, to care for your newborn child or ailing parent.

Many Americans, especially those white and older, might be sufficiently suicidal to reject a proposal of progressive economics, but when they are waiting in line at a cyanide fountain, the least the Democrats can do is offer a cup of water.

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