I was reading through Joe Biden’s newly released agenda, which is a fairly ambitious program to deal with issues of health care, labor, children’s welfare, wage disparities and a whole host of issues. It wouldn’t be so ambitious if the current administration had not left the country to rot and so much damage had not been done. This looks like a whole remaking of the economy, ridding us of some of the perverse incentives we have put in it.
Which is precisely what we need.
The health-care aspects are of interest: It calls for a public option based on platinum level coverage with NO deductibles with full premium subsidies up to 200 percent of the federal poverty level. Automatic enrollment for people without employer-sponsored insurance administered by Medicare, sidelining commercial insurance carriers. Medicare coverage is expanded to start at age 60, another common-sense step which could provide a glide path for universal adoption. And in what looks like something that makes far too much sense, it may have the effect of federalizing Medicaid, taking the decision-making out of state hands once and for all. All this moves us closer to the day when we finally join the league of normal societies that don’t tie health insurance to employment.
So these initiatives are quite sensible, and desperately needed. It’s estimated 5.4 million people lost their coverage because of the pandemic. Who would vote for such an outcome?
In politics, language is important, and unfortunately, thanks to the internet where there are no gatekeepers, the very meaning of words has been warped beyond recognition. And a prime example of this was Dave Weigel of the Washington Post claiming that this agenda proved Biden was being pushed “further left.”
Let me get this straight: You enable access to decent health care for those who can’t afford it and this makes you a leftist? Doesn’t this make you decent or compassionate?
But the framing of these policies as somehow radical shows how far out of the realm of sanity America has gotten compared to the rest of the world. This isn’t nearly as comprehensive a plan as say, that of Japan’s, and yet, it’s considered left. Japan is probably the most well-ordered and tradition-bound modern society. Does anyone use terms like “leftist” or “radical” to describe it, because they provide their citizens a level of health care that would have America’s political Neanderthals screaming “communism?” Why do we attach such loaded terms to things that are as perfunctory as setting food safety standards?
A Republican PAC ran a clip of Bernie Sanders saying Biden’s program was the most progressive since FDR’s. Apparently, faulting the policies of a president who was elected FOUR times by overwhelming margins is a liability! Which proves that the GOP exists simply to frustrate the will of the majority of the voters of this country.
The same complaints are heard about Biden’s environmental proposals. While the full Green New Deal was not adopted, a big chunk of it was, and so the narrative goes that Biden was again pushed left. I guess it must be an article of faith that mercury in your water and food must be Conservative principle and lead pipes leading to poisoned drinking water is a Burkean virtue.
So what does the language really tell us? It tells us that American Conservatism is morally and intellectually exhausted and has nothing to offer but opposition for opposition’s sake. Conservatives don’t oppose policy on their merits. They oppose it as a means to gain and hold power by frustrating any forward movement, which creates the stasis that leads to public frustration. For Sen. Mitch McConnell, it was a fantastically successful policy when he sandbagged the economic recovery, and we wound up being turned into a basket case of a country in less than four years by Trump.
This raises a larger question for the Republican Party. A sizable portion of it wants to exorcise Trump, but even if the old school Republicans succeed, the party will have what amounts to a rump Peronist wing in its midst for at least a decade to come.
That will leave them having to rely on Nassau County Democrats. Because after all this, what’s “left?”