There Is No Conflict Between Promoting Single-Payer and Defending Obamacare

The endless and exhausting Bernie-Hillary social media wars have produced an array of dumb attacks and bad faith arguments on both sides. The War of the Roses and the Donuts tends to generate far more heat than light at a time when both sides need to be trying far harder to understand one another and address one another’s concerns.

One of the most common underhanded attacks in this internecine conflict is the accusation that advocates for single-payer healthcare are somehow undermining the defense of the Affordable Care Act. It’s a ludicrous accusation on its face, but especially in the context of Twitter where the 144 character limit and the evanescent medium often leads to thoughts being expressed in shorthand, some individuals are keen to take innocuous statements out of context to make them sound more harmful than they are. Add to this a subculture of social justice activism dedicated to “taking receipts,” and Twitter conversations turn into minefields. Even a minor perceived offense, warped beyond recognition, becomes a screenshot traded and passed around like a baseball card by battalions of people with nothing better to do with their time than to try to forever silence and discredit a member of the enemy camp.

Sanders supporter and DNC Unity Commission member Nomiki Konst was a victim of this phenomenon today. After she tweeted the following: “Don’t buy incrementalism. It’s code for: “we can’t figure out how to do this & keep taking re-elect $ from the oppressors.”#MedicareForAll“, MSNBC host Joy-Ann Reid promoted a post accusing her of subverting the Affordable Care Act. I’ve been a victim of this myself: during a conversation with a prominent Clinton supporter back in June, I argued that the Republican efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act made the single-payer push in California all the more relevant. With typical obnoxious dishonesty, Al Giordano used that statement to say that I was “openly campaigning for Trumpcare,” resulting in three days of harassment by angry trolls. Other examples of this sort of bad-faith rhetorical assault on single-payer advocates abound.

The reality, of course, is that there is no conflict between promoting single-payer healthcare and defending the Affordable Care Act. Dissenters notwithstanding, the two conversations can easily happen simultaneously, reinforcing one another. Because Senate Democrats have been fully united as a caucus against Obamacare repeal, the entire debate over the issue is taking place within Republican circles. Single-payer-healthcare has no Republican sponsors, so that particular conversation is happening entirely within Democratic circles.

The vast majority of individual activists on healthcare can do little more than sign petitions and contact legislators. It is a trivial matter for an activist to sign a single-payer petition to Democratic representatives, and sign a pro-ACA petition to Republican ones. A phone call to Senator McCain to oppose Graham-Cassidy can easily be coupled with a call to Senator Feinstein to support Sanders’ single-payer bill.

Moreover, the threat that Democratic blue states might confront Obamacare repeal in Congress with state-based single-payer plans of their own can serve to give some Republicans pause about whether they actually want to go through with it. Single-payer advocacy pushes the Overton Window on what is possible in American public policy without in any way diluting the absolute necessity of protecting the gains made under the Affordable Care Act.

It’s time at last for this specious attack to end—and with it, one hopes, at least one more battlefront in the ongoing conflict between partisans of the left and center-left.

David Atkins

David Atkins is a writer, activist and research professional living in Santa Barbara. He is a contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal and president of The Pollux Group, a qualitative research firm.