Even if Democrats Win Back Congress, Medicare for All May Be Doomed

Do you really think they have any idea what they’re in for?

Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and the handful of Democratic Senators supporting Sanders’s Medicare for All initiative certainly deserve credit for getting behind such a bold effort–but they are profoundly naive if they think a bill establishing such a policy will make it through either house of Congress even if Democrats reclaim Capitol Hill next year.

It’s hard to understand the logic of going into a war without a strategy to win it, and it seems that Medicare-for-all supporters still have no strategy for dealing with attacks on the concept by right-wing media entities. Polls suggesting widespread support for Medicare for All are, frankly, irrelevant at this point; it’s unlikely that those poll numbers will remain high once Wingnut World contaminates the concept.

If there is a realistic prospect of Medicare for All making it through either house of Congress in 2019, we will see the right move as a phalanx, using its considerable resources to exploit race and sexuality in an effort to kill the bill. Fox News and Breitbart will be filled with commentaries warning about the prospect of “illegal aliens” and “young gangbangers” getting “free” health care with “your” tax dollars, and conservative Christians being forced to pay for “transgender surgeries” and “abortion on demand.” The right-wing commentators hired by CNN and MSNBC to “prove” their “objectivity” will also pound away at these themes, and, inevitably, the Chuck Todds of the world will suggest that “working-class Americans” have a right to be upset by the prospect of their “hard-earned tax money being wasted.”

How will Medicare for All advocates respond once race and sexuality are weaponized in this fashion? If they don’t have a plan to neutralize these sorts of attacks, Medicare for All will be stillborn.

From a health-care perspective, Hillary Clinton is absolutely right to suggest that a greater expansion of progressive media is necessary to counteract right-wing lies. Perhaps if such projects as Air America Radio and Current TV hadn’t been abandoned, those entities could have made an impact in terms of pushing back against anti-Medicare for All nonsense. Alas, considering the current media culture in the United States, Medicare for All advocates could be walking into a gunfight unarmed.

Remember when Rush Limbaugh smeared the Affordable Care Act as a form of reparations? That rhetoric will be mild compared to what the right wing plans to unleash against Medicare for All–and supporters of expanding health-care access will have to figure out a way to push back with fire and fury against both right-wing efforts to characterize Medicare for All as the redistribution of wealth to the “undeserving” and the mainstream media’s willingness to give wingnut arguments equal weight to sensible ones.

I’m profoundly cynical about whether Sanders and his Democratic colleagues are ready for any of this–either now or two years from now. Frankly, I wouldn’t be surprised if Medicare for All legislation winds up turning into Medicare for Some, watered down severely in an ill-conceived effort to silence right-wing criticism about the effort’s supposed “handouts” to the “dependency class.” I desperately want to believe that the final version of Medicare for All legislation will be as bold as Sanders’s rhetoric, that it will indeed expand needed care to every resident of this country, that it will bring a long-overdue end to that Gipper-era garbage about government being the problem and not the solution. I desperately want to believe we can have world peace, too, and we all know about the prospects of that happening.

D.R. Tucker

D. R. Tucker is a Massachusetts-based journalist who has served as the weekend contributor for the Washington Monthly since May 2014. He has also written for the Huffington Post, the Washington Spectator, the Metrowest Daily News, investigative journalist Brad Friedman's Brad Blog and environmental journalist Peter Sinclair's Climate Crocks.