The Blog of the Frances Perkins Center

Let’s put a real fear of socialism in them

In Legislation Today on August 11, 2009 at 3:37 pm

National, or federal, health insurance is not a revolutionary new idea.

In 1883, Chancellor of Germany Otto von Bismarck — a staunch conservative, he was known as the “Iron Chancellor” — instituted a national health insurance plan for workers. Why? Because he was trying to woo them away from the Social Democratic Party. In other words, 126 years ago people were demanding national health insurance and Bismarck found it necessary to deliver.

And fifty years later  in the U.S., it was considered a “practical possibility.”

In 1933, before accepting the job of secretary of Labor that Franklin Roosevelt had offered her, Frances Perkins read FDR a list of nine social programs, “practical possibilities,” for which she asked his support. After 12 years as secretary of Labor, she wrote him a resignation letter. In the letter, dated December 1, 1944, she enumerated all they had done together. This is the last part of the letter:

With one major exception all the items we discussed as “among the practical possibilities” before you took office as President have been accomplished or begun. That exception is a social security item providing for some form of benefit to persons where loss of income is due to sickness and provision for appropriate medical care for the same. [emphasis added]

I hope that this will be upon your agenda for the near future.

Faithfully yours,
Frances Perkins

The president’s response was a short and witty letter saying that her resignation was “refused and rejected.” Unfortunately, FDR died five months later.

The need for a national health insurance program has been recognized for more than 100 years. But you’d never know it today. Perhaps the usually non-political writer Jesse Kornbluth, who has an idiosyncratic blog called Head Butler, said it best (talking about the Obama administration’s effort):
This is leadership? How about staking out a position (say: single-payer) and selling the hell out of it? How about calling out the Congressmen (Democrats included) who are owned and operated by insurance agencies and telling us exactly how much they’ve been paid to vote against their community’s interest?
and
This issue is not beyond explanation. And there are actual facts involved. But all the lazy sots on TV care about is where the ball sits on the field and who’s got momentum. And can we have a brief sneer at the demagogues in the media and the Congress who know better but take pleasure in scaring people with talk of “death panels” and “socialism”?
It’s great to read a “rant” by someone whose regular topic is not politics. The fact is, a majority (72%) of the American public agrees with Jesse and would like to have single-payer option (see my July 16th post for details).
Maybe it would be better if those demagogues Jesse refers to were truly worried about socialism — worried that Americans would turn to a more radical form of socialism if we didn’t get single-payer health insurance. Hey, the “Iron Chancellor” was worried; why aren’t they?
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