Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Dark days for democracy

The House of Representatives has passed a bill that will abolish Medicare. Instead, older Americans will receive vouchers to pay for private insurance. 

This will tear a huge hole in the social safety net. Under Medicare, the government provides health insurance to older Americans. When the cost of health care goes up, Medicare will continue to pay for it. Under the new plan each individual person will face a very large insurance company. Will the vouchers automatically increase if the insurance company raises its rates? There is no indication of that. Even if the vouchers pay for adequate health insurance today, they will certainly not do so five years from now. Healthcare for all Americans will become a privilege of the well to do. People who worked all their lives will find themselves unable to pay their doctors and hospital bills or pay for their medications.

For anyone approaching retirement age, this is alarming news.

For anyone concerned about democracy in our country, it raises serious questions. The congressmen-and-women who voted for this assault on health care for all Americans were elected by the people, often those very older Americans who are now under attack. If you thought that democracy meant that ordinary people can ensure that their interests will be heard and heeded by the government, think again. Here are representatives elected by people concerned about their taxes, about their shrinking disposable incomes. They may have been frightened by Sarah Palin's talk about “death panels.” So they voted for a conservative candidate who promised to protect the limited incomes of the elderly. Once elected those same representatives throw the elderly on the harsh mercy of the private insurance market and tell them to sink or swim. For sure many of them are going to sink. They have been betrayed by the people in whom they put their confidence.

Clearly the voters made bad choices. Clearly the candidates misrepresented their real agendas. Given ill-informed voters and deceptive candidates, democracy will not function to protect the people. Instead it will protect the growing wealth of insurance companies.

But I am not hearing an outcry about the failures of our democratic process, although more and more frequently observers note that democracy, as we practice it, is government by, for, and of the rich. No one seems to be in a hurry to address that problem.

We supported – if somewhat reluctantly – the democratic uprisings in Egypt and Tunisia. We are bombing Libya supposedly to support the democratic rebels in that country. Unfortunately we are not prepared to lift a finger to restore democracy in the United States.