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Health Care Reform and That Socialist Frank Capra: Mr. Smith Won't Shut Up

5 years ago
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Watching "It's a Wonderful Life" has been a Christmas tradition since the 1970s. Hard to believe that today's beloved classic was a flop when it premiered in 1946.
It was even reported to the FBI as Communist propaganda. Ironic, since director Frank Capra said he made the movie to "combat a modern trend toward atheism."

But it's another Frank Capra film starring Jimmy Stewart that comes to mind now, with all the talk of health care reform and potential filibusters, followed by the Senate vote on Christmas Eve.

The HR 3590 Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, as it's known in the Senate, contains 2074 pages and clocks in at a shade over 20 pounds.

The bill is posted online, but when a document the size of a bread box gets introduced and passed in a matter of weeks, one has to wonder how many Senators actually read the bill.

In one memorable scene of Capra's "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington," junior senator (and unwitting pawn in a graft scheme) Jefferson Smith suggests that maybe he should read the bills before voting on them.

"The bills?" says an incredulous Senator Paine, played by Claude Rains. "These bills are put together by legal minds after long study. I can't understand half of them myself, and I used to be a lawyer."

Forget it, he tells Smith. "When the time comes, I'll advise you how to vote."

Yes, it might be a good idea to "read the bill" if the health care law is as revolutionary as they say it is.

Or, we could just go by what the experts tell us. On Christmas Day, New York Times columnist Paul Krugman weighed in with a Christmas parable:

Indulge me while I tell you a story – a near-future version of Charles Dickens's "A Christmas Carol." It begins with sad news: Young Timothy Cratchit, a.k.a. Tiny Tim, is sick. And his treatment will cost far more than his parents can pay out of pocket. Fortunately, our story is set in 2014, and the Cratchits have health insurance.

Some of Krugman's readers weren't buying it. Like this one.

Unfortunately, it's not 2014, it's 2010. And it would probably be great if Tiny Tim could hold out for another four years. But if we are going to be true to he story, Tiny Tim will be gone for two or three years before he is covered.

Good point. And here's another.

Apart from the technical problem of senate rules that has patently paralyzed our decision-making, the egregious, shameless imprint of corporate interests -- Eisenhower, if he were to deliver his farewell today, would have most certainly cited the medical-industrial complex -- has so thoroughly perverted our democracy that it is no longer recognizable as such. We have, without even realizing it, embraced a form of feudalism where the castles whose gates are emblazoned with names like Pfizer, Medtronic and Aetna, the moats are fluffy piles of money, and the knights in shining suits their lawyers and lobbyists.

The most significant reply to Krugman, brought to the top of the heap by recommendations of fellow readers, was this one.

Above all, please call on Harry Reid to pass the public option by a simple majority vote using reconciliation. The whole reform bill cannot be passed using reconciliation, but the public option can be passed that way separately. Unless Reid stops pretending that he needs 60 votes to pass the public option, he should be removed as majority leader. According to several reports, Rahm Emanuel went to Reid's office and put very strong WH pressure on him not to try to twist Liebermans's arm or otherwise seriously try to get him to change his vote. Emanuel virtually forced Reid to cave in to Lieberman without a fight, and now the president and Reid are trying to float the false narrative that 60 votes are needed to pass the public option.

I'm no procedural expert, but Politics Daily's Jill Lawrence wrote about the reconciliation scenario months ago.

I thought former senator George S. McGovern had lost his mind when, back in September, he suggested that we just make Medicare universal.

What seems missing in the current battle is a single proposal that everyone can understand and that does not lend itself to demagoguery. If we want comprehensive health care for all our citizens, we can achieve it with a single sentence: Congress hereby extends Medicare to all Americans.

Oh really, I thought. Maybe I'll ask Congress to make world peace while they're at it.

Today, in light of the devolving health care debate, McGovern looks like a genius.

In "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington," Smith had to rely on the "Boy Rangers" back home to get the truth out. The Washington press corps, according to the film, was made up of cynics, hacks and shills. Not surprisingly, when the film opened in 1939, the press hated it.

So did politicians. Alben W. Barkley, the Senate Majority Leader, called the film "silly and stupid," and said it "makes the Senate look like a bunch of crooks." Just like "It's a Wonderful Life,'' the film was labeled anti-American and pro-Communist. One journalist thought Washington should pass a law empowering theater owners to boycott films that "were not in the best interest of our country."

Touchy bunch, weren't they?

HR 3590's proponents say (quoting Voltaire): Don't let the perfect be the enemy of the good. We can always fix the law later, like we did with Social Security and Medicare.

But there's one flaw in that argument. When was Social Security ever anything but a government program? When was Medicare ever without a public option? The law of 1965 created a public option.

You could argue that's the whole reason for government programs anyway. Government steps in when private industry turns away, and it's easy to see why private companies would not be falling all over each other in the stampede to offer health insurance to sick, elderly people of limited means.

We don't have a Jimmy Stewart or a Jean Arthur leading the charge. But we still have a country. We still have a Constitution. And thanks to the Internet, we have thousands of Boy Rangers who refuse to shut up.

"You think I'm licked. You all think I'm licked. Well, I'm not licked. And I'm going to stay right here and fight for this lost cause."

Mr. Smith, you took the words right out of their mouths.

Filed Under: Woman Up

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