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Willy Gutman: Perhaps Obama can succeed where Clinton failed

Posted: April 25, 2009 8:44 p.m.
Updated: April 26, 2009 4:55 a.m.
On Jan. 31, 1996, I published an essay in The Wall Street Journal titled “A Magnificent Misfit.” The article eulogized my father, a European physician who dedicated his life to his craft and died poor but debtless.

Predictably, the essay failed to touch the sympathetic nerve of the medical establishment. I was deluged with nasty letters from doctors who called me an “agent provocateur.”

I was branded a meddler, a communist. I was accused of “opportunism,” “romanticism” and “mischief-making.”

In short, I was scolded for advocating — yikes, break out the smelling salts and summon an exorcist — “socialized medicine.”

Four months later, the postman delivered an envelope bearing the gilded embossed logo of the White House. In it was a brief handwritten note personally signed by President Bill Clinton. The last line read:
“I have been trying to start a discussion in this country on what we owe each other on the edge of a new century. Your wonderful piece certainly will help.”

It didn’t. Time and again, Clinton was forced to ditch campaign pledges. He capitulated to the guardians of the status quo and signed bills favoring Republican agendas that bolstered the already colossal might of America’s military-industrial juggernaut.

In his second inaugural speech, as he had in his note to me, Clinton used rousing buzzwords — “a new century — a new millennium.”

But deeds failed to echo the rhetoric.

His antipathy for the “evils of capitalism” was forgotten in favor of “bipartisan” symmetry. Hard as he tried, his presidency offered no stalwart program to give Americans a health-care system unfettered by extortionist insurance schemes.

Instead, like his predecessors (and successor), he served the rich, the mighty and the well connected. His feeble and irresolute commitment to social causes was further sapped by his administration’s dependence on militarism and war.

Yes, health care is now subject to enormous constraints virtually unknown at the height of my father’s career. (He worked briefly in this country but swiftly retired, frustrated by what he called “assembly-line medicine”).

It is perhaps to their immense credit that, given the gross bureaucratization of medicine in America, physicians continue to provide excellent care.

Having said that, I can’t help but hearken to a kinder, gentler era when doctors — like my father — were also nurse, midwife, pharmacist and confidant, and when the honorarium for such skill and versatility was dictated by whatever the patient could afford, not what the “market” commanded.

A final thought: Words sabotaged and distorted by political misinformation can have a disquieting effect on our timorous psyche. Take “socialized medicine.”

Americans take social studies in school. Their parents teach them social graces. Hostile to any form of social contract (except social engineering), many, influenced by social Darwinism, claw their way up the social ladder.

Having reached the top, they hire social secretaries to handle social calendars brimming with social obligations. Overly sociable, some come down with social diseases. All eventually become eligible for Social Security.

Somehow, no one objects to the word “social” except when twinned with the word “medicine,” which, Great Zeus, transmutes it into some ungodly, unAmerican obscenity. Never mind that other civilized nations provide their citizens with cradle-to-grave affordable, quality health care and low-cost, effective drugs.

Alas, in America, the individual is often sacrificed at the altar of corporate profit. It is time to put an end to the predatory agendas of the medical lobby and the colossal greed of the pharmaceutical and insurance industries.

Americans must demand direct access to a comprehensive, affordable universal health care that protects us all from the avarice of the private sector.

Perhaps President Barack Obama, notwithstanding the Republicans’ disingenuous hype — and with the support of an increasingly vocal national constituency — will succeed where Bill Clinton failed.

W. E. Gutman is a veteran journalist who has covered politics, the military, human rights and assorted socio-economic issues. He lives in Tehachapi. His column reflects his own views and not necessarily those of The Signal.


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