Can the Mad As Hell Doctors counter America's nasty case of the Slime Flu?
A group of crusading physicians calling themselves the Mad As Hell Doctors stopped in Minnesota last week on a tour from Oregon to Washington, D.C., to whip up support for a single-payer health care system, a plan they call "Medicare for All."
They may have been too late: Everyone is mad as hell these days, and we're not going to take it anymore (with "it" being whatever it is that drives you batty). A good portion of America is so angry that it has gone around the bend in opposition to All Things Obama, especially any reform of our leaky health care system that includes an expanded government role or health insurance for all.
It's as if we think we live on the wild frontier: They'll take away our freedom to enjoy medical neglect, lack of insurance coverage and an inability to pay for the care our families need when they pry it from our cold, dead fingers. Or our child's cold, dead fingers.
Don't worry about pulling the plug on Grandma. That lie has been repeated so many times by Obama haters and political opportunists that it doesn't matter that it is untrue. The bigger problem is that the effort to stop the spread of better, more affordable and fully accessible health care is pulling the plug on the country.
America's atavistic impulse is a mass psychosis that, from time to time, emerges like a retrovirus and spreads through mouth-to-ear contact. If you listen to the foam-flecked spouters on cable TV and talk radio, but have not yet yourself fallen victim to Slime Flu, you probably wonder why no family member or friend of these sputtering liars cares enough for them to lead them from the studio and to the nearest mental health center for a complete evaluation.
But they seem to be winning, if you can "win" anything by taking a crowbar to it.
Before the Mad As Hell Doctors even pulled up in front of the State Capitol on Wednesday (in a Winnebago plastered with slogans such as "Single Payer or Bust!" and "Get Mad! Stay Mad! Make History!"), two things had happened to take some of the wind out of their sails:
1) A yearlong effort by the U.S. Senate to produce a health care reform plan that both parties could support brought forth a turkey that no one liked and few supported -- a plan without any "public option" whatsoever.
2) Conservative Republicans, including candidate for governor Tom Emmer, expanding on Gov. Tim Pawlenty's cockeyed threat to use the 10th Amendment to have Minnesota "opt out" of health care reform, proposed an amendment to the state Constitution "guaranteeing" a citizen's right to buy private health insurance. Next on the ballot: An amendment to guarantee your right to buy police and fire protection from private vendors so you don't have to rely on public safety services. (Word to the wise: Don't tell a cop or firefighter he is a freedom-sucking socialist.)
There have been positive developments, too: More than 70 legislators have signed on to a bill that would provide single-payer health insurance to all Minnesotans, a plan supported by 400 Minnesota doctors who belong to Physicians for a National Health Plan (that's the group that sponsored the Mad Doctors' visit).
Still, it will take "a miracle," as the Mad As Hell Doctors acknowledge, to get approval for a government-run single-payer system. That's what's got the doctors ticked off.
The fighting physicians brought their righteous anger to the Capitol rotunda and tried to prod Minnesota's conscience about reforming a system that offers great care to those who can afford it, but lets millions rely on emergency rooms (including the "illegal immigrants" who even Barack Obama has deemed unworthy of routine health care).
"Americans are going bankrupt from health care bills," a retired doctor named Robert Seward told a crowd of supporters in the rotunda. Another retired doctor, Joe Eusterman, said true reform was being obstructed by "lies and fear-mongering."
Whatever the outcome of the current standoff, one thing seems certain: America's health care problems are not going away. More than 400,000 Minnesotans have no health insurance, and perhaps 45,000 Americans die each year from causes attributable to a lack of proper health care, as was reported Thursday by the American Journal of Public Health. The fight over reform, despite appearances, is not over. And it's still worth fighting.
More madness may be called for. Pro-reform forces should get on board the Winnebago and show a little more spleen, and more backbone. The Mad As Hell Doctors (www.madashelldoctors.com) hope to meet with President Obama when they reach Washington, and to stage a Sept. 30 rally across from the White House.
Just think of it as a symbolic return of the old-time physician: These doctors are traveling the country to make a house call, a White House call.
Let's see if we're smart enough to take their medicine.
Nick Coleman is a senior fellow at the Eugene J. McCarthy Center for Public Policy & Civic Engagement at the College of St. Benedict/St. John's University. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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