How Big Was My Government

During Monday night’s town hall meeting, the first candidate to get to answer questions from the attendees was revolutionary idealist Democratic Socialist old man Bernie Sanders. Overall, Sanders did very well. I must assume Martin O’Malley, who drew the second spot, also did well. I was not able to sit still and listen to any more of his (admittedly often entertaining) self-promotion, but that is why he was there, why he has been in the debate circuit, and why I couldn’t bear to listen to any more of his “I, I, I, me, me, me” rhetoric. He’s obviously considering some sort of political comeback. I hope it is not as governor of Maryland, where I live. Yes, we could do worse. We also could do better.

Hillary Clinton acquitted herself well in the third portion of the show, meaning she was quintessentially her. Well, actually she was Barack Obama. She does that well.

But Sanders, who I have been actively supporting for a run since 2010, did exceptionally well, and displayed a rare sense of humor and engagement with the crowd.

It was not quite so with Chris Cuomo, moderator, who managed to get stuck on a question Bernie refused to answer directly, no matter how hard Cuomo tried to get him to. Cuomo raised the issue of how Sanders would pay for his universal healthcare (“Medicare for All”) plan, and Bernie explained there would be a modest increase in income tax for the middle class (along with taxes on Wall Street and megacorporations) that would be more than be offset by savings accruing from the lack of obscenely high private insurance rates (despite modest government subsidies under the Affordable Care Act, a title which has become something of a millstone around president Obama’s neck and which perhaps explains why he chose to embrace the fake name conservatives made up for the ACA, “Obamacare.”). By cutting giant insurance corporations out of the equation and extending a variation of the existing Medicare program to everyone (thus making the US the last developed country on the planet to move to a universal, single-payer health plan for all people), and by disposing, at the same time, of the equally obscene and often enormous deductibles, absurd copays, and unforgivably expensive prescription drug costs, Sanders said his plan might increase average middle class taxes by $5000 per year (which seems a wild overestimate, but that’s okay), but would save them $10,000 per year on insurance costs now paid to mercenary, money grubbing private insurance companies, resulting in a net gain of about $5000 per year in savings over the current average (which does not count all us existing Medicare recipients, who are generally thrilled with the program, whether we take it plain, with Medicare Advantage programs (which one’s writer considers generally crappy) and private Medicare supplement programs (which keep total premiums well below what Obamacare buyers have to cough up over the course of a year, not to mention a deductible which is little more than a token amount (under $150 per year).

Cuomo wasn’t satisfied, and insisted that if Sanders was going to pay for this program by raising taxes on the middle class, that he would then, well, be raising taxes.

Yes, Sanders agreed. But…they would be saving an additional $5000 by accepting that tax increase.

Cuomo pushed onward: “Are you, then, in effect, planning to return to the era of “big government”? ‘

Sigh…

Sanders then re-explained his position, its benefits, and ignored the question, which Cuomo repeated, and Sanders again diverted by explaining the details of the actual plan, taxes and all.

Which left me wondering: How big, exactly, is “big government”?
Let us review the history of the term: According to Collins’ English Dictionary the term means:

noun

  1. (derogatory, mainly US) a form of government characterized by high taxation and public spending and centralization of political power

Conservatives have used the terms “big government” interchangeably with “tax and spend” and “liberal,” “wellfare state,” “nanny state” and “they’re coming for your guns,” etc., for decades.

Let me see if I can wrap my mind around this. “Big” government is how big, exactly? Is it bigger than a breadbox? Larger than a football field? Vast hordes of bureaucrats who do nothing but collect paychecks for clocking in at various large office buildings around “Washington”? Is it taller than the Empire State Building? Wider than the I-270 interchange?

Just what the ever loving hell is “big government”?

It is government big enough to interfere in the lives of private citizens by…governing.

Wow. Given the history of dictators, “big government” is often physically very small — except for the military component.

Okay, so our military’s budget does account for over 50 per cent of total discretionary spending. So our military represents “big government,” and its primary job is spreading that government and its principles all over the globe.

Wait. We were talking about health insurance.

Okay, so this “big government” must cut into the cost of the world’s largest military, which is larger than the next eight countries on the list — big enough to overrun and govern by bullet and bomb, the entire planet.

All we are asking is give healthcare a chance.

“Big Government”? A modest tax increase that would bring us up from 37th place in the world’s healthcare providers? Well considering we already spend more on healthcare — to overcharging providers, big pharma and the insurance industry (never mind what happens to the patient) than any other country in the world.

America! Fuck yeah!

So Bernie Sanders never did answer the question, and finally Cuomo gave up asking, because he always got, instead, a stream of facts regarding how, exactly, Bernie Sanders would attempt to advance the ACA from the half-assed program it is now (other than the provision forbidding exclusion on the basis of pre-existing conditions and the increase in Medicaid in some states), it is far from complete. It has, over the past six years, become the status quo. Is it wonderful that one cannot be refused health insurance for a pre-existing condition? Hell yes! Is it equally wonderful that the cause of the majority of bankruptcies filed in the US are still due to inability to pay medical costs (including outrageous copays)? Hell no!

How big a government would it require to achieve this modest goal of bringing the wealthiest and most powerful nation on the planet into line with the rest of the nations where healthcare is concerned? I suspect it wouldn’t be as large as a football field. It might be no bigger than a breadbox. Right now the IRS uses pre-existing personnel to collect fines for those few who choose to refuse to accept “Obamacare” — at least until they are stricken with some loathsome disease and wind up setting up a GoFundMe account to pay for the bills they have brought on themselves.

So tell me again…just how big is “big government”?

Bill Clinton announced “the end of the era of big government” in his 1996 State of the Union Address.

What the hell was that all about?

For the record, a lot of us were still fighting for universal healthcare around that time, well after Hillary Clinton gave up fighting for it because she discovered she couldn’t pull it off and still stay friends with big corporate health insurance companies, big pharma, etc., and pronounced the effort dead. Yet some of us continued to fight, including Barack Obama, including Bernie Sanders, and including thousands of foot soldiers, until in 2010 we finally settled for having the door cracked with the ACA, a very modest act which Republicans have now attempted to overturn more than 60 times.

Now THAT’S big government.

Writer, activist, novelist, sixth generation DC, local historian-storyteller, and 1:1 patient care technician five days a week.

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