Martin Dyckman: A vote for Bernie Sanders is a vote for idealism, courage, candor

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An important member of Congress had a simple prescription for what ails health care in America: “Medicare for everyone.”

“Everyone is in Medicare now,” he said. “Some of us get it. Others pay.”

The year was 1991, and had it been Bernie Sanders saying that, nobody would have paid attention. He was a House freshman then.

The proponent was Sam Gibbons, the late, great congressman from Tampa, who at the time was ranking Democrat on the House Ways and Means Committee. He fit no real or imagined image of a socialist.

He didn’t shrink from bold ideas. Though in general a moderate Democrat, Gibbons was a free-trade militant. He favored a value-added tax to replace the income tax for all but the very rich.

But for the Republican takeover of Congress in 1994, on the heels of the failure of Bill Clinton‘s health care reform, Gibbons might have been able to place the U.S. alongside 32 other industrial democracies that regard health care as everyone’s right.

They also spend much less on it. In all but seven, people live longer than in the U.S.

What Gibbons said then is, sad to say, still true:

“The piecemeal system we now have is a disgrace. It costs too much. Too many people receive no benefits at all, and it is a paperwork jungle.”

As Sanders does now, Gibbons acknowledged the obvious: Medicare for everyone would require more taxes from nearly everyone. But nearly everyone would pay less overall with the private insurance industry and its grotesque 20 percent overhead no longer in the equation. Traditional Medicare’s administrative cost is just 1 percent.

I have yet to meet a doctor, by the way, who doesn’t think Gibbons was right. Some 20,000 doctors belong to Physicians for a National Health Program, whose website — http://www.pnhp.org — makes the case why Sanders is right.

The campaign brings to mind Henry Clay‘s famous remark in 1839 that “I would rather be right than president,” and an opponent’s retort, “Fortunately for us, you will be neither.”

Sanders has not said anything quite like Clay, but there are other people saying he is too “right” to be president.

Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, a Hillary Clinton supporter, is one of them.

“It’s OK to be right, but it’s more important to win. And if you don’t win, you can’t govern,” he told the Tampa Bay Times.

To hear him, Alex Sink, and other Hillary Clinton advocates is to realize that the politics of fear is polluting not just the Republican primaries.

With the Republicans, it’s the fear of anything foreign, different, or decent. That the party of Teddy Roosevelt is now hellbent to strip health insurance from millions of people by repealing President Barack Obama‘s achievement is the sorrow of a lifetime.

Among the Democrats, the politics of fear is the notion that a vote for Sanders would ensure national disaster and international disgrace — Trump or Cruz in the Oval Office.

It’s not just Clinton’s clique saying that.

 “I adore Bernie Sanders,” writes Dana Milbank, a Washington Post columnist who considers Clinton a “dreary candidate” whose positions are “cautious and uninspiring,” whose “reflexive secrecy causes a whiff of scandal to follow her everywhere,” and who seems “calculating and phony.”

But he says the Democrats would be “insane” to nominate Sanders. He discounts the polls showing Sanders better than Clinton against Trump because the Republicans have yet to begin to “disembowel” Sanders as a socialist who extols higher taxes.

Paul Krugman, The New York Times’s superb economic columnist, worries that Trump would win should Michael Bloomberg run as an independent. Moreover, he thinks Sanders’ health care platform is wildly impractical in the face of the prospect that Republicans will continue to control one house of Congress, if not both.

“Sorry, but there’s nothing noble about seeing your values defeated because you preferred happy dreams to hard thinking about means and ends,” says Krugman. “Don’t let idealism veer into destructive self-indulgence.”

He has a point, but I think it’s premature. For those voting in the early Democratic primaries, on or before March 15, there’s still time to vote with hearts as well as heads.

(Decent Republicans don’t have the luxury of time. The racism and fascism of the leading candidates need to be rejected now. Later may be too late.)

At this stage, a vote for Sanders is to send a message that universal health care is what the public wants and deserves. It’s a vote for the idealism, courage, and candor that are so rare in politics and that most voters say they want and respect. It sends a message to the establishment about what’s best in America as contrasted with the hatred that is corrupting and disgracing the other party.

More to the point, the sure way to never have true national health care is to avoid voting for it at every opportunity.

Whether he wins or loses the nomination, Sanders is sending that message to the nation and the world. It’s an urgent message. He has my vote in the primary.

Should Clinton be the nominee, so be it; I would vote for her with more enthusiasm than she deserves because none of the Republicans appears to be better and some are so much worse that the Oval Office would be better left empty.

We can cross that bridge later.

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Martin Dyckman is a retired associate editor of the newspaper formerly known as the St. Petersburg Times. He lives in suburban Asheville, North Carolina.

Martin Dyckman



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