Sanders’ Medicare for All is a Step Forward for the Democratic Party

In this July 9, 2017 photo, Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., speaks during a "Care Not Cuts" rally in support of the Affordable Care Act in Covington, Ky. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi is declining to endorse Sen. B... In this July 9, 2017 photo, Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., speaks during a "Care Not Cuts" rally in support of the Affordable Care Act in Covington, Ky. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi is declining to endorse Sen. Bernie Sanders' universal health care bill saying that while she has long supported the idea the bill captures, of everybody getting health coverage, "Right now I'm protecting the Affordable Care Act." (AP Photo/John Minchillo) MORE LESS

There have been several articles by liberals warning against the embrace of Bernie Sanders’ “Medicare for All” plan, the latest version of which he will unveil today. To wit: it’s politically dangerous because it would require large tax increases; the opposition from the insurance/hospital/medical/pharmaceutical lobbies would be ferocious; and we can get to the same destination through less controversial incremental reforms of Obamacare. I’ve made some of these arguments myself. But I want to make the opposite case for the moment. Here’s why Sanders’ approach makes sense:

An effective politics needs a horizon that voters look toward. It’s “horizonal.” Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal; John Kennedy’s New Frontier; Ronald Reagan’s tax cut and “A rising tide lifts all boats”; Bill Clinton’s “putting people first” health plan in 1992; yes, Donald Trump’s wall and making America great again. John Kerry’s campaign in 2004 and Hillary Clinton’s campaign in 2016 had no horizon. They were mired in details or in “I’m with HER” and “stronger together” identity politics.

Medicare for All is a horizonal demand. It satisfies a basic need and does so by looking beyond the corrupt, meretricious system we now have. The activity of private insurance companies symbolize much that is wrong with contemporary capitalism. You don’t have to be a leftwinger from Park Slope to hate these companies. Believe me: a lot of those people who voted for Trump (whom the liberal elite dismisses as racists and misogynists) hate insurance companies.

While Medicare for All would cause an upheaval in the health insurance markets, it is actually based on expanding a system that works and that has remained intact for over fifty years. It’s incremental in its own way. It is also very easy to understand, while most of the incremental reforms I’ve seen require a degree in healthcare economics to comprehend and rarely seem to apply to “you.”

What would happen if Democrats actually ran on a platform of “Medicare for all”? Maybe Republicans would be able to discredit them by pointing to higher taxes. Or maybe Democrats could finesse the “who pays” issue as Bill Clinton did in 1992 or Barack Obama did in 2008. Or maybe they could propose as a transition Paul Starr’s compelling case for “midlife Medicare” that would begin by offering Medicare to people ages 50 to 64, a version of which Bill Clinton proposed at the beginning of his second term before he got derailed by the Monica Lewinsky scandal.

For the moment, though, Sanders’ and the fifteen co-sponsors’ support of Medicare for All – for its potential political pitfalls – is a step forward for a Democratic party that has been mired in thinktank incrementalism (see “a Better Deal”) and identity politics. It gives them something to talk about that an average voter and not just a policy wonk can understand.

Dear Reader,

When we asked recently what makes TPM different from other outlets, readers cited factors like honesty, curiosity, transparency, and our vibrant community. They also pointed to our ability to report on important stories and trends long before they are picked up by mainstream outlets; our ability to contextualize information within the arc of history; and our focus on the real-world consequences of the news.

Our unique approach to reporting and presenting the news, however, wouldn’t be possible without our readers’ support. That’s not just marketing speak, it’s true: our work would literally not be possible without readers deciding to become members. Not only does member support account for more than 80% of TPM’s revenue, our members have helped us build an engaged and informed community. Many of our best stories were born from reader tips and valuable member feedback.

We do what other news outlets can’t or won’t do because our members’ support gives us real independence.

If you enjoy reading TPM and value what we do, become a member today.

Latest Edblog
Masthead Masthead
Founder & Editor-in-Chief:
Executive Editor:
Managing Editor:
Associate Editor:
Investigations Desk:
Reporters:
Newswriters:
Director of Audience:
Editor at Large:
General Counsel:
Publisher:
Head of Product:
Director of Technology:
Associate Publisher:
Front End Developer:
Senior Designer: