All Hail John Campbell – OC’s own anti-Medicare Prophet, a man ahead of his time!


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Now that the Republican Party has definitively come out for abolishing Medicare (they call it “phasing it out”) I’m thinking we need to give more credit to our own previously-unappreciated Voice Crying Out in the Wilderness, Irvine Congressman John Campbell, who has been calling for an end to this very popular and essential program for a few years now, way before it was cool.  A prophet is never understood in his hometown, and if I were a Photoshop whiz I would paste the wise mug above onto the body of St John the Baptist (to the right.)

Well, okay, sure, Republicans have always hated Medicare.  They fought it tooth and nail from the beginning, and the young Ronald Reagan got his start in politics as a shill for the AMA, darkly warning Americans in his warm, folksy, Reagany voice that this program to protect our elderly was pure Communism and would lead inexorably to dictatorship and the end of freedom as we know it.

But once Americans saw how well it worked, once our senior citizens realized how greatly it improved their lives, and once it became clear how much more efficient this government program was (with only 6% administrative costs) than the previous patchwork of profiteers, Republicans could only quietly grumble to themselves at their conservative functions, and put on a show of supporting it or risk losing lots of senior votes.   Even the sainted Reagan bristled when Jimmy Carter reminded him of his anti-Medicare past in the 1980 debates (that was when Ronnie famously said, “There you go again.”)  Opposition to this beloved program had become a third rail that no politician would touch.

Not for John Campbell though!  I have two stories of Campbell and Medicare, from the opposite ends of 2009 (the Year of Healthcare Reform Hell.)

1. Early 2009

At the beginning of the year with so many ideas for healthcare reform floating around, a lot of us were inspired to be creative, as though we could somehow have some voice in the issue.  Well, my octogenarian maverick-Republican friend Allan Beek, a longtime fighter for single-payer universal healthcare, ALWAYS feels that way.  And he came up with a great plan to gradually cover all Americans, that he foolishly thought he could sell his Congressman John Campbell on.  (I would have told him not to bother, knowing that Campbell is a sweaty-palmed Ayn Rand devotee.  Only the strong survive, in Campbell-Rand world!)

“This is it, it’s simple – just lower the age of eligibility for Medicare one year, each year!”  Campbell’s aide stared at him quizzically.  “Allan, Congressman Campbell doesn’t want to expand Medicare, he wants to discontinue it.”  Allan did not see that one coming, and left shaken and crestfallen.

As “Obamacare” began to take shape over that year, and Democrats combed through our mighty budget to see where they could cut waste in order to afford something approaching universal coverage, their eyes lit upon the bloated and corrupt Medicare Advantage program, where they saw that they could save HALF A TRILLION by making huge cuts in that WITHOUT sacrificing ANY coverage to seniors.  (All explained here.)  The shameless Republicans, seeing one more way in which they could attack Obama’s signature program, now suddenly fashioned themselves as DEFENDERS of Medicare, putting out the myth that Medicare was being decimated by Democrats.  (In Senator Coburn’s disgusting words, “What it’s going to do to our seniors, I have a message for you:  You’re going to die sooner.“)

2. Late 2009

So, toward the late fall, as most of us progressives were getting rightfully apprehensive that there may not be a public option in Obamacare, and it would all turn out to be (at least partly) another corporate giveaway, the local Move-On chapter decided to have a rally outside of Campbell’s Fashion Island office.   Another waste of time I thought, but I had jack-all else to do that day so I put together this cool sign (on the left) based on Allan’s experience, and headed down to Fashion Island.

There were a few dozen of us, and on the other side of the street about a dozen teabag types, who evidently monitor Move-On events, had staged a little counter-rally, heavy with American flags and signs railing against “Government Healthcare.”  I walked over to talk to the counterprotesters as I usually do.  One elderly gentleman pointed at my sign and said, “That sign is a lie.”

“No, it’s not.  That’s what John Campbell said just a few months ago.  He wants to get rid of Medicare.”

“Ha!  Hogwash!  It’s us Republicans who are trying to save Medicare!  It’s OBAMA who is trying to destroy it by cutting half a trillion dollars out of it.”

My head started to hurt, but then it struck me:  “Why are you defending government healthcare anyway?”  That led to an argument over whether Medicare was actually government healthcare.  I left when it became inescapably pointless.

And now

Fast forward to April 2011, and today’s Republican Party, enjoying a brief final majority in the House, knowing no limits, lacking frontal lobes, eyes ablaze, hair flying in the wind, leaning forward in the cockpit like a kamikaze pilot or racecar driver on angel dust, has put forward a budget that explicitly gets rid of Medicare. (Including the part that the grotesque Coburn claimed two years earlier would make seniors “die sooner” – except this time without replacing it with anything!)

Actually what it proposes replacing it with is as good as nothing:  Vouchers or coupons for seniors to go out into the private health insurance market and see if they can afford to get their own private insurance – good luck!  If it were possible, feasible, for private insurers to cover the elderly with all their myriad maladies, Medicare would never have been needed or created.  Like, duh.  This time, Coburn’s warning would be true:  If the official Republican ten-year budget presented by pointlessly buff Paul Ryan last week went into effect through some outlandish Republican resurgence, more seniors will live in discomfort, insecurity, and poverty… and die sooner. Better start saving up all your money now, grandpa;  or maybe start voting Democrat instead.

And the stupid talking heads call this “courageous” on the part of Ryan and the Republicans, as though it were necessary, which it’s not.  As Josh writes, “Some level of cuts and/or cost containment in Medicare are necessary because medical inflation is growing so quickly. But these aren’t cuts. [The Republicans are] using a temporary budget crisis and the need to slow the rate of Medicare costs over long run simply to abolish the program. This is a bait and switch.”  Actually it’s shock doctrine – using a crisis – the financial crisis – as an excuse to demolish a program you’ve always hated.

“Courageous?”  Rash, maybe.  No, suicidal.  This measure that all House Republicans are pretty much being forced to vote yes on is not going to go anywhere given our sane Senate and President.  The GOP in one of its final acts is committing a spectacular hara-kiri, throwing away one of its few remaining dependable voting blocs, in a feverish and fatal Danse Sacrale to its corporate overlords.  Oh, did I mention the Republicans plan to get rid of Medicare?

And OC’s John Campbell was there before most of them:

Big SHOUT-OUT!


About Vern Nelson

Greatest pianist/composer in Orange County, and official troubador of both Anaheim and Huntington Beach (the two ends of the Santa Ana Aquifer.) Performs regularly both solo, and with his savage-jazz quintet The Vern Nelson Problem. Reach at vernpnelson@gmail.com, or 714-235-VERN.