Pete Buttigieg Promises His 'Medicare For All' Plan Is The Bestest, Least Socialist One Yet

2020 democratic primary

Presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg was for Medicare For All before he was against it. Now, he's for it for all who want it, which we guess is not everyone. It's confusing. But the South Bend, Indiana, mayor is trying to torpedo Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, who support Medicare For All. Let's take a look at Buttigieg's current position.

Whoa, those are a lot of promises there, slick. It's similar to the Republican shuck and jive on health care. They were going to gut the Affordable Care Act but they were also going to keep everything voters liked about it, such as protections for people with pre-existing conditions. It was the sort of sleight-of-hand "magic" Marianne Williamson might've appreciated. I still haven't met the people who are so in love with their health insurance plans they fear the government separating them like immigrant families at the border. I do have friends with very generous, fully funded health care plans but they work for Amazon, Facebook, Microsoft, and Wonkette (individually, not all at once). That's a relatively small percentage of the country. So are the folks with sweet union plans Joe Biden vows to protect. But Medicare For All has great appeal for Americans who are stuck with plans they might as well have retrieved from a bubblegum machine (and also Wonkette). That's a bigger group than pundits and politicians want to admit.

Putting Americans "back in charge" of their health care sounds like a line focus-tested by the Heritage Foundation. Paul Ryan promised to "lower costs" and give Americans "more choices and greater control." Republicans love to promote the illusion of choice: "Here's everything you could buy if you had money." There's also the right-wing argument that the private sector does everything better. This appeals to the middle class who don't have as much experience with government services and are susceptible to campfire horror stories about wait times to see doctors in Canada. But in reality, it's the free market that's in "control" of Americans, not the reverse. Employer-based plans can change or outright vanish with little notice.

Buttigieg said he "trusts" us to make the "right health care decisions" for ourselves and our families. This mimics the language of reproductive choice that conservatives have co-opted for their own ends. Betsy DeVos talks about "school choice" and "education freedom initiatives" while she mugs public schools. Democrats should talk about health care the way they talk about public education. It's a taxpayer-funded public good accessible to everyone. We don't drop poor and disabled kids off at "emergency schools" for remedial education.

As Dok pointed out last week, talking about health care reform in terms of increased taxes misses the point. But it does hit a Republican sweet spot. Conservatives have convinced Americans that paying more in taxes is objectively bad no matter what we get in return. In a New Yorker interview, actor Rob Delaney described his experience with the UK's health care plan. His benefits extended well beyond the financial. He didn't have to stress over keeping coverage and waste time on the phone fighting insurance companies for services. Instead, he was able to enjoy those last precious months, days, and hours with his dying son.

It seemed like Buttigieg understood this as recently as July. He told Jake Tapper that it was a "distinction without a difference" whether Americans were paying more in taxes or premiums. (I love that Fox News dinged him on this -- so much for appealing to the "swing voters.") Buttigieg isn't a woman so he won't face nearly as much backlash for his shifting position. He's not a common Kamala Harris or Hillary Clinton. I don't think he's "evolved" on Medicare For All. He's claiming "moderate" ground he believes is safer politically. If David Axelrod is grooming Buttigieg, he has reason to believe this approach to health care will work.

During the 2008 Democratic primary, Hillary Clinton criticized Barack Obama's plan because it would "leave 15 million Americans" uninsured. She believed a health care mandate was a critical and unavoidable step toward universal coverage. Obama the candidate strongly disagreed.

OBAMA: The only difference between Senator Clinton's health care plan and mine is that she thinks the problem for people without health care is that nobody has mandated — forced — them to get health care. That's not what I'm seeing around Nevada. What I see are people who would love to have health care. They desperately want it. But the problem is they can't afford it.

However, Obama the actual president quickly realized Clinton was right all along. Buttigieg the 2020 candidate can't pull an Obama 2008. I'm certainly not going to let him. Buttigieg claims he can fund his own plan by rolling back corporate tax cuts and avoid the "multi-trillion dollar hole" Warren and Sanders's plan would put in the budget. But Medicare For All Who Want It isn't an inherently cheaper plan. After all, what if everyone winds up wanting it but some guy named Leon? He can't guarantee taxes won't increase or that people won't lose their current plans. Buttigieg is the Millennial candidate but he's old enough to remember the Obama administration. He should also consider why the pharmaceutical and health care industries are so eager to fund his candidacy.

Warren announced Sunday that she does have a plan to fund Medicare For All and she plans to drop it on Buttigieg's pointy head. Now it's Mayor Pete's turn to convince us to settle for poll-tested half measures.

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Stephen Robinson

Stephen Robinson is a writer and social kibbitzer based in Portland, Oregon. He writes reviews for the A.V. Club and make believe for Cafe Nordo, an immersive theatre space in Seattle. He's also on the board of the Portland Playhouse theatre. His son describes him as a “play typer guy."


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