Health Care Confab Plots Single-Payer Strategy

More than 100 radical leftists from across the nation, including top leaders of the feminist, socialist, labor, and victimhood movements, descended upon St. Louis on Saturday for the 2009 Healthcare-Now.org National Strategy Conference.

Never heard of the group? Consider that attendees at the conference were disappointed in the health care bill recently passed by the U.S. House of Representatives because (1) it didn’t go far enough in the direction of a public option and (2) it didn’t provide health insurance coverage for abortions. In other words, it was a far-left crowd.

I managed to “crash” the opening session of the two-day conference, held at the Sheraton Westport Lakeside Chalet. As far as conference organizers were concerned, I was a freelance journalist who happened to be in the area, whose work has appeared in several national publications, and who doesn’t carry business cards as his token effort to save trees. Much to my surprise, I turned out to be the only journalist in a room saturated with individuals who appeared stuck in the Woodstock era.

The session began with a microphone being passed from person to person for introductions of 30 seconds or less. What followed was a mix of teary-eyed, first-hand accounts from people who said they or someone they knew had been denied health care.  Most often repeated among the intros were four single-payer talking points:

1. Health care is a human right (multiple times).

2. Health insurance isn’t health care.

3. Corporate greed is at the root of the nation’s health care woes.

4. Adoption of single-payer health care is a moral imperative.

Unfortunately, I had to step out and take a fake "phone call" just as the microphone approached my row. But thanks to the sound system in the Alpine II meeting room, I was still able to listen from the hallway.

After a short video tribute to Marilyn Clement, the recently deceased founder of Healthcare-Now.org, six liberal heavyweights were allotted 7 minutes each to address conference attendees from their slightly elevated head table.

Healthcare-Now.org leader Quentin Young, a Chicago physician of 61 years and Hyde Park neighbor of President Barack Obama, began the session. Though he used less than five minutes of his time, he made it clear that for-profit insurances companies -- whom he described as “obscene, greedy” and “an enemy of the people” -- collectively represent his number one target for extinction.

Dr. Young passed the microphone to Jerry Tucker, a steering committee member for Labor for Single Payer, director of the Healthcare Justice Education Fund, former member of the UAW International Union Executive Committee, and a co-founder of the Center for Labor Renewal (which sounds like the name of a union spa in the Upper Peninsula).

“When we whip this health care crisis and we bring it into the bright place where it should be and we take the corporate community and its greed out of the picture,” Tucker said, “it will be such a major setback for them that it will open the door for many of the other struggles as well.”

The class warfare edge in his voice was sharp enough to slice a 3-inch-thick tenderloin at the union golf course. But I digress.

Next up was feminist attorney Terry O’Neill, a woman who wasted little time in letting her objectives be known.

“As president of the National Organization for Women, I intend to roll out a national action campaign for single-payer health care,” she said.

She spent most of the next 10 minutes attempting to justify her passion for “women’s reproductive rights.” Somewhere in her life, she became convinced that killing unborn babies is okay for people like her, a one-time battered wife, who count themselves as members of the Victims-For-Life Club.

Ethel Long Scott, executive director of the Oakland, Calif.-based Women’s Economic Agenda Project, came next.  An African-American woman with long, decidedly blonde hair, she was described in the conference program as having “fought for the elimination of poverty, the right to health care, and the advancement of women’s economic, social, and cultural rights” for over 40 years.

Rather than taking the easy route and blaming George W. Bush for the nation’s health care woes, she used her stem-winding opportunity to blame everything on “this rotting, decaying capitalist system.”

After Ms. Scott finished, Tim Carpenter offered a mixture of strategic and tactical wisdom for the audience.

The executive director of Progressive Democrats of America and key figure in the 2008 presidential bid of Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio), Carpenter told audience members that “it’s our responsibility as part of a larger social movement” to stand and challenge the electoral process inside and outside the party. I’m still not certain whether or not that was a reference to ACORN, so let’s move on.

Concluding the session was Michael Lighty, director of public policy for the falling-off-the-left coast California Nurses Association and former national director of the Democratic Socialists of America. He explained why he believes single-payer advocates lost having their say in the health care bill that recently passed the House.

“We were essentially in an undeclared war with the White House for the last year,” he said, his remarks flying in the face of a statement -- “Make health care, not warfare” -- uttered moments earlier by Carpenter.

“What happened to them,” he continued, “is that they lost the debate on government-run health care. They lost that debate, because they weren’t ready to wage it and, instead, the right-wing became the defenders of Medicare. Just think about that.”

Though I missed the second day of the meeting, I can assure you that any strategy they adopt will deserve steadfast opposition from those on the right.