Slate Magazine examines the term socialized medicine. This label is known to have slain past health care proposals, and it was used most recently by 2008 GOP frontrunner Rudy Giuliani to denounce Democratic candidates' plans to fix the healthcare system. The following is an excerpt from "Who's Afraid of Socialized Medicine?":
... In 1994 the term socialized medicine was heard less often than in previous battles. One of the few who used it was Clinton, when he donned Truman's mantle to deride those critics of the former president who had stooped to use what Clinton implied was a shrill and overwroughtcharge. ("What did they say? 'Harry Truman's a radical liberal. He's for socialized medicine.' Well, the truth is, Harry Truman had this old-fashioned notion that people who work hard and play by the rules ought to help one another.") To be sure, Republicans made hay with less archaic-sounding phrases such as the "government takeover of the health care system" (even though Clinton's plan relied more on market mechanisms than on government ukases). Newt Gingrich, then House minority whip, blasted Clinton's plan as a throwback to the kind of "centralized, command bureaucracies" that were dying across Eastern Europe.
But if these attacks ginned up some hostility to Clinton's plan, the real problem was more fundamental. As political scientist Jacob Hacker has argued, the basic obstacle was nothing less than the government's failure to have adopted a comprehensive health insurance plan decades earlier. As a result, the system that emerged by 1994 entailed such a crazy quilt of private interests corporations, small firms, insurers, doctors, unions, HMOs, and so onthat moving all Americans into a new framework without worsening anyone's situation had become virtually impossible. Many of these interest groups (including doctors) actually favored reform in the abstract. But no particular plan was going to please them all.
Perhaps, then, the socialized medicine scare tactic really has run its course. The Republicans' decision to dust it off for one more battle may say more about their party's continued sprint to the right-wing extreme than about any intrinsic public hostility to government social programs. If this is the case, then Democrats might be wise to offer health-care proposals that don't upend the status quo, while brushing off the socialized medicine attacks as atavistic Cold War-era alarmism. Which seems to be, for the moment, precisely what they're doing.
Jacob Hacker is a Fellow with New America Foundation. For the direct link to this article, please visit Slate.com.