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Friday 14 August 2009

The Republican Wrong – One More Time

As if to try and demonstrate that they’ve improved their performance since the days of Gerald Ford (of whom LBJ memorably said “he can’t fart and chew gum at the same time”), the Republican Party is now battling Barack Obama on two fronts at once. The ridiculous idea of trying to disprove Obama’s legitimacy for the top job, which I’ve considered previously, continues, joined by an increasingly unpleasant attempt to derail the Prez’ plans on healthcare.

Yes, healthcare – the one that eluded Bill Clinton. With an estimated 47 million US citizens – more than 15% of the population – without any health care at all, this was a commitment for Obama. It might be thought that such a move would be popular, even with the healthcare industry – more business sounds good – but there has been a backlash from the right. As more elected representatives hold “town hall” meetings, there are some who are genuinely concerned and clued up, but many who are not – witness the scene of a tearful woman saying that the US “is going to end up like Russia” (no, I don’t know what healthcare in Russia is like, and I’m damn sure Stuart Varney doesn’t either).

So far, so tribal, so particularly USA. Their problem. At least, it was, until someone dragged the UK and the NHS into the arena. One routinely clueless journo pitched the story that “Stephen Hawking wouldn’t stand a chance in the UK” until it was pointed out that Hawking is at the “English” Cambridge, and has been the recipient of much NHS treatment (the Hawking comment has now been removed).

Adding more than a little petrol to the bonfire has been the appearance of Tory MEP Dan Hannan on Fox News (as Jim Royle might have said, “fair and balanced my arse”). Hannan thinks that the NHS could do with reform, and that if we were starting afresh, we might not choose the model of 61 years ago. I don’t have a problem with debating that one. But Dan, Dan, the Self Promoting Man hasn’t proposed a debate in the Guardian, he’s gone on Froth Central and issued a howling denunciation. As with his dubious participation in the recent Euro Elections, Hanann has shown that he’s good at shooting his mouth off, but on political nous is a rank amateur.

The NHS is not a thing of perfection (and, as some US commentators have pointed out, the Obama proposals won’t produce an NHS-style solution), but it helps the UK to the number 18 slot in the latest World Health Organisation rankings – the USA trails in at 37. And it means that the UK spends around 8% of GDP on healthcare versus 15% for the USA. Moreover, the NHS does not have “death panels” as some of the wackier US commentators have alleged. It is not going to take away elderly relatives and execute them. It is not a force of evil.

But it is there for everybody. I can’t get worked up enough to “love it” (sorry Al), but it serves me well. In this analysis, I suspect I am not alone.

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