I read with interest the recent letter from Leslie Foster-Hopkins in which she stated that she rejects both major candidates and would like the option of voting for "none of the above." Millions of Americans, including me, share her disillusion with the two-party system. Actually, as Ralph Nader has pointed out, it's a one-party system with a soft corporate branch (Democrats) and a hard corporate branch (Republicans). If you doubt that, take a hard look at the $1 trillion corporate bailout supported by leaders of both parties. If Foster-Hopkins wants a solid protest vote, I think Nader is her man. He's an American icon and a genuine progressive.
But there's another option that she might want to consider. The day before I read her letter, I came across a fascinating interview with Professor Norm Chomsky in which he argued -- convincingly I think -- that voting for the lesser of two evils is sometimes acceptable and that now is one of those times. Why now? Mainly because the American health care system is falling apart in front of us and people are dying as a result. The quality of our care is going down about as fast as costs are going up. In overall quality of care, the U.S. now ranks 35th in the world -- one notch below Slovenia. The cost per patient in the U.S. is twice as much as it is in other industrialized countries.
The current economic recession obviously aggravates these problems. If you lose your job, you usually lose your medical insurance. A recent news article pointed out that people across the country without jobs or insurance are forced to cut back on their medications to put food on the table. Even those fortunate enough to have hospital insurance usually must reach into their pockets to pay for medications. This recession may last several years; unemployment could reach 10 percent or higher. If that happens, problems related to health care will grow much worse. They can not heal themselves.
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The American people have long supported a national health care system. (President Harry Truman first proposed one in 1948.) Now, even General Motors is saying that it can no longer afford to pay out $8,000 per year in health insurance costs for each of its employees. GM's solution is to move a Michigan plant to Canada, where it would pay nothing per employee. The Canadian plan is not perfect, but about 90 percent of Canadians say it is far superior to the private system here in the U.S. Tell a Canadian that his national health care system is socialistic, and chances are good he will laugh (politely) in your face.
The governing elite who run this country might not listen to you or to me, but they do listen to GM -- despite the sharp decline of its stock -- and to other moneyed interests. So both presidential candidates are now talking about some form of national health insurance. John McCain's plan is a hodgepodge of a scheme involving a subsidy from the government that would partially cover the cost of obtaining health insurance from a private company. It's hard to believe, but apparently the subsidy would be taxed. Figure that one out.
Barack Obama's plan is much more comprehensive. It falls short of a single-payer plan, but it provides a public plan based on the one available to members of Congress. There also are incentives to lower costs of medical care and improve quality. Many health care experts see Obama's plan as a second step -- Medicare was the first -- towards a national health care system that covers everyone. Let's hope that's the case.
The pathetic state of the economy is another valid reason to vote for the lesser of two evils. If you like what Bush has done for the economy, you will love McCain's me-too approach of cutting taxes for the top 1 percent and further deregulating corporate blunders and criminality. Obama has corporate ties, too, but unlike McCain, he understands the need for a fairer tax system and pro-active regulation of corporate behavior. The invisible hand of the free market fundamentalists hasn't worked and should be permanantly retired.
Colin Powell believes that Obama may be a "transformative political figure."
Perhaps, but I have my doubts. He's too cautious and too tied to Washington insiders such as Robert Rubin and Paul Volcker. But I believe his presidency will save lives and prevent needless suffering at home and in Iraq. For me, those are compelling reasons to vote for Barack Obama, even though he is "the lesser of two evils." Hope to see you at the polls.
This weekly column features opposing views from readers. These opinions are contrary to those expressed on this page or which otherwise take issue with something that appears in The Herald. All commentaries submitted become the property of The Herald and may be republished in any format.