The smoke has cleared, I’ve wiped my nose and we have healthcare reform. Gesundheit!! Oops…. Hold your tissue, Ted Kennedy is dead, Massachusetts now belongs to a pinup girl and I should be thankful that I can still reach my trusted death panel representative at Aetna . Nonetheless, with a universal acceptance of a system in dire need of repair, I envisioned congress intelligently fighting it out and coming to a compromise that could not be beholden to any one political ideology or sustainable business model. What was I smoking when this began?
We’ve seen town hall orchestrated fist fights, Glen Beck tears and blue dog democrats. What we haven’t seen might be even worse – like no discussion in regards to restraints for the drug companies or the procedure costs set by the AMA. But we do at least see the possibility of an end to anti-trust exemption for the insurance companies. Whether I stop putting antifreeze in my partly frozen bong water or not, I predict that won’t make it into the final bill. You know, because that would make perfect sense. Can anyone say Capitalism?
The Health Insurance companies certainly can but not the kind that would gesticulate serious debate from those sleeping their way through the latest filibuster on the senate floor. Of course, this isn’t news to anyone who hasn’t been stocking up their Canadian prescriptions of medical marijuana since change came to America in living color.
Still, memory loss is a national epidemic, and understanding the massive head start any reform faces, will hopefully give us the proper pause to even bother the next time we unanimously agree on something. In this case, it begins with a phrase that we know all too well.
“Socialized Medicine” – sounds like something that was said off the cuff on Meet the Press as human speech first emerged at the dawn of mankind. Not quite. It first appeared in 1948, as Harry Truman lost China and was primed to sign into law a national healthcare plan. The author was a man named Clem Whitaker, and he’s almost as anonymous to Google as he is to us.
In the employ of the AMA, his ascendancy 14 years earlier paved the way for the modern era of political campaigning (and the post-modern tea bagging parties that Sean Hannity holds so dear to his ball sack). Ironically, Whitaker’s rise ties to an actual socialist and America ‘s most famous one at that. In 1934,
Upton Sinclair won the Democratic primary in California . With a quarter of the state on the dole, his End Poverty in California (EPIC) program obviously had great appeal. Regardless of whether he could deliver on its populist aspirations, many considered his victory in the general election a foregone conclusion, according to Greg Mitchell and his 1992 Novel, “Campaign of the Century.”
So if you think the tepid advances past a 59 vote senatorial sit-in has unleashed the tidal wave of money kept on hand for just such a case, it’s not hard to imagine how the prospect of a socialist California, at the height of the depression, mobilized everyone to the right of surviving. Herbert Hoover wrote the Republican Incumbent, “I want you to know that I am at your service. It is the most momentous election which California has ever faced.”
But he was only a former president representing a system where power had always emerged from the proverbial smoke filled room. American politics wound soon find a home on Madison Avenue, observed Arthur Schlesinger, “in which advertising men believed they could sell or destroy political candidates as they sold one brand of soap and defamed its competitor. “
The stage set, one Albert Lasker would be put in charge of the campaign against Sinclair. A “Mad Man” before his time, his more notable historical contribution was to ensure that smoking and drinking would forever be as American as lung cancer and liver disease. “The Beer that Made Milwaukee Famous” and “Reach for a Lucky” were both his and he was said to have made more money in advertising than anyone in history, according to Mitchell.
The game was on and he was not alone. In the early 20th Century, another earlier marketing pioneer named C.C. Teague gained his fame with an ad campaign that demonstrated how clever advertising could successfully misinform today and for the ages. Teague turned oranges from a luxury for the rich to an Everyman’s healthcare necessity by overplaying the link between vitamin C and preventing colds. Out of this, an industry was born and the Sunkist Corporation we know today gave Teague the credentials to un-package Sinclair from the political mainstream of the moment.
But this was California , Hollywood must have been out there in full force waiving their sickles and putting together the numbers for the state’s 1st five year plan. From Henry Fonda liberals to Charlie Chaplin Socialists, the SAG sat this one out but that would certainly be the last time.
On the other hand, at the top, where MGM moguls like Louis B. Mayer and Irving Thalberg would have the most to lose, an innovation we know all too well would dominate. The manipulation of the moving image at their ready disposal translated into outrageously partisan images and for the first time the 30 second short was used to demolish a candidate, says Mitchell.
All told, in the context of the moment, journalist Heywood Broun commented in 1934, “that many campaigns have been distinguished by dirty tactics but I can think of none in which willful fraud has been so brazenly practiced.” In the larger sense, at the center of this paradigm shift or at least most prominently emerging from this, was our friend Clem Whitaker. Over the next 25 years, as the nation’s first political consultant, he would go on to win 90% of his campaigns and any important California initiative usually began and ended with the question – “Where is Clem Whitaker?”
Coming full circle, the AMA was the one asking, and in just two weeks, Whitaker’s handiwork relegated Truman and the initiative to a shallow grave. Of course, never so deep that is doesn’t tease its way out every decade or so but always accompanied with the stacked odds Mr. Whitaker left in his wake. Maybe we should just give up and dip our tea bags into the cool-aid. After all, it seems a whole lot less painful than giving a shit.