Political commentators continue to fill the airways and print media with political analyses, yet few seem to understand the nature of American politics.
This thought came to me as I listened to pundits speculate on the nature of the Republican Party and what may be done to revive its political fortunes. They cite and quote members of the Senate, House, party officials, talk show hosts and others. Their remarks center on relationships between the party’s so-called “base” and its alleged principles. In short, they assume that party members are entirely free to originate new ideas and policies.
Every formidable political party has more than one base. The most numerous and influential Republican voting base is the bloc of fundamentalist “Christians,” but the most important policy-determining base is composed of health insurance companies, banks, and their corporate allies. The test of whether one understands group behavior is the ability to predict correctly what the majority will do. One must look at the economic underpinnings in order to understand most political behavior. Contrary to what is believed generally, much or most political behavior is predictable. Certainly the health care issue has contained few surprises.
Studies have shown that over recent years American automakers could save about $2,500 per vehicle if they did not have to provide health insurance to their employees. Yet, auto manufacturers have opposed single-payer national health insurance even though providing the insurance themselves has made them less competitive with foreign makers who do not have to pay that cost. One might think there would be widespread attention paid to this seeming anomaly.
One very important reason for their opposition is that insurance companies are major investors in those automobile firms. In addition, auto companies still have a close alliance with banks and banks, too, are recipients of insurance company investments. Both invest in automobile stocks. And all three invest heavily in the Republican Party.
Individual Republican officeholders come and go but all of them first and foremost represent the interests and views of the insurance-banking interests that have provided them with their ideology and campaign contributions. It was easy to predict that our once-failing auto companies would prefer to remain noncompetitive rather than challenge their stock and bond holders. This is the reason why every Republican who has spoken on the subject favors health care “reforms” that will sustain and even enhance the profits of the insurance companies.
It is regrettable that the same financial powerhouses that own and control so many of our corporations also have been investing lesser amounts in the Democratic Party. Especially if those Democrats are from small states that re-elect members time and again so that they become ranking members or even chairpersons of important committees. Democratic Senate Finance Committee Chairman Sen. Max Baucus of rural Montana has received more than $6 million from insurance companies during his Senate career, while other committee members also have received generous insurance company contributions. This explains why many Democrats now want the health care bill to be “bipartisan.” Comfortable pundits ranging from Lou Dobbs to David Broder play their political games by praising bipartisanship as the way things ought to be. But bipartisanship, and “getting it right,” are mere code words for protecting the privileges and profits of insurance companies.
It is sad to see that Sen. Olympia Snowe has thrown in her lot with the insurance companies rather than with the needs of her constituents and the American people. She alone, of all the Republicans, has been somewhat unpredictable as she usually tries to give about equal weight to the interests of the corporations and her constituents. But in this case she is supporting her Republican financial base, the insurance companies, rather than struggling people who need real insurance reform.
Clyde MacDonald of Hampden was Sen. George Mitchell’s senior aide in Maine from 1981 to 1995. He previously held the same job for Sen. Edmund Muskie.