Bernie Sanders vs Ted Cruz Debate on Healthcare

Remember kids, not paying thousands of dollars for a hospital visit is SO-CHUL-IZ-UM!!!

I had this last debate analysis waiting around in the wings. I was unsure if I’d post it since it’s not connected with any particular election and I know my readers were getting sick of debate reactions. Ultimately I decided, since I already wrote it, I might as well share. I know CNN did some other non-election town hall style debates after the 2016 election but I never saw any of them. At that point, I was as burned out on politics as any human being can be burned out on anything. Maybe someday, in the far future if things ever return to some form of normal, I will find the energy to be optimistic about our country again. Then I might feel like it’s not a total waste of time to go back and watch them. But for now, I’m happy to move on and I sense most of you are too. So here it is, the last debate reaction for a very, very long time!

I wrote this the day after the debate aired in 2017…

I think it’s great to see two national politicians doing this outside of an election, and with a focus on one singular issue. This is what our country desperately needs more of right now. We need to stop burying ourselves in media which reinforces our views, listen to the other side, and hash out our differences with facts. This kind of discourse should be a regular occurrence and it’s shocking it isn’t already. I also like how the subject is healthcare considering how it’s literally a life and death topic and we can all agree the current system isn’t working. I personally don’t want to see Obamacare repealed unless we have a universal coverage system ready to replace it. I hate Obamacare, but the fact is if we go back to the old way as Republicans seem to want, many innocent people will die, more will go into debt. It was a flawed compromise and we should have had a public option (fuck you, Lieberman) but now that it’s here we need to keep it unless we have something better to replace it with. Overall, a lot of blame has to go on Obama’s shoulders for not using his momentum and super-majority to push for single payer and then (if he had to) bargaining down to a better version of Obamacare. The public was with him, but he stifled his own movement once in power and the backlash helped lead to Republican takeover during the next 6 years of his term. Even before that. Bill Clinton screwed the pooch by giving the task of healthcare reform to Hillary, who was so despised even then it prompted a backlash against the idea of healthcare reform and destroyed our best chance at single payer.

With that context out of the way, let’s look at the debate itself. This is probably the best example of style over substance that you could ask for. Bernie is unrefined, but honest, and his points are sound. Cruz is more polished, but his ideas are vacuous and he offers no real solution. He’s exactly like the paragon of the modern right, Ronald Reagan, in that he SOUNDS good…but if you actually think about what he’s saying it’s terrifying/objectively wrong. “I want you to be in charge of your healthcare!” Sounds great…but when in practice I’m gonna be a hundred thousand in debt for a trip to the ER, or none of the insurance providers will cover me, it’s not great. It’s an intentionally misleading soundbite which leaves out the fact that these giant insurance companies are gonna charge you an arm and a leg to get covered and some people won’t even have that “luxury” due to a preexisting condition. He talks about the failures of Obamacare but deliberately leaves out the fact that a) it was originally a GOP counter-plan to Hillarycare in the 90s and b) part of why it turned out so badly was because the Republicans did everything in their power to sabotage it purely out of spite from day one. Not to mention Joe Lieberman wouldnt vote “yes” unless the public option was removed, thus crippling the bill.

Opening and First Question

Bernie is absolutely right that Republicans are in a bind and they know it. They’re a dog that finally caught the car. They never expected to have this much power to where they have no excuse not to repeal like they said they would for 6 years. And if they do, they will take the blame when people inevitably die or go into debt. I find it disingenuous of Ted to cite the rising profits of insurance companies as a negative as well for a few reasons. One, you know that if the GOP passed Obamacare that this talking point would be framed as “look how good our plan is for business! Look at these rising profits of the private sector! This means they’ll pass the savings onto you and/or create new jobs!! #JobCreators” And two, of course profits are going to go up, because Obamacare forces everyone to buy insurance. Under Bernie’s plan of single payer, there would not be this obscene profit because taxes would cover healthcare, not this unnecessary middle man. Ted’s plan would mean less profit for insurance companies but only because so many people would once again lose coverage. It’s an easy argument to make and it sounds good…but it’s entirely misleading and does not hold up to scrutiny. This again is very typical of a lot of rightwing politicians I’ve analyzed over the past year. Ted is but the latest standard bearer for style over substance.

I would need to read more about Ted Cruz’s FDA proposals to say whether his talking point here is a good idea. I have a feeling it will be a massive defunding of the agency which is the typical rightwing MO. And while Im sure it’s a wasteful and expensive agency, the fact is we need to test drugs before inflicting them on the public. The costs may be great, but it beats having unsafe products on the market. And yet, that said, I actually think Cruz’s idea of “right to try” is a good one. If a consenting adult patient wants to be the guinea pig for some experimental new drug, by all means they should be able to do so. It’s their life, and if they’re going to die anyway from disease I see no ethical reason to stop them. If that’s all his legislation entails then I would support it. Goes without saying I think Bernie’s legislation sounds great too.

You’ll see Cruz in the first audience question, take a page out of Clinton’s playbook from the 92 town hall I’ve analyzed. The way he walks toward the person asking the question and asks a followup of his own to establish a dialogue…that’s public forum 101. Im not faulting him for it, it’s good strategy. Where he lost me though is when he started in on the sob story about his mom’s illness and telling this lady what she already knows “it’s a horrible disease…” It feels like appeals to emotion in order to tap dance around the meat of this woman’s question before giving an unspecific “don’t worry, you’ll be taken care of. Trust me” answer. Bernie’s response is gold: “I can’t believe you just said that. You just contradicted everything you said running for president! What Ted has said is, he would get rid of all federal mandates—didn’t you say that a hundred times?!” And Ted’s response is a weak “…I didn’t say it once.” with a notable drop in volume and confidence in his voice, betraying the lie. When the moderator presses Cruz for a definitive pledge whether he’ll support anything that doesn’t cover preexisting conditions, notice how he dances around the question without giving a definitive yes or no answer. Bernie points out his use of clever rhetoric to weasel out of answering, and yet when pressed by the mod a second time, Ted once again dodges giving a simple yes/no and deflects. I don’t see how anyone falls for this crap, but apparently they do because these shysters continue to get elected.

With the next woman’s question about insanely high deductibles preventing further tests for possible cancer, I don’t think either person gave a particularly satisfying answer. I agree with Bernie that we pay more per capita than any other country, but then what’s his actual solution for this woman? Seems like an ad for single payer, which I agree with, but then to onlookers it begs the question why aren’t the Democrats fighting for that kinda system NOW and why didn’t they back in ’08? Even if it doesn’t pass, just introducing the legislation or calling for protests and petitions to Congress for it would be great. It’s something they can point to in order to say “we’re trying.” The real answer that Bernie cannot give is Obamacare is flawed and Democrats aren’t going to fix it because most Democrats (and Republicans too obviously) get kickbacks from insurance companies. Ted’s answer is even worse, citing how many more mammograms and CAT Scans and stuff we do as opposed to Europe. Once again, he’s completely dodging the question to cite irrelevant feel-good talking points to distract from the fact that he has no plan and has no intention of actually solving this problem. His ideological platitude (“I don’t want government in healthcare! I wanna empower YOU!”) doesn’t do jack when this woman can’t get the coverage she needs now and sure as hell wouldn’t get it under the old way when her PAP smear would probably disqualify her from getting insurance at all. Literally none of the facts citing weaknesses of European care he cited has anything to do with her situation at all. Like, ok they wait longer in the UK than here to get in to see a doctor. At least she’ll get seen though, right? Her whole issue is that she can’t get the treatment she needs AT ALL right now under our current system.

I think Bernie’s refutation of Ted’s spiel against Canadian healthcare was very good and I’m surprised I don’t see it mentioned more. Basically Bernie brings up the fact that even under Conservative leadership, Canada (and every other country) has not dared to repeal their single payer system. And in poll after poll, their system is very popular among their citizens. Ted tried to compare single payer to communism (typical lazy GOP fear-mongering) and name-dropped Reagan (because it’s a requirement if you’re Rightwing you must do so at every public appearance you ever make.) It’s like these people never heard of moderation, or more likely, they know how stupid a lot of people are and they pray on that.

I will give Ted credit that he does seem to have a dozen or so examples of times the European system failed. But as Bernie points out, people literally DIE in America all the time in the US due to insane costs. However, I think Bernie would have done well to have cited a few specific sources. I know what he’s talking about as do many others who read about this stuff or have experienced it firsthand. But debating 101—it pays to have some figures and specifics you can point to. And this is a point I will give to Ted, he did his homework and he comes off better as a result.

The next questioner kinda ticked me off to be honest. For one thing, under Bernie’s plan of single payer, the cost of healthcare (which I understand is the single greatest cost to businesses) would be removed and given to the government, payed for by taxes. And secondly, if you can afford to open five salons with plans of opening more, I think you can damn well offer your employees something. She whines about how she can’t offer healthcare without charging more or not being able to grow her business, but hey, until/unless we get single payer, paying for insurance IS the cost of doing business. If you can’t afford it, get out. That’s like complaining you can’t expand your pizza business because the cost of the dough is too high. I think that while Bernie’s answer to her maybe wasn’t the most tactful and won’t score him any favors from that woman, it was at least honest. And I think he was holding back clear disdain for her in his answer. As he says, by employing just under 50 people which would be the number where she would be required to cover employees, she’s forcing other hair salons into unfair competition. By skirting that requirement, she’s able to charge less and undercut other salons, or else she’s able to rake in more profits for herself. She seems to expect some kind of magic solution to her problem (and it exists, its called Single Payer) when the reality under our’s and Ted’s healthcare systems is she should have to pay for the people she employs. Can’t afford to expand because of it? Tough shit, lady. That’s the business you entered into willingly, and that’s the law. If Bernie made one mistake with her, it was he should have emphasized that under Single Payer the burden of cost would be shifted away from employers.

Ted Cruz does a good job of seizing the red meat and using this opportunity to pummel the Democrats…but yet again he offers no solution. How would his new apparently better plan help this woman out? He doesn’t say, just shits on Obamacare. If government won’t provide healthcare, then at what cap will businesses be forced to, Ted? And if it’s higher than 50, then as Bernie asks in his follow up, what happens to all those working people not getting any healthcare? The hair salon lady refuses to answer this, because she knows very well that they’ll be screwed over. It’s at this point that Sanders I think, makes up for his harsh answer before by offering this lady the solution to her problem—Medicare for all Single Payer system. He even gets in a well deserved dig at Ted and the GOP who are at this very moment trying to phase out Medicare entirely.

I think the key moment of this entire debate, and really the core of the entire healthcare debate in America, is when Bernie asks Ted if healthcare ought to be a universal right to every American citizen. And Ted, in predictable fashion, does not give a straight yes/no answer to this direct question. “Well, let’s talk about rights…” Oh boy. Now…Ted is correct that fundamentally, the Bill of Rights is all the ways we are free from unwanted government intervention into our lives. Those are called “negative rights,” or guarantees of inaction from another person or entity, in this case the government. The problem with the Rightwing is they either malevolently or else misguidedly try to conflate positive government programs with Authoritarian control. I say malevolently because many big businesses and their puppets in Congress like pushing this idea because it lets them fill the vacuum and become tyrannical forces in our lives instead. The privatization of previously public services is known as Neoliberalism, and in my opinion it is the scourge of this country.

ASIDE: I understand the philosophical argument against “positive rights” (or entitlements to certain actions by government), such as how compelling action from another can be perceived as a form of tyranny. But I don’t see how organizing a system outside of the private sector, whose services are hampered profit motive and the responsibility to maximize shareholder wealth, constitutes tyranny. The doctors and nurses are still being paid, they’re not compelled into servitude by providing care, we’re just organizing a mutually beneficial way to pay them. It would essentially function as a natural monopoly the same as we do for certain utilities. The larger the pool of users, the smaller the cost to utilize benefits. As far as the providers are concerned (IE the ones supposedly compelled to action by this “positive right”) the only difference is who’s signing the check.

Plus, our Declaration and our Bill of Rights are not infallible, and it’s infuriating that no one in government is willing to admit so, probably because they would be slandered as an unamerican if they tried. These documents were written before the information age OR the industrial age, predating the discovery of penicillin or vaccines, not to mention the invention of the X-Ray and modern surgery. Nobody in 1787 knew healthcare as we understand it today was even possible, or that it would be so expensive that only government intervention would make it possible for all Americans to access. Really, that’s what this all boils down to. The Left recognizes the need to adapt to a changing world and adopt the most common sense, compassionate solution. The Right wants to keep the current system either out of a misguided textualist interpretation of the Constitution, an irrational fear of any government action even when it can do something objectively better than the private sector, or because of pure and simple greed. And if you die, you die, tough shit you should have been born rich. I think the fact that Ted couldn’t give a straight answer (because he knew he’d sound heartless if he did) and then tried to deflect to attacking Bernie was a powerful moment which really summed up the problem. One side is offering solutions, the other side can do nothing but attack and change the subject. Bernie’s refutation of Ted’s bullshit “access” talking point was gold. Really, Ted’s “they’re free to access any plan they want!” bullcrap reminds me of Michelle Bachmann’s answer when pressed about gay marriage “but, they CAN get married (in a hetero union.)” Not only heartlessly screwing with people’s lives, but they can’t even admit they’re doing so, instead either outright gaslighting or else playing dumb.

By the next questioner, I think it’s become clear that on one hand the town hall/questions from the audience format was a mistake and yet on the other it was the best decision possible from the organizers. The problem is, this woman asks the exact same question as the first one, essentially “if Obamacare is repealed, can I keep my insurance?” So this format forces these two to answer the same questions again and again rather than develop a natural back and forth and maybe pivot to different aspects of the issue. And yet, it’s great this is forcing Ted to see the people his policies would destroy face to face. He literally has to look these people in the eye and tell them they’ll be okay. If he votes to repeal without a replacement, or with a bad one, we will be able to definitively classify him as a complete psychopath, as far as I’m concerned. And this is why increasingly I have zero tolerance for those on the side of the issue that want to repeal but not replace with single payer. It’s great you have some ideological position about the nature of government vs private businesses and all that…but at the end of the day your misguided (or again, malevolent in some cases) crusade is going to really hurt and even kill people. That’s really what this is all about, and I don’t know how you could live with yourself if you were responsible for that.

And once again, Ted ignores this woman’s question and her general concerns to list off a bunch of irrelevant factoids about Medicare’s flaws. Yeah, we get it, it’s not perfect Ted. But that doesn’t mean it’s worth gutting completely either, the same way you don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater. Unless, that is, you have a better solution…but we’re halfway through and he STILL hasn’t outlined one, just vague “more access! I want YOU to be in charge!” generalities. Put up or shut up, Ted. And if your plan is to just leave us to the mercy of insurance companies like it used to be, then at least have the balls to admit it. I LOVE how even the moderator at this point is sick of this BS and straight up asks the woman “do you think Senator Cruz answered your question for you?” to which she shakes her head no. What’s even funnier (or more frustrating really) is that Cruz outlines a plan of “portable insurance” where your insurance goes with you if you switch jobs. He asks the woman if she’s ever had a job with insurance, to which she also shakes her head no. So even under this mediocre half-measure this woman would still be left out to dry. And rather than acknowledge this, Cruz once again pivots to just disparaging Bernie. Even worse, he falls back on a classic Rightwing talking point of tort reform, or making it harder to sue doctors for malpractice. If you watch the documentary Hot Coffee you’ll get a good rundown on why tort reform is actually a solution in need of a problem, and ultimately harmful for us laypeople.

In one final irony, Ted tries to destroy Bernie’s boast that Vermont is #2 and Massachusetts #1 in terms of greatest % of insured, by saying more people are moving to Texas. This comes just after we heard the story of the questioner, who had to LEAVE Texas to get insurance at all. Whoops. And besides that, correlation does not imply causation. There could and probably are many other reasons for people moving to Texas besides healthcare. Hell, I wouldn’t be surprised if those numbers of people moving to Texas represent Mexican immigrants. Cruz then relates the story of his dad who didn’t heave healthcare, went to the University of Texas “and that allowed him to get a job…which allowed him to then get ANOTHER job, so he could have healthcare!” You can’t make this shit up. And let’s not even discuss the fact that Papa Cruz could have just as easily fallen ill, had a car accident, or any number of things in those preceding years which left him in debt or killed him before he was lucky enough to work all those years before enjoying the “privilege” of healthcare.

I got nothing. Politics is exhausting sometimes, especially when you watch all this shit and notice it’s just the same issues debated endlessly while nothing productive happens. Make your choice and go.

The moderator asks Cruz if women’s birth control will be covered under any replacement plan like it was under Obamacare, and he he first launches into an attack on Socialism, then an extended metaphor about Lamborghini’s, then says “no” in so many words.

By this point, I’m just beating a dead horse, and so is this debate. I will say, it’s a great debate in the sense that there are no personal barbs, no stupid moderators overstepping their boundaries, and no “let’s talk about this important topic for 1 minute and then move on.” It’s a good way to look at two different ideologies and two different debate tactics at the same time. I’m incredibly biased because Bernie is my favorite politician since McGovern, and Ted Cruz is the embodiment of everything wrong with US politics as far as I’m concerned. I was told before watching this that Ted “whupped” Bernie. But honestly, I genuinely think Sanders won this debate. He has a more awkward stage presence I admit. And he would have done well to have some cited facts and anecdotes as Ted did. But the fact of the matter is he actually has a proven, comprehensive plan that the rest of the world happily uses. Ted merely danced around the questions, gave waffling answers and spoke in platitudes. At the end of the day, Bernie is deeply saddened by all the people living without insurance and wants to fix that problem. Ted, I honestly don’t believe, cares. I can’t say whether he hates Obamacare due to spite for the man who signed it or he really is just that dangerously ideologically pure in his “no government, even when it makes sense” dogma. But his plan would leave people uninsured and that’s a fact. 

1 Comment

  1. Cassandra, I can’t believe your readers were ever getting sick of debate reactions! As I see it, all your blog posts on this and indeed every subject you address are fascinating and informative documents that can be visited and revisited at will.

    This final one — call it the Voynich SMiLE of your debate reactions — is as compelling as any of the other reactions I’ve read. I’d say these analyses are an invaluable source of information and inspiration for anyone interested in US political debate.

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