Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Ron Dellums: Loss of a great leader and a job for the rest of us

On July 30, 2018, Ron Dellums, one of the giants of our era, died of cancer. As the obituaries in the New York Times and Washington Post make clear, he was a major progressive voice, inside and out of Congress, for many years. He was elected, largely on an anti-Vietnam war platform, in 1971 from “one of the most liberal districts” in the nation, Oakland and Berkeley, CA, and served until 1998. Over the decades he fought for women’s rights, civil rights, civil liberties, inclusion, anti-corporatism, fairness and equity, labor, and environmental goals. ‘He championed a progressive mantra: Stop war. Cut military spending. Help people. Address the nation’s social problems.’ He was a founder of the Congressional Black Caucus, and in 2007 was elected to a term as Mayor of the city of Oakland.
‘“So here comes this black guy from the Bay Area,” he told The Progressive magazine when he left Congress, “talking about peace, feminism, challenging racism, challenging the priorities of the country, and talking about preserving the fragile nature of our ecological system. People looked at me as if I was a freak. And looking back, I think that the only crime we committed was that we were 20 years ahead of our time.”

But, quite amazingly, neither the Times nor the Post obituaries, nor his extensive updated Wikipedia entry mention the issue that is the one that first comes to mind for progressives in the health care arena: his early and continuing support for a national health system, which he agreed was the most logical, effective, and cost-effective means of providing for the health care needs of the American people. The “Dellums Bill”, which was first introduced in 1972 and re-introduced at every session in which he served in Congress, would have created a national health system (not just a national health insurance plan) and was far more expansive than simply Medicare for All, although Mr. Dellums also supported that, and its current iteration, HR 676. Dellums’ United States Health Service Act actually proposed a comprehensive and rational health care system, with neighborhood health centers, larger multispecialty centers, local hospitals, regional hospitals, and referral centers, all joined to each other, all run by elected boards of consumers, and all funded by public funds. It would have been – and still would be – terrific for the health of the American people, and for controlling costs, to have such a system in place. Of course, it would not have been nearly as profitable for providers (which mainly means hospitals, but also doctors and others), insurance companies, pharmaceutical companies, device manufacturers, and other profiteers. So, of course, it never occurred. But Congressman Dellums continued to be a beacon for universal health care, and we should be ever thankful for his leadership in this arena.

Ron Dellums championed universal health care before Bernie Sanders was the spokesperson for it, although both supported each other, and remained a staunch advocate for it. Today we are still far from this goal, although the ACA did significantly expand access. Although its opponents have not succeeded in repealing it, they have done what they could to make it less effective in covering everyone, including removing the individual mandate, removing funding for many of its programs (such as navigators), limiting access to the individual marketplace (although as many people signed up in 2017-18 with only six weeks to do it as in 2016-17 with 12 weeks, attesting to its popularity), and other reactionary efforts. But the ACA was not universal health care, nor was it an effective way of controlling costs. It expanded coverage, but did not redesign the health system the way the Dellums Bill would have.

With control of the government in the hands of Republicans, including not only the self-designated populist and reality TV figure who is President, but a Congress and state governments in the hands of a GOP who manifest no semblance of humanity. As noted accurately by Thomas Frank in The Guardian
‘Republicans are a known quantity. Their motives are simple: they will do anything, say anything, profess faith in anything to get tax cuts, deregulation and a little help keeping workers in line. Nothing else is sacred to them. Rules, norms, traditions, deficits, the Bible, the constitution, whatever. They don’t care, and in this they have proven utterly predictable.’

Certainly they don’t care about the American people’s health, which is suffering worst in the reddest counties in the US, those that have also suffered the worst from stagnant wages coming from the pro-corporate policies of the GOP, as well as environmental degradation. We need to continue to work to change these policies, to un-elect Republicans, to elect people who stand for progressive change and not pro-Wall St status quo like the DNC.

While we will not be able to re-create him, we need more people who seek to be like Ron Dellums.

Stop war. Cut military spending. Help people. Address the nation’s social problems.


Kollisch said...

Thanks, Josh, for this full-throated remembrance of a giant. I wish that the NYTimes had asked YOU to participate in writing the obituary.

Barbara Warren said...

Excellent response to the loss for all of us of a great man. You succinctly reveiwed Ron Dellums' key leadership in so much of what is/can be great about our health care disparate "system" in America. We hope and trust that we can preserve and grow what is left of it and can return to fulfilling his vision and mission.

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