Better Dead than Red

Conservatives Go Retro to Defeat the Healthcare Initiative

The conservatives and their fellow travelers have gone retro in their battle to defeat any type of tangible healthcare initiative for the American public. Since it is illogical to argue against an issue that would guarantee all American citizens quality health care as a basic human right the conservatives have fallen back on that tried and true political boogieman, socialism. Nothing scares the hell out of many Americans like good old red baiting. Anyone who was around during the post-war era can remember the slogan, Better dead than Red. This was a hot item with the bumper sticker and pin wearing crowd of the 1950’s and ‘60’s.

This type of ideology may have had some traction back when Russia and China first acquired nuclear weapons. After all we thought god was on our side and had thus bequeathed nuclear weaponry solely upon the United States. What a surprise it must have been to wake up one day and find out that godless Russkies and Chinese had attained the same power the U.S. had, which is to say owning a weapon that could literally destroy the entire planet. How could a good and gracious god allow such a thing to happen? In the case of the Russians getting the bomb, we “discovered” that the Rosenbergs had passed the plans on to them for money.1 This version proved to be nice, clean and played into sound stereotypes of the period. We even sent them to the chair in an attempt to assuage our collective consciousness that we are the good guys and as such the only ones who should be allowed to possess something that could turn the planet into a dust heap with the push of a button.

Considering that now some dozen or more nations have the bomb, slogans like being better dead than Red appear to be trite. Pakistan isn’t communist and they have the bomb. Israel isn’t a communist nation and they have the bomb, somehow “better dead than kosher” just doesn’t have the same ring to it. It also smacks of abject racism, something many conservatives are, but are loath to admit.

Slogans and stereotypes are better employed where simple minds can easily sum up their non-comprehension of a complex issue with a snappy slogan. Hence we now have loads of right-wing folk parading around with images of President Obama sporting a Hitler moustache and a hammer and sickle tattoo on his forehead. The conservatives claim Obama is turning America into a socialist country. First off while Hitler was the head of the National Socialist Party, this group of wacky characters was anything but. The hammer and sickle was the logo Lenin and his Russian cohorts adopted. Accept for the very brief life of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact of 1939, also known as the Nazi/Soviet Non-Aggression Pact, Hitler hated the socialists in general and the Russians in particular. Generally it’s a good idea to get your facts straight when you want to protest publicly, but in the case of extreme conservatives when have facts ever impeded them? It’s so much easier to conjure up images of Nazi Germany and claim that the President wants to turn America into a communist country. Just chalk it up to another honest mistake for these plan and simple folks. Communism is a form of government. Socialism is an economic system, but hey who’s counting when setting up a right-wing agenda?

This game plan for employing the Red Boogieman with the Obama Administration’s National Health Care Initiative is right out of the 1950’s red-baiting McCarthy era. Anyone with any sense of history should be able to understand this and see its fallacies. Unfortunately this hasn’t been the case when you look at the rest of America beyond the New York and Los Angeles skylines.

Both of these cities do have a distinct advantage over most other Americans when it comes to understanding the methods being employed by the right. The healthcare initiative is not the first time conservatives have used slogans and Red baiting to destroy something that was for the public good. Conservatives played this same card effectively nearly six decades ago to ensure that the Dodgers abandoned Brooklyn’s Ebbets Field for the sun soaked stadium that would arise out of the fields of Elysian Park Heights, or better known to Angelinos, Chavez Ravine.2

Faced with an extreme housing shortage in the post-war years Los Angeles claimed eminent domain for all of the properties in the three neighborhoods of Chavez Ravine, a sleepy Hispanic enclave just west of downtown. The real estate became the property of the City Housing Authority. CHA had noted architects Richard Neutra and Robert Alexander design a community that would provide low income housing, schools, parks and shops.

As with any government program it takes time to get off the planning stages. Such was the case with the Elysian Park Heights Development Project. By 1952 the thinking had changed. Only Communist countries supplied government funded housing. In America you paid for what you had and if you didn’t have anything that was your own tough luck. State Senator John B. Tenney, chair of the California Senate Committee on Un-American Activities and the leading Red-hunter in the state began an investigation of alleged Communist infiltration into the CHA. The Los Angeles city council immediately sought to backtrack on its support for the CHA, voting that year to cancel its contract with the agency. The CHA appealed all the way up to the State Supreme Court when in April 1952 the Court took the conservatives’ side and decided not to hear the case thus reaffirming city’s right to cancel their contract. Not satisfied with the State Supreme Court’s decision, the Los Angeles City Council placed a referendum on the June ballot. Proposition B prevailed upholding the city’s decision to cancel the CHA contract. This literally changed the city’s mayoral leadership when the three-term incumbent, Fletcher Bowron lost to Norris Poulson primarily over the housing issue of Chavez Ravine.

With the defeat of the public housing and planned community project Los Angeles was now able to use real estate claimed through eminent domain in anyway they saw fit. What better way to say we care about our citizens than denying them quality lost cost housing and literally giving the property to a private business owner? Walter O’Malley had long been considering a move from Ebbets Field. When approached by leading Angelinos such as City Councilwoman Rosalind Wyman and the Chandlers, owners of the Los Angeles Times, O’Malley traded a hunk of downtown real estate less than half the size of the Chavez Ravine property, tax free for 60 years.

All of this sounds very familiar when you know the history. Unfortunately most Americans couldn’t tell you our second President’s name let alone remember something like Walter O’Malley’s business chicanery with the Los Angeles oligarchy. This is undoubtedly why the conservatives have chosen to dig up the Red boogieman imagery when President Obama started mentioning something like government sponsored healthcare.

Currently there are four lobbyists working for the pharmaceutical, insurance companies, medical associations etc. to every Congressperson and Senator on Capitol Hill. Their goal is simple, the defeat of the President’s heath care plan, or at the very least its evisceration. Oddly enough the very same folks that complain about our government embracing socialism are the first to cry “Foul,” and look for a government handout when their bank, auto company or military contract goes belly-up. Somehow it isn’t socialism when the government decides to give taxpayers’ dollars to Merrill Lynch, GMC or Blackwater. That’s just good old fashioned American business and the Red boogieman isn’t even in sight. Knowledge of the issue and looking beyond slogans is the only way to combat such thinking and allowing conservatives to destroy the public good for the interests of private business. A good slogan can certainly come in handy though. Just think of what the Democrats might have accomplished if they would have called the healthcare initiative Medicare for Everyone instead of “public option” which sounds more like a bathroom facility at a park.

  1. One of the reasons I italicized “discovered,” while Julius was probably guilty, it is highly doubtful his wife was. They both played into the Jewish stereotype of the day which also made it easier to get a death sentence and carry it out swiftly. This probably wouldn’t have worked with WASP Alger Hiss. He looked too much like “us.” The Rosenbergs were definitely ethnic in appearance which no doubt worked against them in the media. []
  2. Golden Dreams – California in an age of abundance. Kevin Starr pp. 146-153. []
John Zavesky is a freelance writer living in California with his wife and two cats. His material has appeared in Z Magazine and the Los Angeles Times. He can be reached at: johnz52@charter.net. Read other articles by John.

4 comments on this article so far ...

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  1. beverly said on October 10th, 2009 at 7:58am #

    Even if Obama’s healthcare plan prevails, insurance and drug companies will profit handsomely. Requiring every one to buy some type of insurance plan nets a windfall for insurance companies. Even the cheapest plans will mean mega profits as these plans come with high deductibles and cover little. Insurance companies will also benefit from taxpayer money going to subsidize costs for those who can’t afford to buy insurance. Medicare and Medicaid programs will also have money cut to pay for subsidies – the transfer of public dollars to enrich private coffers continues.

    In June, Obama reached agreement with drug companies to cut price of medicine by 80 billion. Projected US spending on drugs for next 10 yrs is 3.6 trillion (source: HHS.gov, govt health stats). Obama’s deal with drug cos saves only 2% (80 billion out of 3.6 trillion). Big Pharma continues to make out like a bandit and neither the public option nor Medicare can negotiate for lower drug costs with drug companies.

    Those lobbyists for insurance and drug firms are working overtime alright – and getting results. The plans from Obama and Congress are chock full of gold for these companies.

    Who woulda thunk that one day bigots and right wing zealots might be of value. We’d better hope these guys can quash Obama’s healthcare deform plan (Lefty louts and losers aren’t doing shit about it). Obamacare- along every alternative proposed by Congress – except for HR 676 – makes a bigger mess than the system we now have.

    Single payer – preferably enrolling all in the established, proven Medicare system – is the best way to go. Citizens can’t depend on the Democrats to go to bat for them on this. As one of the physicians from the Mad as Hell Doctor group said, healthcare reform will be the civil rights issue of this era. We will have to take to the streets and suites with civil disobedience and whatever means necessary to get what we want. Don’t hate the teabaggers and Glenn Beck – take notes on their tactics (they work) and use them for your advantage.

  2. David A. Smith said on October 12th, 2009 at 7:44am #

    To overcome the objections of the right, we could create a collection of non-profit cooperatives to handle the “public” aspect of health insurance.

    To overcome the objection of the left, we could “regulate” the insurance providers in a manner than essentially makes profit negligible (somewhat in the way we used to regulate utilities?).

    The result would be a national network of coops working to provide coverage for people, not profits for stock holders. What do you suppose the chance is of something sane like this coming into existence?

    Of course, it would not deal with the obscene profits of the pharma industry, the lousy management of our hospitals, the arrogance of our medical professionals, the stupidity of ambulance chasing lawyers, and the excessive influence of the “medical” on our daily lives (to name just a few).

    Yes, we have a long way to “reform” our health care and we can’t even get any agreement on the first step. Yeah, I’m counting on this legislation. Not.

  3. Mulga Mumblebrain said on October 13th, 2009 at 2:32am #

    Rightwing opposition to ‘socialism’ flows from the same deep-seated psychological depths as does opposition to guaranteed access to decent healthcare for all. That is from hatred of other people. There is a chasm amongst humanity, betwixt those who see other people as the same as themselves, and who follow the injunction of the Nazarene, and other teachers like Mo Zi, and seek to ‘Do unto others..”, and those who see other people as the enemy. The latter tendency is manifest in various forms, as racism, xenophobia, sectarian hatred, misogyny, capitalism and Rightwing ideology and politics. The haters rarely admit their antipathies, instead projecting onto the hate-figures their own belligerence and anger. One need only think of the Zionazis for a perfect example, or the whole ‘Clash of Civilizations’ rabble, although they are generally a subset of Zionazism.
    For the Rightist, the more people without healthcare the better. Low income losers are not an attractive mark for the ‘healthcare industrial complex’ in any case, and their suffering, increased morbidity, lowered life expectancy, and financial distress when their insurance proves a fraud, all feed the Rightists’ insatiable desire to feel superior to others. Rank sadism comes into it too, the delight in others’ suffering, such a widespread psychopathology on the Right. The US as currently constituted will never have socialised medicine, and acolytes of the ‘American Way’ like our previous, unlamented, PM, John Howard, will do all in their power, as Howard did for eleven years, to introduce just such an inhumane, cruel and wasteful , although immensely profitable, system in their own countries. You see, evil never rests.

  4. Don Hawkins said on October 13th, 2009 at 2:56am #

    “Be well this is the people’s radio station. First reports this morning are saying more troops are massing on the Southern boarder of Russia. China has called for calm and trying to get food and water to the estimated 200 million people now on the Northern boarded. Reports out of India are hard to get and the best we know today July 2029 India is still under Marshall law. The fires in California have stopped for now and the central valley is almost uninhabitable and LA still under Marshall law gas in short supply and Long Range Acoustic Devices reported in many part’s of the city. Temperatures in Southern California are expected to reach records again today. The government is asking for calm in Texas and promising more water and food and gas as people move North. Flooding again in the Northeast and more new settlements on the border with Canada. The government and NASA again in talk’s to see if aerosol injection into Earth’s atmosphere can be used. All for now and temperature updates in one hour save energy be well”.

    Let’s think of this as kind of a war. What would the battle lines look like or what do they look like. About two trillion barrels of oil still in the ground harder to get and yes about twice as much as we have already used up and we are now using it up faster. Coal still being used on a grand scale and the system known as Capitalism kind of likes more then more to keep going at full speed. If we keep burning fossil fuels at the same rate or more for just the next 9 years probably can’t slow a warming Earth and in twenty years or there about’s is when survival starts for the human race in a very real way. You can add to this cutting and burning as if we need more burning of the forests Worldwide and water fresh water that will become more rare like life on this planet. The answer from a few is drill more burn more coal burn more forests for the more and have more and so be it. All done with third grade level thinking. How do you like them Apples well forget Apples as the Bee’s are now going along with the forests. You can’t eat money but buy golly some are going to try anyway.