Jimmy Carter has always been a good man. But he only became a liberal icon during a post-presidency that saw the Democratic Party move steadily right on a host of fundamental issues on which the party once led. Remember that Massachusetts Senator Ted Kennedy and California Governor Jerry Brown challenged Carter in the 1980 Democratic primaries because they believed that Carter was too cautious on those issues—including health-care reform.
To be clear, even when he served as a moderate Democratic president, Carter was more progressive on many issues than a good number of today’s Democratic “leaders.” The 39th president argued in 1980 for enactment of “an affordable national health plan that will improve Medicare for the elderly, extend protection against catastrophic medical expenses to all of us, improve health coverage for the poor, and provide special benefits to expectant mothers and children in the first years of life.”
But Kennedy and others wanted Carter to go further and faster. Now Carter is there.
Last Sunday, he spoke about the inevitability of a single-payer health-care system. Carter is not some radical change agent but rather a practical political thinker who sees both the logic and the necessity of a “Medicare for All” response to the health-care challenges that America faces today and that Republicans are determined to make dramatically worse in the future.
Democrats remain divided on the question of whether to go all-in for “Medicare for All”—as Montana Republican Senator Steve Daines attempted to highlight this week by proposing an insincere amendment backing a version of single payer. Daines, a right-wing provocateur, is not a supporter of real reform; he simply wanted to get progressive Democrats and their more moderate colleagues wrangling with one another over health-care reform. His move was foiled by supporters of single payer, led by Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, who refused to play Daines’s game. “The Democratic caucus will not participate in the Republicans’ sham process. No amendment will get a vote until we see the final legislation and know what bill we are amending,” explained a text from Sanders aide Josh Miller-Lewis. “Once Republicans show us their final bill, Sen. Sanders looks forward to getting a vote on his amendment that makes clear the Senate believes that the United States must join every major country and guarantee health care as a right, not a privilege.”
While they are united in rejecting Republican chicanery, however, Democrats have yet to get on the same page with regard to single payer—a fact frequently noted by RoseAnn DeMoro, the executive director of the 175,000-member National Nurses United union, and others who have grown frustrated with the party’s failure to embrace the “Medicare for All” option.