Tuesday 22 December 2009


Health care in America has been a thorn in the side of the parties, the people, and the country’s worldwide reputation for as long as I can remember, and probably a lot longer. The most advanced, most civilised, most modern, and probably most Christian country in the world has an employer based system of private medical insurance which leaves tens of millions without access to even the most basic medical care.

Thanks to the leadership of Lyndon Johnson (pictured) there is a government run programme whereby Americans over 65 years of age have medical coverage through the Medicare system, and the very poorest have some sort of coverage through Medicaid, but that still leaves some 40-50 million Americans with no healthcare insurance at all. And then those who do have medical insurance, paid for by their employers, can find that this insurance doesn’t actually cover the medical services that they need it to cover. We’ve all heard horror tales of someone being diagnosed with an expensive illness only to find that somewhere in the small print of their contract there is a get out clause, or that unfortunately they neglected to disclose (although they weren’t asked about) the fact that they once fell off their bike when they were 8, thus rendering their insurance invalid.

In order to get a bill through the Senate, over a minority filibuster, there is a need for the “for” vote to be 60 or more. The present situation is that the Democrats, who are sponsoring this bill, have 58 members and there are two Independent Liberals. All had to vote in the wee small hours of Monday morning in order to close off the Republican filibuster and move the bill to final debate.

What follows is almost beyond belief. I quote from an email sent to me by Danny, 1st Earl of the Ozarks:

So, during the past week, the Republicans had turned to prayer as a last resort. Only God himself could halt the awful prospect of health care for all (well, almost all) Americans. Oh GOD....save us from the Democrats by your mighty hand. Republican Senators hosted televised prayer vigils.

The vote would come in the early morning hours Monday.

It was the last chance......so Senator Tom Coburn (Republican of Oklahoma) took the floor Sunday afternoon and said:

"What the American people ought to pray is that somebody can't make the vote tonight," he said. "That's what they ought to pray."

They wanted God to ensure that someone couldn’t turn up and vote for health care for the poor? Can that be real? What did it mean? Did they want God to arrange for a Senator to die, maybe the elderly and ailing Senator Byrd (93) from West Virginia?

Well.... the time of the vote came, and 60 Senators, including poor old Senator Byrd, in his wheelchair, did in fact vote to close off the filibuster and move the bill forward.

So it appears that God wasn’t listening, or was listening and didn’t much care for the prayers of his faithful American Republican Senators. Maybe God was remembering that He was about caring for the sick, feeding the hungry, loving children, the old and people in general, black and white, rich and poor.....even Republican Senators.

I wonder if the Senators will be taking the fact that the Lord didn’t see fit to kill off one of their number in order to kill off this bill, as a little sign from Him.

I think He wants this bill to go through, don't you?


  1. Danny, 1st Earl of the OzarksDecember 22, 2009 6:43 pm

    It looks like final Senate passage of the health bill is going to take place Christmas Eve.....unless the Republican appeals for divine intervention are answered.

    I love the picture of Lyndon Johnson, the 36th President, a big, tough, and profane man from the hill country of central Texas. He was one of the most powerful and effective Majority Leaders in the history of the US Senate. As president, he not only pushed Medicare through the Congress, he secured the passage of landmark civil rights legislation. Sadly, he led the US into the quagmire of Vietnam, and it destroyed his presidency.

  2. We were just talking about him this afternoon M'Lord. He was a good man, if lacking in the social graces normal in his high office.

    I have no reference for this, and it might be rubush, but I heard a story that after a dinner with some European leader (could have been the UK Prime Minister), they were continuing their talk in the Rose Garden. President Johnson needed to "use the facilities", as it were, and "the facilities" were quite a distance from where he was, so he popped behind something or other, attended to his immediate needs, and continued with his conversation.

    What a guy!

  3. Danny, 1st Earl of the OzarksDecember 22, 2009 7:01 pm

    Oh yes Tris....I have no doubt that happened....more than once. Ole Lyndon had no qualms about taking care of bodily functions while important political matters were being negotiated.

    Politicians dreaded being called into his office in the Capitol while he was Senate Majority Leader....or later, into the Oval Office.....where, as he put it, "we will reason together." Grown men have been close to tears while "reasoning" with Lyndon Johnson.

  4. Well, Your Grace, a man's gotta do, etc.....

    I think though that you make a good point that he was in fact a first-rate president who made a very real difference to the life of the poor, the old and the black population of America, and then it all got lost in that awful war, for which he is most remembered.

    Kennedy, on the other hand is remembered as a saint, but achieved less, although in fairness he may have laid the fopundations for some of the civil rights laws....?

  5. Danny, 1st Earl of the OzarksDecember 22, 2009 7:51 pm

    It's ironic that the graceful and stylish Kennedy, from Massachusetts, had seemed tentative at first in pushing a civil rights agenda. After his death, it was Johnson, the tough old SOUTHERN politician, who finally pushed the bills through Congress. One wonders if Kennedy could have done so well.

    What a contrast they were. I've heard the recording of Johnson's first speech as president when Air Force One landed in Washington carrying him and the body of John F. Kennedy back from Dallas. That awful Texas drawl, and the still vivid memory of Kennedy's graceful oratory. What a dreadful day that must have been for Americans.

  6. It probably goes to show that fine words and a posh Massachusetts education, aren't everything. He might have had an accent that set your teeth on edge but he was a good man.

  7. Interesting article. The situation in the US seems to mirror the UK in 1948. Bevan had to fight the BMA and the Conservative Party to push through the NHS legislation. He said at the time that he had to fill the doctors mouths with gold to get them to shut up and accept the legislation. Overnight nearly 2,500 hospitals and other facilities became free to all. The workers would at last get a fair share of the wealth that they helped to create.

  8. Anon:

    Yes, that's true. It's amazing now to think that people who had fought for Britian in the war were denied medical treatments that were available only to people who could afford to pay for them.

    It is even more amazing that America in the 21st century still has that situation.

    There is a lot that is wrong with the NHSS and the NHS, but there is a lot that is good too.

    It must be frightening to live without that safety net once you get to the age when things start to go wrong!

  9. Poor old LBJ he gets blamed for the Vietnam war and gets none of the credit for civil rights legislation. He did not start the war and it was Kennedy that started increasing US involvement. Kennedy did nothing about Civil rights at all really from 1961-1963 which is unusual as Presidents normally try to get their programmes passed in their first terms.

  10. Yes, he doesn't go down in hisotry as a great president but he was in his own way, and surely Medicare was an amazing step forward...

    Wasn't his wife called Ladybird? (A props of nothing!!)

  11. Lady Bird was her nick name her real name was Claudia Alta Taylor

  12. Ah... thanks Munguin... That would be a little less embarrassing at school I imagine! The opportunities for children's nastiness with a name like Lady Bird know no bounds!!

  13. I think that LBJ deserves to be one of the greatest of Presidents. If you think about it he achieved much more than JFK. I can’t understand why Americans froth about JFK when as far as I can see he did nothing much except almost cause a nuclear war. Promised lots delivered little.

  14. Perhaps The Grand Old Earl of Ozarks might like to comment on that Munguin....

  15. Praying republican senators...live televised prayer virgils....sorry...what the heck is going on in the grand USA? That just seems like publicised hysteria, not credible and grown up political discourse..

    Well at least in Britain both main parties [Labour and Tory] both accept the NHS as part of a public provision consensus.

    Thanks guys, this post made me laugh hellishly, I think my neighbour next door thinks I've lost my mind :)

  16. There's something evil about wanting God to strike down a Senator in order to avoid the possibility of health care for all....

    As if God would oblige.

    Shhhh Dean, we don't want them coming to take you away.....

  17. Take me away? What like Alex Neil will come for you if you act too indiscretely on this here blog! LOL

    No, but there is something hysterical about the republicans right now. They seem to me to be making exactly the same mistakes as my Tory lot did after our 1997 massacre, and moving to the right [even more!!!], they need to moderate to win. Palin however...I fear...will soon be taking the party of Lincoln by storm..and the old boy will be spinning in his grave.

  18. EEEEK

    Bring on Palin. I could do with a laugh...

    It was seriously like living in a comedy show while she was on the trail. Every day brought a new laugh. She seemed to me to be the least competent person in the world to take over the button had anything happened to the President.

    Hillary used to say, who do you want to be answering the phone at 2 am...? I think that the qustion should have been, who do you MOST SURELY NOT want to be anywhere near that phone at 2am...? and the answer was Mrs Palin.

    That he chose her, brought Mr McCain's judgement into very serious question in my opinion.

    The Tories had 4 or 5 years to have their nervous breakdown... OK... so they took about 12, but that's another matter, however, the Republicans only have 2 years... well 1 now, until the mid terms....(I think that's what they are called).

    They can't afford to be off the wall.

  19. Can't afford to be, but most likely are "off the wall"!

  20. Danny, 1st Earl of the OzarksDecember 23, 2009 2:29 am

    Dean: You are right on. The Republicans could not fight the issue on its merits, so they’ve whipped up mindless hysteria among their base. There has been nothing like grown up political discourse anywhere to be found. When Congressmen held “town hall” style informational meetings during the August Congressional recess, they were met with angry, emotional, and confused constituents who shouted then down. Interestingly, some of these hysterical “common people...concerned working mothers, etc.” turned out to Republican state or county chairmen, essentially working from a script. Sometimes with tear stained faces, they screamed about Obama’s Nazi...Marxist...Communist...agenda for America. During this period, Sarah Palin coined the phrase “Obama’s death panels.” These were panels which she said would be set up under the new government health system to decide which Americans would receive health care, and which would not. These panels would simply decide who would live and who would die. I’ll not forget the elderly woman who was in tears about how the Democrats were going to take away her Medicare coverage. She didn’t want a government run health program she cried. She wanted to keep her Medicare! Yes, of course, Medicare is a TOTALLY GOVERNMENT RUN program...one of those dreaded single payer health systems.

    Hard to know what the Republicans are really all about. Maybe it's just sort of their American political job. The Democrats advocate social progress, and the Republicans oppose it. FDR gave us Social Security, the Republicans opposed. LBJ gave us Medicare, the Republicans opposed. Obama will set us on the road to universal healthcare. The Republicans are opposing. Maybe they think it's just their job...LOL. But they are consistently on the wrong side of history. Interesting to think about how surely Lincoln and his new party were on the right side of history in 1860.

  21. Danny, 1st Earl of the OzarksDecember 23, 2009 3:15 am

    Munguin: I think that your take on Kennedy and Johnson is a correct one. Kennedy's grace and style, which seemed so genuine at the time, now seems to have been politically orchestrated. He (and Khrushchev) almost plunged the world into thermonuclear war. And for a time at least, he seemed to lack real conviction about civil rights. Of course it was LBJ who finally pushed the civil rights legislation through Congress....and down the throats of his native South. And Kennedy started us down the road to Vietnam. Who knows if he would have seen the disaster ahead and pulled back instead of escalating as LBJ did. Kennedy was the martyred saint at the time of his death. And LBJ left office one of the most hated men in America. Vietnam had defined everything. But LBJ made things happen in Washington in a way not seen since FDR.

    One might say that Kennedy received his points on style. LBJ was short on style but long on execution.....at least in terms of his domestic program. As for Vietnam, I've already quoted here the way he said he felt in 1968, at the end of his shattered presidency. Paraphrasing: I'm like a man walking down a west Texas highway who gets caught in a hailstorm. I can't run. I can't hide. And I can't make it stop.

  22. Danny, 1st Earl of the OzarksDecember 23, 2009 3:36 am

    Tris...you mentioned his wife "Lady Bird." That nickname gave his wife the initials. But his two daughters were actually named Lynda Bird and Luci Baines. All the family were LBJ's.

  23. Danny:

    I suppose that it's terribly easy for us to criticise the actions of these people, Kennedy with his near nuclear war, and Johnson with his Vietnam War, with all the benefits of hindsight, and none of the pressures of office, mixed in with a good measure of general ignorance of many other things.

    But analysis of political careers, long after the deaths of the post holder, will often bring forth truths that lay hidden, or were, at least overlooked, both the good and the bad.

    It seems that we want some people to be heroes and others to be villains... and we bend out history to suit.

    I wonder what the future will make of Bush, Blair and Obama, or if they won't bother much, and the important personages of the early 21st century will be Hu Jintao and Wen Jiabao.

    Without wishing to trivialise too much, have you noticed that their names and Hu and Wen?

    Talking of trivialisation.... LBJ, all the way through the family.....? Is that an Good Ol’ Texas custom?

  24. Dean:

    They certainly are if they think it is reasonable to pray for something to happen to a Senator, in order to stop a Universal Healthcare Bill. That's a damned funny thing to ask of God's power.

    I recall that Bush once told us that God spoke to him and told him to invade... If the Republicans have such faith in God, and his part in the running of American affairs, I suggest that perhaps they might take his failure to intercede on this matter as a message of God's support for the Obama plan.

    Or do the Republicans only have faith in God when God tells them what they want to hear?

    I think maybe Blair was right when his spokesman said "We don't do God".

  25. Danny, 1st Earl of the OzarksDecember 23, 2009 1:34 pm

    Tris: I suppose that in the long run, the academic historians get it right. But it may be a complicated picture, and revisionist viewpoints come along from time to time. Popular perceptions have a way of changing in the short to mid term. Johnson was a hated man when he left office in 1969. Today, his great contributions are recognized and appreciated. Kennedy's reputation has to some extent gone in the opposite direction. Presidential reputations do have a way of rising and falling as we view the facts in light of our current history and culture.

    As far as I know, identical initials are not a Texas custom. Lyndon just probably thought it was cool....LOL.