Tuesday night, CNN hosted a spirited 90-minute debate on health care between the 2016 presidential party runners-up: Ted Cruz and Bernie Sanders. The forum exposed each senator’s basic philosophy – capitalism (Cruz) and socialism (Sanders). This led to a great irony for the debate. Both men were arguing over a health care plan that neither one of them believes in.
Bernie Sanders is supportive of Obamacare in the same way someone who wants to climb to the roof is supportive of a step ladder. It won’t get you there, but it’s moving in the direction you want to go. Frequently, during the debate, when Obamacare was thrown under the bus by Cruz or by an audience member asking a question, Sanders simply sidestepped it and refused to defend the law.
For example, should all plans, including those for older women beyond child-bearing age, mandate maternity care? Sanders agreed that was something to look at and consider changing. Is it fair to charge people a fee for not buying insurance? Sanders refused to defend the mandate directly. Are plans with a $13,000 deductible really offering anything to the people who are forced to buy them? Sanders says it’s ridiculous.
Sanders came not to defend Obamacare but to argue for his Medicare-for-all plan. He focused on income inequality, high CEO salaries, and the need to tax the wealthy much more. His most repeated line may have been the one about healthcare being a right.
On the other hand, Ted Cruz wants Obamacare repealed and replaced in favor of something with more flexibility and competition. He talked about the failure of socialist medicine abroad, stifling regulations and moving away from the concept of government control of health care.
No doubt partisans on each side will feel their guy won, but, despite the fight night style billing, this wasn’t the type of debate with knock-out punches being thrown. There was some direct confrontation by both Sanders and Cruz but they kept it relatively respectful throughout.
What we really saw in the debate was evidence that the debate over Obamacare is really just part of a broader debate about capitalism versus socialism. Those are the two poles toward which our politics seem to be moving, as evidenced by Sanders and Cruz doing so well in the primaries.
Frankly, Democrats didn’t want to have that debate in 2009 because they knew it was deadly to their goals, but it’s the debate we should have been having all along.