December 8, 2016
My friend and former colleague Wendell Potter, the CIGNA insurance public relations chief who saw the evil of his ways and left his job, is starting a new non-profit journalism enterprise called Tarbell.
The investigative story I want to see from Wendell is one I am sure he will never tell: an insider exposé of the ugly rise and fall of Obamacare. This is a story Wendell knows inside and out, but I doubt he will ever really come to grips with its truth: Obamacare was a pro-industry Democrat scam that destroyed an opportunity for single payer education and reform and ultimately brought devastating political ruin to the Democrats themselves.
I welcomed Wendell Potter to the Center for Media and Democracy (CMD) staff in May, 2009, just before I retired from CMD as its Founder and Executive Director. Wendell arrived with a $100,000 grant in hand from TIDES Foundation to support his work as an insurance industry insider turned NGO reform activist and whistle blower. He testified before Congress, was featured by Bill Moyers Journal, and became a popular and admired public face of the liberal health reform movement in America.
Before I brought Wendell into CMD, he assured me that he was committed to single payer, but that turned out to be false. Instead, Wendell promoted Obamacare, a sop to the drug and insurance industry which helped the Democrats keep single payer ‘off the table,’ effectively killing real health care reform in America.
I estimate that TIDES and other liberal foundations, individual donors, unions and corporations dumped over $100 million into the Democrats well-oiled NGO lobby and PR effort to pass Obamacare. Much of this money moved through or was coordinated by a rich but short-lived lobby group called Health Care for America Now. HCAN’s scores of members included US Action, MoveOn, SEIU, AFSCME, and the usual liberal laundry list of Democrat-aligned NGO organizations. Wendell participated intimately in its PR and lobbying and knows its story well from the inside. That is what I would pay Tarbell to tell, because it is a story that America needs to hear, now that Obamacare is being destroyed by its own contradictions, corruptions, and the rise of Trump.
I told Wendell in the Fall of 2009 that Obamacare, nothing but a recycled Heritage Foundation scheme, was a guaranteed failure, that it completely undermined single payer reform, and that it would certainly blow up in the face of the Democrats. He responded that as long as the so-called “Public Option” was part of it, it was worth supporting. But the Public Option was stripped out by Obama and the Democrats, and then the rationale of the Democrats’ progressives in the HCAN lobby became ‘we must still support Obamacare and our President because not to do so would embarrass him and his key legislative proposal.’
Today it is clear that Obamacare has become a very bad movie, one rich with dark irony as we are now to witness its horror film ending: evisceration and decapitation by the Trump-led Republicans. (Vincent Price should rise from the dead to narrate this one!) Consider this: it was Obamacare alone that fueled the rise of the GOP’s Tea Party movement and led directly to the Democrats’ Congressional defeat in 2010. It was then the failures and shortcomings of Obamacare, a political WMD in the hands of the political Right, that set the stage for the rise of Trump and his ascendancy to President.
That, in synopsis, is the true, tragic tale of Obamacare. Wendell Potter witnessed and participated in this from the inside, and his insider story could blow the whistle on the Democrats and their NGO lobby, something that America needs to hear and understand. The rise and fall of Obamacare is a crucial tale to understand how to bring about single payer in the future and, just as important, how the Democrats are adept at coopting and derailing such fundamental reform to serve industry and their own corrupt political agenda.
Unfortunately I don’t expect Wendell Potter and Tarbell to ever blow the whistle on Obamacare. Hey, Wendell, surprise me!