Audio for the Cold War’s Last Victims
WAMC March 25 2010
Dr. Steven A. Leibo is a professor of international history & politics at the sage Colleges
“The Cold War’s Last Victims”
One of my favorite moments during the last year’s nasty fight over health care was a very creative photo shop job done on a photo of President Obama putting Gorbachev, the last leader of the Soviet Union’s famous birthmark on Obama’s forehead.
Frankly I thought it was funny as hell. Sure, I understood the idea behind the image. That somehow Obama’s efforts to make sure that the vast majority of us had access to affordable health care without the fear of going broke, either as individual Americans or as the nation at large was an attempt to destroy the New President’s signature policy goal by nailing it to the cross of socialism as dramatically as Richard Nixon, that long gone cold war warrior had once labeled his senatorial campaign rival Helen Gahagan Douglas, The Pink Lady – one of those evil reds.
And for today’s GOP leadership, a group that has singularly associated itself with yesterday’s fears, it probably seemed like a good tactic. If health reform could be linked to the same emotions Americans had once used to fight international communism Obama and the health care reform he rode into Washington on was a goner.
And there was reason to think that the old Red Scare tactic that had once worked so well for the infamous Senator Joe McCarthy would work again. Sure L.B.J. had gotten Medicare through in the 1960s. And while that was quite a fight filled with the same comic book images of evil communists about to take over, realistically, what for profit medical insurance company would want to have the business of people who actually get sick anyway. The entire idea of a profit based health insurance industry is after all to focus on customers who won’t actually use medical services
And not surprisingly the battle was not really engaged again until Bill Clinton, the first post Cold War president tried to implement a much more ambitious effort to ensure Americans universal health access. But even his efforts went down in flaming defeat perhaps because it was too early and the socialist bogyman too powerful still.
But watching all this from the perspective of a professor of Modern World History and Politics who has taught thousands of students from the state universities to small colleges in the years since the Soviet Union blew up and China eased away from communism’s basically dysfunctional economic tenets not just to today’s 18 to 22 years old but to the college students of a decade ago.
As someone who has spent decades teaching about the rise and fall of communism to a generation that grew up after the collapse of that system and hears talk of communism largely with the same sense of distance they learn about the medieval crusades. One of the most obvious elements of this last year’s battle was a sense of how much less influential would political symbols based on yesterday’s anti-socialist scare tactics be. And how obvious it was that the GOP had chosen to invoke a bogyman who had long lost most of his power to inspire fear.
That today’s youth are much more concerned about advance of global warming than global communism more concerned Jihadism in the Middle East than collectivization in the Ukraine. That Joe McCarthy’s image of communists under every bed had largely been forgotten even by some Americans nearing middle age.
That this time, with enough effort, America might finally be able to get past the battle over whether a proposal was socialist or capitalist in philosophy and focus on the more immediate issue of whether insurance companies could protect their own profits by denying sick people health care.
No, for those like this commentator whose job calls upon us to think about the larger trends of society to begin to recognize that the last victims of the Cold War were probably not those who died in Korea, in Vietnam, in Cuba or in undermining the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. But all those tens of thousands of Americans who continue to die regularly because even now they still lack access to affordable heath care.