Silver Lining – What COVID-19 Is Doing For Progressive Policies

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March 16, 2020 by liebestropfchen

Since the 2016 election cycle, I haven’t felt much like writing. Living in the swing state of Ohio can be difficult when the political climate is as polarized as it appears to be on social media. Reality is a brighter shade of political grey: still very tense and divided, yet face-to-face conversation is much warmer, and the political jabs more subtle, than we see on Twitter or Facebook.

In the digital world, we all hate each other. In reality, a lot of people just haven’t taken time to hear what the other side has been saying, and practical application of our ideals leads to the conclusion that we actually have a lot of common ground. Nothing has made this realization more applicable than the quickly-shifting reaction of Republicans and Democrats to the global coronavirus pandemic.

Following the election of Donald Trump, I vowed to give myself a little bit of distance from this blog. I desperately needed to be grounded, so I buried myself in my day job at a financial institution and I kept my thoughts confined to 140 characters on Twitter. My goal was to verbalize my opinions, but to keep them open to opposing views and to always be thinking of how my words will be perceived from another point of view. I’ve experienced a lot of personal growth in my political views, and I’ve seen the same in my friends. We are finding the common ground respectfully, and some are embracing other points of view more easily. I like to hear my liberal friends softening their approach to moderate candidates, and my Trump-supporter friends admitting he’s totally fucked up this federal response to COVID-19.

I pondered sharing some stories of how polar opposites can find middle ground, but several topics over the past few months didn’t develop past three paragraphs before landing in imminent draft status. I knew I would be back to writing when I found something worthy of publishing.

Today felt different. I finally felt as if the actions of Governor Mike DeWine have touched the very nerve for which I created this blog about what it’s like to live in a swing state. Ohio is like a pendulum, swinging far Left and far Right to match the hot-button issues at election time, and rarely do we stop for a breath in the middle. I’m a true Independent – I’ve voted for liberals and conservatives over the past few decades, and the only team I’m loyal to is THE Ohio State University football team.

Thank god it’s not football season right now, by the way, or I’d actually be upset about sports cancellations.

Ohio has decided to take a breath in the middle. We have seen some tremendous leadership from Governor DeWine these past few weeks. He’s a Republican, and I did NOT vote for him. In fact, I was a bit concerned when he won his election. I saw him as a career politician who capitalized on the revolving door, hopping from one office to another in a perpetual goal to live lavishly off the taxpayer dime.

I am so glad I was wrong about him. If he never does anything good for Ohio after this virus has subsided, he’s still proven to be a damn fine governor.

O-H!

What has made his leadership so important these past few weeks is that he’s willing to take political risks in order to care for all Ohioans. Unlike the current occupant of the Oval Office in Washington, D.C., the Ohio Governor has reclaimed the notion that a political leader has an obligation to lead all citizens of his or her constituency, and not merely the people who voted party line at the ballot box. Governor DeWine represents our well-being, and is responsible for us all.

He has shown that he trusts medical experts to inform the public, rather than pretending “I, alone, can fix it.” These uncharted waters of a viral infection overloading our healthcare and political system have targeted the very essence of modern Republican and Democratic platforms, and DeWine definitely embraced that rising tide which lifts all boats.

In fact, he’s surfing the waves like a badass right now.

Several other states have followed DeWine’s example, closing schools before the reported cases of COVID-19 became plentiful, and opting to limit public gatherings to minimize the opportunity for this virus to spread quickly. Ohio eventually had to close down bars and dine-in restaurants ahead of Saint Paddy’s Day celebrations because a significant number of people would not heed prior instructions to gather in small numbers. Unfortunately, when some people don’t follow orders, we all feel the pain of a mandatory lockdown.

COVID-19 has caused so much disruption in our daily routines, we are forced to define the boundary between must-have and nice-to-have accommodations. The silver lining in this experience? Politicians and voters formerly resistant to liberally-applied social safety nets have started to admit some progressive policies (applying for unemployment benefits online, mandatory paid sick time for employees, free testing for the virus, unemployment benefits for all who lost their job due to illness, etc) are so necessary that they’re worthy of emergency legislation. These programs are overwhelmingly championed this week by Ohioans to help the public afford food and shelter during this public crisis.

What was once branded “Don’t you dare use my tax dollars for such frivolous shit” has now become “How could they NOT provide these things for people who lose their jobs and their health to this virus they couldn’t control?” Welcome to the progressive side, my friends.

Progressive policies aren’t meant to be a “free money for everyone” way of life (contrary to what Fox News might paint with their irritatingly broad brush). The root of progressive policies is to suggest that social safety nets should be available without pre-judging that the person applying for those safety nets is in that situation by choice. Rather, most people who rely on SNAP, disability, or unemployment benefits did not ask to be, nor did they purposefully do things which led them to be, in a state of need.

Shit happens. And when it does, are we going to help each other? Or will we say “Socialism is bad!”?

A hurricane hits, Susan’s home is destroyed, and her employer shuts down. A trade war heats up, and John’s soybeans rot in his silo. James is diagnosed with stage 3 breast cancer, and his employer doesn’t offer any paid sick leave. Or, a novel coronavirus spreads across the state, Donald Trump says everything is fine, Helen’s daycare closes down because the local hospitals are rationing COVID-19 test kits and no one knows how widespread the virus is, and Helen can’t go to work because she has to stay home to care for her children. None of these people chose to lose their livelihood. But apparently, it took a coronavirus for our country to fully understand how important it is to have resources available to keep these families whole.

For about 18 months this country has had a very lively debate regarding the viability of democratic socialism as a solution to our healthcare industry and financial industry ills. Since I have good friends of all political persuasions, I often use my social media as a middle-ground-debate-sandbox where I attempt to help polarized friends see the benefit of moderation in trying to fix very broken policies. While I could write an entire blog post on how NONE of the candidates for president in 2020 has the viable solution for healthcare failures (one of these days, I will), the very root of the argument is simple:

Affordability of health care cannot exist as long as the solution maintains insurance as the primary source of payment for medical treatment or prevention of illness.

Market behavior cannot benefit the consumer if the consumer is completely blind to how much a procedure or a treatment plan costs prior to rendering the services. Since medical professionals largely won’t disclose the price of a procedure until after the insurance company is billed, then the “invisible hand” (normally something the consumer helps drive) is actually driven by insurance companies and doctors making deals without the consumer’s input.

(BTW – Find me a candidate who’s ready to talk about getting rid of insurance as a primary form of payment, and then we can talk about a true revolution in healthcare)

For years, the Democratic Party has been like a broken record or a scratched CD, incoherently and awkwardly arguing over Medicare-For-All-this, and single-payer-that. Meanwhile, the Republican Party continues to cry “socialism-bad” with nothing else to offer. Neither stance helps the Americans who continue to choose between medication and their mortgage every month.

COVID-19 has very quickly pulled the curtain back, exposing the very deep vulnerabilities in our social benefits and healthcare programs. In a surprising turn of events, I’m witnessing a change of heart in very conservative friends of mine who finally understand what all these presidential candidates have been talking about the past 18 months.

It took an invisible virus for them to see what was right in front of them the whole time.

Here are a few examples of the more empathetic wave of political discourse:

  • One month ago, Republicans were still laughing at former presidential candidate Andrew Yang’s universal basic income, and today Mitt Romney is suggesting sending $1000 to every American as a means to pay for basic necessities while our economy slows down
  • Six months ago, Republicans were calling presidential candidate Bernie Sanders a communist for suggesting public universities be tuition-free, and this week several prestigious universities are offering free online courses to Americans who are abiding by the “social distancing” requests from local and state governments
  • Two weeks ago, Republicans laughed at the notion that socialized medicine in other countries could be less costly in a public health crisis like the coronavirus, and then Katie Porter used a whiteboard to mathematically prove why the high out-of-pocket cost of American (insurance-based) healthcare would cause very sick people to avoid coming in for a necessary coronavirus test
  • For decades liberals have been pushing for the government to prioritize affordable mental health programs during financial and health crises, and this week Governor DeWine prioritized free online mental health resources offering free counseling to avoid a spike in suicide and depression caused by anxiety surrounding the virus

I always wished the benefits of progressive policies would become a reality without requiring a public crisis of this magnitude. But I suppose I should enjoy the outcome and not be so picky about how people come to soften their views.

If something good can come out of this mess, I think it will be the realization that the very fragile economic and healthcare systems we have in America can cause people to lose their jobs or their home via something as simple as catching a virus. Please read that again: A virus can cause people to lose their jobs, or their homes, or both. Over the next few weeks or months, Ohioans will begin leveraging very necessary social safety nets, and enjoying the ease with which they are made available online. During that time, these forward-thinking programs and technological advances will become the “new normal”.

Let’s be frank…no one wants to be the one to take it away. Republicans will have a hard time making the case that employers should revoke paid sick leave, or hospitals should begin price gouging flu tests again, or businesses revert back to firing a single mother who has the flu. Obviously, the coronavirus is a unique situation that triggered new policies for social utility, but it really begs the question liberals have been asking for years: Why weren’t we doing this in the first place?

Our next step shouldn’t be to take these safety nets away, but rather to ensure the services are maintained in the most cost-efficient way.

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