Is Dean the Best Replacement for Daschle?

With the exit of the atrocious Tom Daschle as President Obama's nominee
to serve as Secretary of Health and Human Services, there is now much
talk about nominating former Vermont Governor and Democratic National
Committee chair Howard Dean for the position.

Dean is appealing. He is a physician with record of working at the
state level to expand access to healthcare for children and low-income
families. His 2004 presidential candidacy rallied opposition to the
Bush-Cheney administration at a critical point and laid the
communications and grassroots-political groundwork for Barack Obama's
successful 2008 drive -- as did Dean's leadership of the DNC. And Dean
is an independent player, who has tangled with the likes of White House
Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel in the past, and could be counted on to do
so as a high-profile member of a "team of rivals" Cabinet.

But supporters of real health-care reform
should remember that Dean long ago distanced himself from advocates for
a single-payer system. Commentator John McClaughry -- a critical
observer of his fellow Vermonter -- noted in a 2005 column for The Wall
Street Journal that upon assuming the governorship in the early 1990s, "Gov. Dean quickly distanced himself from the single-payer idea he had supported, favoring instead something called 'regulated multipayer.' Translation: Hillarycare."

Dean's statements about healthcare reform continue to stir concern
among single-payer advocates, including the doctors who are involved
with a group the Vermonter should have aligned himself with, Physicians for a National Health Care Plan.

The point here is not to condemn Dean, who this writer has interviewed often and generally written about positively.

Rather, it is to suggest that those who are serious about reform should
go into the discussion with regard to who will be Obama's point person
on healthcare reform with eyes wide open.

There are prominent players in Congress--Washington's Jim McDermott,
a physician and a senior member of the powerful House Ways and Means
Committee; Wisconsin's Tammy Baldwin, a popular member of the House
with close ties to Speaker Nancy Pelosi and experience on the
healthcare subcommittee of the Commerce Committee--who have long
records of advocating on behalf of a single-payer system. Both
McDermott and Baldwin are able political players, with smart, flexible
approaches; they understand the value of incremental reform. But they
also know that the ultimate goal should be a single-payer system, not a
regulatory mess of government spending and corporate profiteering along
the lines proposed in the mid-1990s by then-First Lady Hillary Clinton
and supported at the time by Dean. (While the Clinton's were advancing
their doomed plan, McDermott was the lead sponsor of a single-payer
bill that attracted more support than did the White House scheme.)

While it certainly makes sense to consider Dean--and while he would
be a dramatically better HHS Secretary than Daschle -- it also makes
sense to consider others, including those who have been stalwarts in
the fight for real reform.

The opening for fundamental reform of a badly broken healthcare
system exists. The next HHS Secretary should be someone who believes in
making the most of that opening to achieve the long-deferred goal of
Franklin Roosevelt and Harry Truman: the creation of a national
healthcare system that provides quality care for all Americans.

Join Us: News for people demanding a better world

Common Dreams is powered by optimists who believe in the power of informed and engaged citizens to ignite and enact change to make the world a better place.

We're hundreds of thousands strong, but every single supporter makes the difference.

Your contribution supports this bold media model—free, independent, and dedicated to reporting the facts every day. Stand with us in the fight for economic equality, social justice, human rights, and a more sustainable future. As a people-powered nonprofit news outlet, we cover the issues the corporate media never will. Join with us today!

© 2023 The Nation