Caught in the undertow of the reality TV loop that is campaign 2016, America’s voters discovered this week we must now hold one more truth to be self-evident:
If Bill Clinton didn’t exist, Donald Trump would have had to invent him.
We watched for days (see also: daze) the stunning spectacle of the Republican presidential nominee digging himself deeper into an apparently bottomless hole of contemptible conduct toward women — this time featuring his fixation for publicly scorning and bullying women he thinks weigh too much. He had begun his compulsive digging during the presidential debate, when Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton baited him by recalling his crude weight-gain insults of a former Miss Universe. Trump only wanted to know how Hillary found out about it. Then, for days, he kept repeating his insults. Maybe he felt it was better than his other big bad news: how Trump, who is the only major party candidate in the modern era not to make public his tax returns, apparently used legal loopholes to avoid paying any income taxes for years.
But on Monday, Trump was rescued from the unrelenting glare of the media spotlight. Most bizarrely, his rescuer was none other than his opponent’s famous husband.
Bill Clinton rescued Trump from the spotlight by jumping into it himself. Then he uttered one of the most politically wacko sound bites you ever heard. At a rally in Flint, Mich., the city plagued by a toxic water crisis, Clinton seemed to trash President Barack Obama’s proudest legacy trophy: the Affordable Care Act, which voters know better as Obamacare.
“So you’ve got this crazy system where all of a sudden 25 million more people have health care, and then the people who are out there busting it, sometimes 60 hours a week, wind up with their premiums doubled and their coverage cut in half,” Bill Clinton said. “It’s the craziest thing in the world.”
No Republican in campaign 2016 ever sounded more convincing in attacking Obamacare, or in voting dozens of times to repeal it without ever trying to fix it.
Bill Clinton stuck it to Obamacare just a day before first lady Michelle Obama was at North Carolina State University, vigorously urging millennials to end their antipathy toward Hillary and elect her — because she is their only real hope for the future.
Here’s where our tale gets downright psychoanalytical: Last Friday, President Obama flew to the funeral of Israel’s legendary Shimon Peres — and brought Bill Clinton with him. But when Obama boarded Air Force One for the flight home, Bill Clinton kept Obama waiting onboard while he gabbed and glad-handed on the tarmac. “Bill! Let’s Go!” an impatient Obama hollered down from the doorway of Air Force One, not once, not twice but three times. Finally, Clinton double-timed it up the stairs. If Obama had known what his guest would be saying in Flint on Monday, he might have ordered a quick wheels-up while Bill was still working the tarmac.
EPILOGUE: Bill Clinton’s full Obamacare message is worth our serious consideration. He told the Flint folks Obamacare works well for seniors on Medicare and also the poor who get Medicaid and persons with lower incomes who receive ACA subsidies. But low-bracket earners whose incomes are just above subsidy limits and small-business owners are “getting killed in this (ACA) deal.” Clinton suggested converting ACA into a plan allowing everyone to purchase Medicare or Medicaid insurance.
I just felt a twinge while writing that last sentence — because throughout the Obamacare battles, that’s just what my best friend for half a century, Michael Bromberg, Washington’s legendary health care lobbyist who died just weeks ago, always suggested to me was the one single-payer reform that could work — because it’s the simplest. In the 1990s, Mike led the industry’s battle that defeated the Clinton White House’s health care reform, led by Hillary. He had met with Hillary and urged her to accept a reform that would be less than she wanted but a real reform nonetheless. She refused, insisting the White House would ram its plan through Congress — which never happened, of course.
Now, writing this column, I sure wish my best source — the smartest person I knew on this and also the wittiest — was around for one last chat. I mainly want to replay for Mike the exact words of Bill Clinton’s proposal in Flint: “Here’s the simplest thing. Figure out an affordable rate and let people use that. … (L)et people buy into Medicare or Medicaid.”
I would really like to see the look on Mike’s face the moment he heard Bill Clinton say those familiar words. Just for laughs.
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Martin Schram, an op-ed columnist for Tribune News Service, is a veteran Washington journalist, author and TV documentary executive. Readers may send him email at [email protected]