Never mind the “R” on his card; Colin Powell isn’t a Republican. At least, he isn’t one in the modern sense of the word, in what it’s meant since the Reagan administration. Sir Colin Powell, who was both knighted by the Queen of England and by the Order of the Bath of Scotland, and who has won practically every honor and award that exists in English-speaking nations, is in many ways an inheritor of America’s last real Republican president: Dwight Eisenhower. Many ways, indeed…except for one.
Both Powell and Eisenhower were noted military commanders, many times decorated and beloved by the American people. Both men brought with them to Washington the pragmatic streak of most good military commanders, as well as a high degree of human concern for those that they affected. Throughout their lives, both also benefited from what was essentially the socialized medical program offered by the military to soldiers and family members. Eisenhower was, for his part, ideologically opposed the same form of socialized medicine for the American public — but, oh times, how they change.
Back in 1958, in the heart of Eisenhower’s presidency, the average person had to work about 15 days a year to pay for all of their healthcare needs. As of 2012, about 45 years of tender care from our wonderfully efficient “free market” system later, the average person has to work approximately 467 hours — about 58 full days — out of each year to not die from the common cold. That’s almost a four-fold increase in cost per person from the day that Eisenhower came out in opposition to what he saw as a Soviet-style healthcare system.
So, what might Eisenhower say today? How would America’s Last Republican President feel about a nation where the poorest were daily dying of treatable illnesses, and cancer and heart disease killed 1.2 million people a year? He might have said something like what Colin Powell (a prostate cancer survivor whose wife recently survived three aneurysms and an arterial blockage) did on Thursday, at a Seattle prostate cancer fundraiser:
“We are a wealthy enough country with the capacity to make sure that every one of our fellow citizens has access to quality health care. Let’s show the rest of the world what our democratic system is all about and how we take care of all of our citizens.
I am not an expert in health care, or Obamacare, or the Affordable Care Act, or however you choose to describe it, but I do know this: I have benefited from that kind of universal health care in my 55 years of public life. And I don’t see why we can’t do what Europe is doing, what Canada is doing, what Korea is doing, what all these other places are doing.”
After sharing the story of his wife, Powell went on to tell the audience about a local woman, a friend who sold him firewood, and who had a dangerous growth in her brain:
“She and her family live out in the country somewhere, they have very limited means. I buy wood from her every year. I’ve got about four years worth of wood out in the back yard. I can’t resist her, and she needs the money.”
Powell gave her the money she needed for her MRI.
“After these two events, of Alma and Anne, I’ve been thinking, why is it like this? Every country I’ve visited, every developed country, they have universal health care. They don’t understand why the United States of America, which uses more health care than just about anybody else, still (has) 40 million people not properly insured.
I think universal health care is one of the things we should really be focused on, and I hope that will happen. Whether it’s Obamacare, or son of Obamacare, I don’t care. As long as we get it done.“
So, is that what the Last Real Republican would have said in new era, facing down a healthcare crisis, wages that don’t permit one breadwinner to support his or her family, and an economy in which the middle class has become nearly a myth of its own making?
It’s hard to say…maybe he’d be screaming from overpasses and hanging teabags from his ten-gallon, American-flag novelty hat while quoting Glenn Beck as gospel. But, somehow, we kind of doubt it.