The Post-Election Struggle: By BECKY O'MALLEY

Tuesday November 02, 2004

That uncanny silence you hear all over Berkeley is the sound of more than a hundred thousand people simultaneously holding their breath until the election is over. This paper will be on the stand for three days, and it’s a pretty fair bet that most Berkeleyans won’t be able to exhale until the next issue comes out, if then. The good thing about this election is that it’s got people talking to one another who have managed to disagree about a lot of the important issues for the last 30 years, give or take a few. Whoever wins the presidency, there’s sure to be a post-election honeymoon during which born-again Democrats will continue to talk to one another about what’s best for the country—it’s just that different tactical responses will be required depending on who wins the presidency. Not even very different, really, because the Republicans are likely to retain control of Congress in any event. 

Here are three issues which won’t go away no matter who wins: 

(1) Health care. The current crisis over flu vaccine points up exactly how dangerous our chaotic market-driven health care system is. There’s a fantasy in the air that the U.S. health care system is the best in the world, and that consumers are free to choose their own personal physician and their excellent private insurance policies will take care of the bills. Ha! Not here in northern California, for sure, and probably not in, say, North Dakota, either. If you need flu vaccine, your “private physician” most likely has a voice mail message these days saying, in effect, “tough.” If you get sick any time except Monday-Friday from 9-5 you have to take your chances with the rapidly eroding emergency room system, run by the “non-profit” regional hospital monopoly for maximum profit. If you do go into a hospital, your “private physician” probably won’t bother to stop by to visit you. Your in-hospital care will be supervised by a changing cast of characters which might or might not include a “hospitalist” (a physician who only works hospitals, whom you’ve never met before and will never see again) or a “traveling nurse” (a non-union floater who may or may not speak your language, know your name or read your case file.) And don’t think that just because you have the “best” insurance you can get the “best” medical care. Even the university hospitals these days are nightmares—a friend had relatively straightforward brain surgery at one of them recently, and the surgeon operated on the wrong area by mistake, causing crippling injuries. The hospital pretended, for as long as it could get away with it, that there was no problem. Thanks to a member of the world’s most unfairly maligned profession, trial lawyers, at least she’s gotten enough compensation from the hospital to pay for her future care, but the Republicans promise to change that.  

(2) Education. Both Democrats and Republicans bought into the dubious premise of “No Child Left Behind” that testing on basic skills was closely connected to ensuring equal education for all. Education means a lot more than learning to pass reading and arithmetic drills on cue. If schools which serve poor students are penalized for their students’ failure to catch up on a fixed time schedule which has no basis in scientifically observed reality, the injustice is compounded. Neither presidential candidate has demonstrated any particular understanding of what real education is, or how to extend the benefits of the American system to kids whose families are, for whatever reason, unable to do enough to help them succeed.  

(3) War and peace. Both candidates were fools enough to think that there was some good reason to invade Iraq. Kerry still doesn’t seem to know how he got suckered. Why didn’t either of them figure out what just about everyone in Berkeley, including the DLC-symps in our midst, knew from the beginning, that the invasion was a stupid idea doomed to fail? How will either one of them manage to get out? How will they avoid doing it again? 

You might just as well start breathing normally right away, under the circumstances. You’re going to need to be in training for the continued struggle, no matter who wins. 

—Becky O’Malley