After last week’s debate, the latest cautiousness has to do with health care. Credit:

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If you want a reminder of the cowardly cautiousness of mainstream Democrats, check out this moment from the Great Debate.

No, not last week’s presidential debates in Miami. I’m talking about the long-
forgotten vice presidential debate in which Joe Biden, then Barack Obama’s running mate, took on Sarah Palin.

Gwen Ifill, the moderator, looked Biden in the eye and asked: “Do you support gay marriage?”

In response to which Biden declared: “No. Barack Obama nor I support redefining from a civil side what constitutes marriage. We do not support that.”

Ifill said, It’s nice that you agree on something, and they went on to another subject.

That debate took place in 2008. But it might as well have happened in another lifetime as far as attitudes go. Can’t imagine anyone remotely connected to the Democrats uttering such a declaration these days.

Personally, I don’t believe Biden or Obama cared one way or another about gay marriage. They were just falling in line with the prevailing conventional wisdom that you can’t get too far ahead of the voters for fear of alienating the proverbial swing vote in Virginia, Michigan, etc.

So it goes with the Nervous Nellies who run the Democratic Party. Always cautioning candidates to move right, always ordering the rank and file to shut up and betray their ideals.

There are plenty of examples besides gay marriage—like marijuana. Back in 2011, when Mick Dumke and I started writing about the unfairness of locking up Black people for something that white people do all the time, we could barely find any Democrats willing to publicly discuss the matter.

Generally, they’d go off the record to tell us that they had nothing against reefer. In fact, they may have—chuckle, chuckle—smoked some over the weekend. But, you know, don’t want to get too far ahead of voters.

And so it took eight more years of penalizing Black guys before lawmakers finally found the courage to legalize weed in Illinois.

After last week’s debate, the latest cautiousness has to do with health care. But before I get into that, allow me to share my two explanations as to why Democrats are such scaredy cats.

One, the party strategists and leaders are still following a playbook largely written by Bill Clinton, based on lessons he learned in 1972.

As a political operative for George McGovern’s presidential campaign, Clinton watched President Nixon roll to victory by painting the Democrats as tax-and-spend, weak-on-crime, pot-smoking commies.

Clinton’s been running to the right ever since, pausing to pay tribute to Martin Luther King Jr. or Bobby Kennedy in order to prove his heart is good.

The other explanation is that Republicans have become really good at taunting and trash talking—scaring Democrats into running to the right.

That brings me to health care. Consider this riff from a recent column by Bret Stephens, a right-wing pundit for the New York Times, chastising Democratic candidates for championing a single-payer health care plan.

“They don’t pay the premiums for private health insurance,” he wrote. “We’re supposed to give up ours in exchange for some V.A.-type nightmare.”

Other pundits and strategists—Rahm Emanuel included—are advising the Democratic candidates not to push for single payer on the grounds that voters really like the private insurance they get through their employers.

Hearing this has set me on a crusade to find people who actually like their private health insurance.

So far, I can’t find anyone. But I keep trying. I’m almost at the point where I’m stopping strangers on the street.

Don’t get me wrong. I realize there are people who like their doctors or nurses or the real nice receptionist who sits behind the front desk at the clinic. And there are those who are worried about what would happen if we went to a different system. So, yes, they’re vulnerable to Republican scare tactics.

But liking the actual insurance? Man, good luck finding someone who even knows how their private insurance works. You’d be surprised how many people are a little wobbly on the difference between deductible and co-pay, much less how much they pay for either.

But that won’t stop Democratic Nervous Nellies from trying to scare voters into signing on to the current debacle on the grounds that swing voters are frightened by “a V.A.-type nightmare.”

While we’re at it, for a different view on the medical service provided by the Veterans Administration, I turned to someone who actually uses it, my old friend Milo Samardzija.

Back in the 60s, Milo got drafted and sent to Vietnam. He now gets his medical service at the Jesse Brown VA Medical Center on the near west side.

In the last several years, Milo’s had two major surgeries—one on his brain, the other on his heart. Doesn’t get more major than that. All free of charge at Jesse Brown.

“To call the VA system a nightmare makes no sense. It’s not perfect, for sure, but it takes care of its people. They saved my life—the treatment was great. Great doctors. Wonderful staff. It didn’t cost me a cent.

“People will say, ‘Milo, you’ve got it good. You get free health care.’ I tell them, ‘Yeah, well, go join the army and fuck around with the Taliban for a couple of years, and you’ll get free health care too.'”

Here’s hoping that free health care will one day be as readily accepted as gay marriage. And that none of us will have to fight a war to get it.  v