Recommendation Friday: JFK’s Health Care Speech

I admit I don’t really know much about John F. Kennedy, except, of course, that he was young and controversial, and that he was shot and killed on this day in November of 1963. I know that he’s generally thought of as a guy who, like his brother Robert, would have made a huge difference if he had lived.

Somewhere in my thoughts about him are the October Missile crisis, and that he called the National Guard in to help black kids go to school. I know he pushed more advisors into Vietnam, which sitting here today seems like a pretty big mistake.

And, yeah, I understand he was a womanizer, too. I’ve seen the clip of Marilyn Monroe singing him Happy Birthday.

I get that his legacy is as complicated as the times around him were.

But as I think about it, I don’t really know that much about his actual policies. I was born only a few months after he took office, and the older I get the more vanilla I realize my education has been. So I hope I can be forgiven for not being well versed on a lot of details. For example, the idea that he was Catholic being a mark against him never came up for me until a stray comment from a friend of my dad a couple years ago.

Silly, oblivious me, right?

Anyway, I tend to spend my lunch hour listening to podcasts or watching videos to fill my brain with lots of esoteric stuff—or at least to try to experience things I don’t usually experience. Today I happened along a video clip that sparked my interest in Kennedy, so as I sat down with my turkey and mustard sandwich I hit YouTube and did a JFK search, whereupon I came across this amazing little video.

It’s about 28 minutes, long, of which his speech is maybe 22 minutes long.

But it’s a brilliant discussion, an argument well made by a well-spoken President, about the moral and operational imperative of at least partially socialized medicine for “all”—which, to be honest, I had no idea had ever been in his agenda to begin with. Again, I please my obliviousness is due to under-education and a blind sense of safety rather than a lack of interest or concern. But here JFK touches on the purpose and role of government, and the social dynamics that political parties use to clutter the pool. He explains the goals of such a program, and lays out how classic American arguments against the idea are being applied to poor result, how they are the equivalent of advocating self harm.

Listening to him speak, I wish the Bernie Sanderses and Elizabeth Warrens of the world could step back and do something similar to what he’s done here. I wish Pete Buttigeg would touch on these things when he’s pushing his Medicare for All Who Want it scheme.

No, despite Kennedy’s optimistic push in the discussion, his bill didn’t pass.

Looking back at it, the decrepit and largely ineffective system we have is arguably a result of that fact.

But (adjusting a touch for the times) the argument he makes is still sound.

And, let’s be clear, we need a program in which you can go to any doctor you want, where insurance companies can’t tell you what they’ll pay for and what they won’t, and where those same insurance companies can cut you off if they aren’t making enough profit. We need a system where you pay a share, but get a social guarantee that a huge illness isn’t going to wipe you out. We need some form of social medicine.

It’s going to come.

Sometime—or, if it doesn’t, I’d guess that means we really no longer have a rule of law in the country. But that’s another story.

In the meantime I hope you’ll watch the clip, if for no other reason than to hear it for yourself. It’s worth your time.

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