In the late 1980s and early '90s, liberal political advocacy was commonplace on prime time television. "Head of the Class" constantly belittled conservative personalities and causes, from Ronald Reagan to Dan Quayle, from SDI to the Second Amendment. "L.A. Law" presented leftist spins on abortion, the U.S. invasion of Panama, and the Los Angeles riots, to name just a few issues. "Designing Women," "A Different World," "MacGyver," "thirtysomething"?the list of ideologically charged series was long and depressing.
With the arrival of Bill Clinton, political bashing all but disappeared from the small screen (though cultural activism continues unabated). On February 17, however, CBS's drama "Chicago Hope" offered a blast from the past, a double-barreled shot of support for socialized health-care "reform."
In the episode, Tommy Wilmette (Ron Silver), the owner of Chicago Hope Hospital, travels to Washington to testify before a Senate subcommittee on children's health care. Tommy is accompanied by Kate Austin (Christine Lahti), a surgeon at Chicago Hope. Both establish their liberal credentials early. Tommy remarks to Kate, "A lot of people have lost faith in government, but?these guys actually have the power to do something useful." Kate comments that she "can't forget [Washington's] corruption and?scandal, [but] then there's the romantic side of me." "Romantic" and "useful," in this sense, refer to a New Frontier/Great Society-style faith in what the federal government could accomplish if only it had the funding. If only those damn conservatives would just get out of the way.
Later, at the hearing, Tommy is welcomed by the subcommittee chairman, Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.), playing Himself. Of course, in the real world Kennedy doesn't chair diddly-squat because in the real world Kennedy's socialist ideas have been consigned to the trash heap of public policy. But this is Hollywood, where you can invent titles - and statistics, too: Kennedy wonders, "Do we have the political will to provide health insurance to cover... ten million" uninsured children?
What ten million? As Michael Tanner and Naomi Lopez write in the February issue of the newsletter MediaNomics, 3 million of those children are eligible for Medicaid but are not enrolled; another 1.5 million children come from families earning over $40,000 per year; many more families choose not to insure their youngsters, preferring to pay their medical expenses out of pocket. Moreover, many programs, both public and private, already provide for uninsured children. And child-only policies cost about $100 a month - easily within reach for most families.
But back to the show's hysteria. On the tear-jerking scale, Wilmette easily tops Sen. Kennedy: "American medical arrangements are out of control... We need to disconnect profit from care. There should be no profit from the pain and misfortune of others. No profit from sick children. No profit from the dying. Health care is a right, just like education is, just like equal justice under law. The marketplace may be efficient, but it is amoral... The system is sick and it is killing us."
That night's 11 o'clock newscast on CBS's Washington affiliate, WUSA, noted that Sen. Kennedy wrote his own lines, and that he appeared on the show because Silver asked him to do so. During the WUSA report, Silver asserted that CBS had been "courageous... in allowing the... argument about health care reform to be made in this episode."
Argument? The episode was thoroughly one-sided. No conservative health-care position was stated. Presumably for the sake of bipartisanship, Jack Kemp appeared briefly in another scene - saying hello to Silver's character.
So why this episode, at this time? After Bill and Hillary's health-care plan was defeated in 1994, its backers claimed this happened largely because its opponents - led by two fictional characters, Harry and Louise - won the public-relations war. Now that the Clinton administration has announced a new campaign for socialized health care, you can bet your bottom tax dollar it will use every communication outlet at its disposal - especially the cultural weapon of entertainment television - to get its message across.
And it has a willing mouthpiece in Silver, a longtime liberal activist who has been especially loud on this issue. He told CNN in 1992 that "it's time for a single-payer national health plan," and in 1991, he said on CNBC that "when the people have the information, [they will] create a political climate for radical change" regarding health care. Evidently, Silver and the producers of "Chicago Hope" felt the public still didn't have the information - hence their propaganda onslaught.
On the other hand, maybe the American people know more about health care than Silver and other liberals think they do. Maybe they know that our system is the world's best. And maybe that's why no one is leaving the U.S. in favor of those socialist countries already offering the utopia promised by Ron Silver, Ted Kennedy, and Bill and Hillary.