Harvard law professor Larry Lessig tried this by running as a "referendum candidate" running on the single issue of restoring democracy to the American people by getting big money out of politics. Instead of finding acceptance, Lessig was roundly bounced away from the debates and ignored by the press. Lessig admitted that he had made a mistake by stating that if elected, he would hold a referendum on the Citizen Equality Act and when that was done, he'd resign as president. His cause and heart were pure, but they were deemed too toxic by and for a corrupt permanent political class and the mainstream media that supported them.
Bernie Sanders ran on the same primary issue of getting big money out of politics and lived by it on small donations averaging $27 and managed to raise more than $222 million for his presidential campaign. But he wasn't actually a single issue candidate. Another big issue he ran on was Medicare for All, the public option. That too, was just too much for a corrupt permanent political class and their benefactors in the health insurance industry.
Adding to the alarm of the health insurance industry, polls are starting to show that people across the political spectrum can get behind it once they understand how it works. Bernie is a great communicator and could explain how universal health care, or Medicare for All, could work in practice.
How do we know that there is so much support for universal health care now? In his article, Single Payer on The March, Lambert Strether of Naked Capitalism has found the numbers (courtesy of Pew Research) and has shown that universal health care has supporters across the board. He is encouraged about this trend by two events:
What encouraged me? Two things: First, Jessi Bohon’s advocacy of Medicaid for All from a Christian perspective at a Tennessee town hall; and California’s introduction of a single payer bill, with the support of National Nurses United. I’ll look at those two topics, and then turn to consideration of how the Women’s March and the Resistance Manual’s prioritize single payer as a policy issue.The first example can be found here, on YouTube:
It's almost 3 minutes long and well worth the time to watch. This video has gone viral and keeping it going can help to bring the Christian Right along with liberals on the left together on at least this one issue. So please share the video far and wide to break the stereotype of conservative Christians not being in favor of universal health care - they are - but that is masked by a stereotype that is consistently promoted by mainstream media.
The second example Strether cites is the introduction of a universal healthcare bill in the California legislature just days ago. Strether points out that this bill would also cover undocumented citizens and that California has the economic muscle to pull it off:
In other words, the best defense against Trump is a good offense. (I view including illegal immigrants in the program pragmatically; if that’s what’s needed to secure passage, then so be it. If it’s a dealbreaker, dump it. Separately, it makes sense to get illegal immigrants into the system for vaccination, transmissible diseases, and to manage epidemics.) Of course we’re going to need to see the details, but California’s GDP is about the size of France’s, so there’s absolutely no question of scale, as there was with Vermont (and possibly Colorado).A national issue like this can unify the vast majority of Americans because we're all affected by the high cost of health care. Granted, the universal health care proposals I've seen so far don't deal with one of the causes of the high cost of health care, namely, a shortage of qualified doctors engineered by the AMA, but universal health care is still a highly visible issue which can bring many people together, from across the political spectrum. If the shortage of doctors alone were addressed, we might not even be having a discussion about universal health care.
Note also that National Nurses United (60,000 members), a union of nurses and Physicians for a National Health Care Program (20,000 members) are on the same side of this issue. To see doctors and nurses together, on the same page is encouraging.
There is another way to bring more conservatives in to support universal health care. Present day conservatives who like to cite F.A. Hayek seem to have selective memories. Turns out that Hayek actually promoted the idea of universal health care for wealthy countries, even the warn torn UK of 1943. Unfortunately you won't hear that from modern conservatives like Hayek's biggest fan, Speaker of the House, Paul Ryan. But we can at least point out that a well known conservative icon has found favor with such a plan.
Recall also how Iron lady Thatcher resigned over a single issue, the poll tax. That single issue united millions of Brits in opposition to the tax, and they worked together to make the tax unenforceable and noncollectable. Universal health care may not have the galvanizing effect of an unpopular tax, but the lessons learned in the UK show us that millions of people can unite over a single issue with national effect, contrary to what we've been told during the election last year.
I want to point out one other issue of concern: target fixation and/or the law of attraction. Millions of Americans are protesting, and creating content including articles, memes and art, expressing how much they don't like or don't want Trump. I see it every day, in the news and in my social media timelines or feeds. It's all about what we don't want for many people. The problem with this mentality is that the brain doesn't really understand "no".
This is easily demonstrated with small children. If you tell a small child not to do something, like using a remote control as a hammer rather than to control the TV, they don't hear "no". If you leave the remote control within reach, the child will continue to grab it and practice the art of hammering. Even if you punish the child for touching the remote control, the child sees more punishment rather than restraint on the part of the parent.
Alternatively, if you speak in the affirmative rather than negative, you can get the child's attention and hold it. You can then direct their focus to what you want by making positive alternative suggestions. And you can keep the remote control out of the child's reach.
Adults are much the same way. When adults focus on what they don't want, they tend to get more of it. Republicans in the White House and Congress seem to understand this, so they've moved quickly on what liberals perceive to be negatives, immigration bans, noxious nomination picks, and expensive travel arrangements. Most of what we see in the news is negative in that regard and continues to distract us from what we want.
Now that we see people across the political spectrum and the country are expressing support for universal health care, we have a moment in time when we could strike. Some are calling for a general strike. In a general strike, the vision is to pick a day for millions of people to not show up to work, and to have a "buy nothing day". It is a strike across many industries and can be paralyzing to a nation, particularly for anyone who should happen to be in power. Unfortunately, most are calling for strikes or protests against something or someone they don't want, that would be Trump. An organized protest on such a massive scale is exactly the sort of thing that people like the Koch Brothers don't want to see. What if we directed all that energy towards something we want, instead?
As momentum builds, and it is building, I think it would be wise for all of us to consider the thing we want the most and make an open demand for that thing. Consider the way support is building for universal health care. There is ubiquitous organizing and focusing all of these various movements, strikes, protests and what have you, all against Trump. If we could focus all that energy and attention on just a movement for universal health care (instead of "against everything Trump"), we could conceivably break a log jam that has festered for decades. Demand for universal health care may now be at a point that is too large and widespread to ignore, even for Republicans intent on ignoring it.
Diverting our attention from something we don't want to something many of us do want, in this example, universal healthcare, resolves the issues of focusing attention and attracting what we want instead of don't want. We could just ignore Trump while he does his thing and still organize and demand universal health care. That might actually grab his attention in a positive way since such a campaign is not an attack on Trump, it's a demand for something we want. Besides, Trump and many Republicans are already thinking in "universal" terms, but they're just talking about universal access, not a single payer plan.
I sense that we need to unify around something, for something, at what seems to be a critical juncture. I am certain that all of this energy is going to come to a focus and I'd rather see it in a movement for something rather than against something. I suggest that our best shot at effecting positive change is to focus all that energy into a movement for universal health care.