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I Watched CNN Debate Night: The Fight Over Obamacare. I Would Like Most of Those Minutes Back

Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders speaks during a CNN and New Hampshire Democratic Party-hosted Democratic Presidential Town Hall on Feb. 3, 2016, in Derry, N.H. (Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders speaks during a CNN and New Hampshire Democratic Party-hosted Democratic Presidential Town Hall on Feb. 3, 2016, in Derry, N.H. (Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

In theory, a cable news network holding debates between members of different parties arguing over the merits of their respective policies seems like a novel idea. However, because we largely consume for-profit media, these debates often prove to be more about spectacle than anything substantive.


Therein lies the problem with “infotainment”: the intent is geared more toward entertaining than education. This is especially true for a network that might be able to boast of having a bevy of talented journalists on its roster, but is often marred by the reality that it often follows the Vince McMahon model on handling conflict.

Thus, when one hears word that CNN will be promoting a special titled CNN Debate Night: The Fight Over Obamacare, it’s easy to struggle with skepticism: a means of boosting the profiles of its participants and, for the network, maintaining the higher ratings that it traditionally gets only during an election year. Everybody wins!


The debate began with Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) lying like hell about wanting to provide high-quality health care to most Americans. If he sincerely believed that, he wouldn’t have been the co-author of the trash-ass health care bill that just caught a fatal brick to the head thanks to the fact that Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) announced that she would not be voting to advance the Graham-Cassidy proposal (named for Graham and his fellow GOP co-sponsor, Sen. Bill Cassidy of Louisiana).

In any event, Graham did offer an anecdote to humanize the debate for his side: His mother died from Hodgkin’s lymphoma. It’s also this mom who died at the age of 52, but Graham, nonetheless, still sounded like a soulless cyborg with respect to the health concerns of those still living who are currently petrified by what the likes of him could do to their health care as they continue fighting for their lives.

After he spoke, it was Sen Bernie Sanders’ (I-Vt.) time to speak. Graham sat down while delivering his opening remarks, while Sanders stood up. You can tell which senator knows how to work it in prime time and which one doesn’t.

Following Sanders was Cassidy. Cassidy mentioned that he was a doctor and how he had worked in the hospital system for years and years. I believe that was supposed to make us think his stances on health care were less shitty. Access denied.


Rounding out the bunch was the sole woman on the panel, Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.). During her opening remarks, she recalled the time she took her daughter to the emergency room after she discovered she couldn’t swallow. Sadly, she was kicked out of the ER 24 hours later, an apparent rule at the time. She then said that that pushed her as a then-private citizen to speak out to the legislature in her state to change the laws.


As far as opening remarks goes, Amy was Beyoncé, Bernie was Kelly on a great day and the last two were both Farrah Franklin.

All and all, if you expected to learn a lot from this 90-minute bloc of television: Ha, ha, ha. Grow up. But it was cute for what it was, I suppose.


Here are some highlights:


This is the part where CNN’s Dana Bash or Jake Tapper should have promptly followed the claim with a question about the role Republicans have played in sabotaging what is ultimately a health insurance program that mirrors the one implemented by a former Republican presidential nominee when he was governor of Massachusetts.

Graham repeatedly said, “Obamacare is collapsing,” and even claimed to have grief over it. Someone should have yelled, “Shut your lying ass up, Lindsey.” Alas, no real one was in attendance.


For all the talk about the issues with Obamacare—hell, the shit gets on my nerves, TBH—very rarely are Republicans called out on their efforts to sabotage the bill. That has been the case since it was implemented, and it’s pathetic how little anchors question them about this in the name of “objectivity.”


Hours before this debate aired, CNN published “Newest Graham-Cassidy bill has a pretty sweet deal—for Cassidy.”


In it, CNN reports:

The legislation includes language that gives states that expanded Medicaid after December 2015, access to an additional $750 million a year between 2023 and 2026.

Experts at both the Kaiser Family Foundation and the Brookings Institution confirmed CNN’s understanding that the provision would only make two states eligible for the millions in funding: Montana and Louisiana.

That money, however, wouldn’t just be divided evenly — Louisiana would get tens of millions more because its population is larger, according to one expert.


Just as Graham was not called out on GOP efforts to sabotage the Affordable Care Act, Cassidy was not directly questioned about the fact that one reason some states get more money than others is based on several GOP states refusing to accept federal matching funds. For all their complaints about some states being “cheated out of money,” it sure would have helped to hear someone say, “Y’all turned down the free money.”


And just to show that I’m not a biased liberal, Brother Bernie should have been challenged a bit, too. There was a moment where Cassidy argued that his and Graham’s bill only takes on Medicare and the individual insurance market whereas Sanders’ single-payer proposal alters everyone’s health care—including the insurance Americans get from their employers.

To me, a single-payer health care system is ideal, but I question exactly how it would be achieved. In increments? In one sweeping bill? Sanders seems to suggest the latter, but the reality is, a lot of Americans will hate the notion of their employer-provided health care systems being decimated for a new system that will likely come with greater taxation. It’s not impossible, but it likely will prove challenging. See the states in which it has failed.


Why wasn’t I the moderator?

As the debate waged on, that lazy thot of a president, Sweet Potato Saddam, took to Twitter to take shots at Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.). Because McCain is besties with Graham, Graham was asked about the following tweet:


In response, Graham asserted, “John McCain is one of my dearest friends and he can do whatever the hell he wants.”

This is the same person who supported universal health care once upon a time and more recently touted Australia’s health care system.


The four senators at the CNN forum didn’t agree on much, but they did all rally behind McCain. Someone should have said, “Fuck Donald Trump,” but whatever.

There was a moment when a woman in the audience mentioned how Planned Parenthood had not only saved her life but also helped her prepare to become a mother. She wanted to know why Cassidy would introduce a bill that would block women from receiving essential health care services from Planned Parenthood?


I never realized how much Bill Cassidy looked like the Grim Reaper until I heard his response, which amounted to a bunch of preprepared talking points. Klobuchar followed up by inserting a much needed dose of humanity, serving as a reminder of why there needs to be more women in the Senate.

That said, most of the audience questions were just folks on each political side mouthing off talking points. That’s not bad per se, but again, where were the anchors to fake-check both their questions and the responses from the four separate senators? If we’re just watching a “talking-point off,” what is the purpose?


And, of course, the debate closed out with a question on opioid abuse.

A blond white woman explained that because of her addiction, she lost custody of her child and her husband died of an overdose. However, because of Medicaid expansion, she was allowed to get treatment. Her question was what protections were in the Cassidy-Graham bill to ensure coverage for drug-addiction treatment.


Graham answered that it wasn’t Medicaid expansion that had saved her but “people who knew what they were doing.” Then Graham blabbed some more crap about his block-grant bill because the federal government is Satan’s playground or something like that.

As Graham bullshitted this woman, while I felt for her story, I couldn’t help thinking, “How would these people have responded to her if she were a black woman telling this story about crack cocaine?”


In sum, the debate was civil by cable-news-network standards, but pols blabbed talking points without challenge, and audience members took turns asking loaded questions that should have been fact-checked beforehand.

I learned more from watching Love & Hip Hop: Hollywood on Monday night than I did watching this. Lastly, for those Democrats who worried that Sanders would be egotistical and somehow ruin Democrats’ plans for the future of health care, they can rest easy.


If anything, Sanders was the only one on the stage who understood how performative much of this was ... and played to it accordingly.

Michael Arceneaux is the author of "I Can't Date Jesus," which will be released July 24, 2018 by Atria Books/Simon & Schuster, but go ahead and pre-order it now.

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Prostate of Dorian Gray

“How would these people respond to her if she were a Black woman telling this story about crack cocaine?”

There would be a big lecture about personal responsibility and bootstraps.