CareTalk Podcast – Steve Schmidt on Power and Profit in Healthcare

Steve Schmidt, Co-Founder of The Lincoln Project, joins the show to discuss the complications of addressing US healthcare policy in a country divided.

David Williams:

Welcome to CareTalk, America’s home for incisive debate about healthcare, business and policy. I’m David Williams, president of Health Business Group.

John Driscoll:

And I’m John Driscoll, the CEO of CareCentrix.

David Williams:

Hey John, the fans have been complaining that you and I are not opinionated enough. Why don’t we bring a guest on the show? Who’s got a little more something to say. It takes a point of view.

John Driscoll:

Well, we are super lucky to have one of the leaders of Lincoln projects, Steve Schmidt today who not only brings opinions about substance, about the current political moment. Welcome Steve.

Steve Schmidt:

Hey, it’s good to be with you both. Thanks for having me.

John Driscoll:

So Steve, tell us a little bit about how you think we’re going to come together as a country and make progress on healthcare. You’re really a political expert, but a lot of the critical challenges we have right now, like COVID our healthcare issues.

Steve Schmidt:

I’d say this. The first important thing to understand is what is this moment, right? What are we living in? There’s a lot of reason to be optimistic with regard to health care in this moment, in that we are on the edge of an age of discovery, of wonder, of scientific advancement. We are going to make advances in science and medicine that beggar the imagination. I think we are at the end of an era, we are at the beginning of a new time. And that era that has ended, lasted for about 75 years. And the author of that era was the 32nd president of the United States, Franklin Roosevelt.

This man had a vision from Harry Truman through Republican and Democratic presidents, right until Donald Trump in 2016. So we come now to the election of Donald Trump and five years later, six months after a bloody insurrection in a moment of great division, that teams with a threat of political violence, where a lifesaving vaccine has been politicized for the purposes of causing chaos for the purposes of Trump and his faction to blame the people who are trying to solve the problem, the scientists, the doctors, the public health officials.

John Driscoll:

So that wound is there and it’s ripped open and it’s ripped open at a time when the only way we’re going to make progress among the young backseat, we have 600,000 dead is to find a way to either defeat or some combination of defeat and come together. What can we do right now?

Steve Schmidt:

There are people who are legitimately confused about the vaccine because of the weight, of the lies, the commitment of the liars, the power of profit and power, that is the goal of the misinformation and the Nealism in immorality of people who would stand by a watch, tens of thousands of people die and suffer because it profits them for power, for profit. So you have to understand that. We have to end the confusion around the safety and efficacy of the vaccine as quickly as possible by doing a couple of things.

The FDA has created needless confusion by not approving the vaccine, number one. Number two, there must be constant communication and the president should use his bully pulpit to call to service the most credible voices that can reach into this population with the most effectiveness, period. Number three thing that we can do is we can implore our unvaccinated friends and loved ones in an uncondescending tone that begs them to stop being abused by misinformation. And for them to understand the risk part of which is that we are now on the edge of the dawn of what will be remembered in the next chapter as the children’s pandemic, as the Delta variant now make six a population that’s statistically here to for has been immune.

John Driscoll:

And so how do you think the president’s done? I mean, you’ve advised presidents, you’ve advised president presidential nominees. How Biden doing at achieving that?

Steve Schmidt:

I think the president is doing a very good job across the board, but as the circumstances have presented themselves in this ugly moment and think about this, we were at the edge of the river back, right? We had elements across the river when the misinformation counter attack went completely crazy. And the people who did everything they possibly could to make sure we didn’t reach herd immunity in this country by sewing wild conspiracy theories, they have stopped the advance of immunization of a life-saving vaccine. This has happened before in war and in other circumstances. It requires political leadership to regain the initiative and the momentum, by talking to the people that need to be talked to and understanding how best to reach them while at the same time, not being blind to the moral dimensions of this issue and the magnitude of the acts of corruption and evil. And I use the word deliberately that are responsible for killing hundreds of thousands of people. There is also another reality to this that is important for us to understand.

John Driscoll:

Okay, when you go there, who would you call out on that? Governor DeSantis is for vaccinations, but he’s against masks for kids. I’m not quite sure what kind of moral standard that is.

Steve Schmidt:

Governor DeSantis has politicized this with his attacks on Dr. Fauci. He has tried to walk a balance beam. He has been undone by his gambling and his maneuvering as Florida has descended into what could have been avoided and was always predictable, a COVID disaster zone. That’s what Ron DeSantis has, brought death, death to Florida. All of these people, whether it’s Sean Hannity, who goes on TV and says, get vaccinated and then undermines it in his next breath on the radio show, they are all of them complicit in the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people because of the venality, the stupidity, the immorality of their actions over the course of this.

And so now, lastly, this will be the final teacher and the final teacher will be what comes for us all in the end and that’s death every day. And this is where news organizations, because I don’t know, what’s a bigger story in the moment than this one, except the collapse of our democracy, right? To equally lethal wise, right? But the lead of the story every day on every newscast should be this, it should be what 39 or 40-year old man or woman with the most children died.

David Williams:

Steve you talked about FDR, you talked about FDR before on your very popular Twitter feed you’ve got another quote from the no one can tame a tiger into a kitten by stroking it. And I wonder what that means to you. And also you’ve been talking a lot about science and efficacy of the vaccine and so on. So should we just follow the science, any downside to that?

Steve Schmidt:

All of the decisions that we are talking about are political decisions, political decisions, we don’t want to turn over the country to a panel of scientists anymore than we want to turn the country over to a panel of priests. What we do want to have is commonsensical decision-making right. You want people who can approach problems through a prism of good judgment, grounded in good faith, a sense of morality duty and commitment to the public good. Not to use the pandemic to stoke conspiracies, to create fanaticism in a base that is algorithmically imprisoned by misinformation, by companies like Facebook and consign them to death, because that may lift you a couple points in consideration to be Trump’s next vice-president because that guy is the presumptive nominee right now for 2024.

David Williams:

How do you think Elise Stefanik is doing in terms of maneuvering herself? And she said, it seemed to be a new healthcare policy expert based on our latest pronouncements.

Steve Schmidt:

Look, why do we have to pretend that anything she says is on the level when we know it’s not that she is a person who, through her own words has denounced, what she embraced for her advancement and ambition. We know what she is. Isn’t the question around Elise Stefanik and all of these people. Why? Why are they doing this? And what is the meaning of the why in a moment where it’s not an accumulation of appalling moments, but rather a moment in an unfolding story and event. And this is where I go back to at the beginning, at the edge of a new era, which is where we are. We are in a period where events will shape the beginning of whatever that next era is.

John Driscoll:

So how do we split that? Because we still have a democracy. But how do you split that very powerful, very large Trump coalition? He’s the presumptive nominee. You got 75 million votes the last time. What’s the technique by either the, the Liz Chaney’s and Adam Kinzinger the breakaway Republican truth tellers or democratic leaders or community leaders to tell a story that people can believe that splits that coalition that lost, but they didn’t lose by much.

Steve Schmidt:

First thing we have to talked about is the vitality of the democracy. So yes, we still do have a democracy, but it is a sick democracy. It is an unhealthy, it is a diseased democracy and weakening. And one of the measurements on the degradation of the democracy is globally. We are moving down the ladder towards something that is more autocratic. And certainly it is the case that with the exception of two members of the house of representatives, really the whole of the Republican party has abandoned their commitment to democracy in the pursuit of power and are doing everything they can to try to limit votes, to try to shrink the number of people who can participate, making assertions that are lies about the election, because democracy is fueled by faith and belief in a legitimacy, a fairness and equitability around the distribution of power, right?

So in this country a Federal Republic created by the states, we have a system that awards political power through an elections process of majority rule, including with the electoral college, even if you disagree with it, right, it is a majority rule outcome. Even if it’s subverted by a popular vote outcome, right or wrong, right? It’s a majority vote system that gives people lawful authority to exercise political power in a system where the power of government is enumerated, power of government is restrained and individual rights are protected. You cannot be for overturning an election and be for American democracy, it’s all in or all out, in or out. And they’re telling us that directions every day. So that’s the first thing you have to understand about our democracy is the level of rot and decay. Because from history we know when democracies fall from that rot and decay, the events that usually are similar at the time of the ending of that. And you see this playing out is Poland a democracy today? I would say, no, is Hungary a democracy today? I would say, no.

John Driscoll:

What do we do to break that coalition and build an American coalition from what’s effectively a pretty sizeable I think you and I both would characterize it anti American coalition?

Steve Schmidt:

We have to talk about those things that bind us and the idea without feeling that there is a necessity to recriminate what is great about the nation while understanding the story of the country in both its glory and its shame for the purposes of doing our work, which is to make a more perfect union to talk about citizenship. The opportunity in this country is rooted in the idea of the country, but also its anniversary approaching of 250 years. We will be 250 years old, very soon, and we will have great celebrations. Let us talk about what it is that we have, what it has become. The greatest pluralistic democracy that has ever been a country that at long last, where everyone, regardless of their gender or race, gets to participate and talk about it as a moral issue.

John Driscoll:

But even before you go there, I think David, you were going to ask about the Olympics. We’ve got something to celebrate right now.

David Williams:

Exactly. So what’s going on with Simone Biles?

Steve Schmidt:

Racism. Republican consultant gave this quote once he said elections used to be as easy in his South Carolina draw in 1956, you just said the N word, the N word, the N word. By 1968, you talked about forced busing. So Trump’s movement, this movement is not democracy. This is nationalism. Nationalism is rooted in an idea of attachment, not to ideas, but to an ethnicity, to an entitlement of place and position because of that ethnicity and a sense of superiority that is built around it. She is the greatest champion in the history of her sport. She is, uncontestably the greatest gymnast who has ever lived.

Now the truth is no one listening to this, unless it’s an elite gymnast has any idea of what goes on in any of these people’s head. When you look at Simone Biles, that is of the divine. Through hard work and determination, toughness and grit, these athletes approach a level of perfection. And so the instinct, the dignity, the example drives a grievance and a rage of resentment. And that is why you have these [inaudible 00:17:57] overweight right-wing couch potatoes launching onto their social media feeds to put her down.

John Driscoll:

But I think that Steve embedded in what you’re talking about is an opportunity to talk in a patriotic American way about all of the successes. I look at the Olympics and they represent every aspect. A Harvard educated sprinter and a woman of Jamaican descent to who got sponsored in the Penn relays to, some of the great athletes of the Midwest winning gold after gold in swimming. There is so much. We have invented a global solution for COVID-19.

There’s a lot of, I think, patriotic American success that I think if we could weave together. And I think healthcare for example, is a remarkable, as you pointed out, whether it’s genomics or just simple vaccine delivery, we are going to save hundreds of millions of lives over the next generation as lessons to this. I think that’s the big opportunity right now to create more of an American narrative. That what you acknowledge the challenge will, I think unify may or may not. It’s not going to unify everyone, but I think starts to weave the story back together that people aspirationally to your point, starting with love, but also pride can lean into, I mean I don’t know what you think that’s too a positive?

Steve Schmidt:

You cannot confront the things that we need to confront without confronting them with idealism, right? With a love, a love of an idea, a love of country, right? So you have to talk about what that idea is. You have to talk about concepts like obligation and courage, and you have to tell stories that illuminate them all of these things are important, but it becomes Pollyannish if it’s not paired with the understanding that the moment requires confrontation with something that is real.

David Williams:

Well, John, thanks for taking us from that dark place. And at least briefly sending us down the love canal before we ended up, I’m not sure exactly where. In any case, that’s it for yet another edition of CareTalk. I’m David president of Health Business Group.

John Driscoll:

And I’m John Driscoll, the CEO of CareCentrix. Thank you, Steve.