Book Review - Howard Dean hollers back

The politician/author discusses Prescription for Real Healthcare Reform at Manuel’s July 10, 3 p.m.

Howard Dean needs no introduction. He’s universally known as the guy who made that weird shrieking noise during a 2004 presidential campaign speech, and subsequently lost any chance he ever had at the Democratic nomination. Imagine for a moment that shrieking never happened — perhaps Dean would’ve been nominated by the Democratic Party, elected to the highest executive office, and succeeded in his attempts to socialize health care. In that highly imaginary world, my good friend “Scott” wouldn’t be buying Vicodin from a drug dealer to abate the pain caused by an abscessed tooth, because said tooth would’ve been treated under public health care. And in that world, Dean definitely wouldn’t have needed to write Prescription for Real Healthcare Reform.    

Prescription for Real Healthcare Reform is by all standards of measure a typical politician’s book: a stump speech transformed into 150 pages of glossy paperback by a couple of authors credited in the fine print. We start off with a few anecdotes about “real people,” in this case “Claire” and “Patrick,” who’ve been severely shafted by insurance companies. The book quickly moves on to numbers-and-statistics talk about private health care’s massive failures. Having lent the crisis a face, Dean then puts forth a solution best summed up by the title of Chapter 6: “Reform Without a Public Health Insurance Option Isn’t Real Reform.”    

Dean breaks down his thoughts on Obama’s plan (“It works”) and pushes an interesting way to pay for it (“a carbon tax with a tax on gasoline”). One chapter debunks “Eleven Myths” in a manner reminiscent of a talking points memo prepared for a liberal debate team. It’s easy to be cynical about a book as formulaic and disposable as this one. Prescription is so narrowly focused on the present political climate that it’s almost guaranteed to be outdated and headed for the recycling bin by year’s end.

That doesn’t change that Dean is right, though. Public health care should have been introduced in the U.S. years ago, right around the time we started wasting billions upon billions on an endless, misguided war in Iraq. That’s what Dean was shrieking about back in 2004. His red-faced, hoarse screams were the sound of a guy who actually cared, who knew the country was going in the wrong direction, and passionately wanted to change it. For Claire and Patrick (and Scott, too), he’s still trying.

Prescription for Real Healthcare Reform by Howard Dean. Chelsea Green Publishing. $12.95. 144 pp.