A freelance journalist investigates one of Donald Trump’s officials and the battle for health care in America.
Zaitchik (The Gilded Rage, 2016, etc.) continues to rail against the far right in his latest work. For this slim but detailed volume, he concentrates on one man in particular: the Trump administration’s choice for Health and Human Services secretary, Tom Price. The author admits it is a seemingly innocuous selection on the surface, but asserts: “There is a stink around Tom Price. A deep, unprecedented, flies abuzz stink.” That “stink” starts in the late 1980s with the merger of Price’s suburban orthopedic practice into a major medical company, positioning him for wealth and a seat in Congress. Using voting records and late-night C-SPAN debates, Zaitchik builds the portrait of a doctor who sees health care as little more than an extension of corporate greed. According to the author, Price only believes in “patient choice and the public’s sacred right to get fleeced by the pharmaceutical companies.” The massive amount of public records evidence tracks Price from his days opposing Bill Clinton-era reforms to his all-out assaults against the Affordable Care Act, creating the narrative of a “foot soldier” rising to prominence by following Republicans and lobbyists. From the title to the comic book-style cover, the volume wants the reader to see Price as Zaitchik does: a T-1000 model Republican with cyborglike dedication—a cartoon villain. The author does a tremendous job synthesizing the larger health care debate and Price’s entanglements with private interests while weaving in some laugh-out-loud jabs. But however fun those turns of phrase might be, his target audience will likely not be shocked that a Trump pick makes decisions based on money. At the same time, Zaitchik’s outlook is too black and white to mold a powerful, reasoned argument about health care that could change minds. For a work focused on one man, not digging deeper into Price the person with at least some benefit of the doubt seems like a missed opportunity—after all, the best villains are often more than ooze. They’ve got some humanity too.
For liberals already mad about the health care debate, this book offers compelling reasons to stay angry.