In 1961, the American Medical Association (AMA) funded a persuasive campaign called Operation Coffeecup. The campaign, which was designed to defeat Medicare, featured a speech by a young Ronald Reagan outlining the dangers of “socialized medicine.” The speech was recorded on a long-play record and distributed to the Women’s Auxiliary of the AMA, a group primarily composed of the wives of doctors who were instructed to write seemingly spontaneous letters to Congress detailing their opposition to the program. This essay investigates Operation Coffeecup mainly through a rhetorical analysis of Reagan’s speech. I argue that “socialized medicine” drew upon a problematic articulation of American culture that privileges the individual at the expense of the larger community. I conclude by discussing the thread of individualism that has persisted in the United States from the pre-Depression era mythos of rugged individualism to neoliberal discourses that shape debates about health policy today.

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