Tuesday, December 15, 2009

This Is About Who We Are

In the contentious ongoing debate over health care in America, conservatives have made much of the evils of a so-called "government takeover" of the health care system. I wonder if anyone ever stops to think about what this really means. The conflict is often framed facilely as one between benevolent, feedom-loving, flag-waving corporations and the much dreaded GOVERNMENT. Predictably from the right, all of the tired, tried and true hot button terms and catch phrases are tapped for maximum effect in the cynical manipulation of conservative emotions: Collectivism, Statism, Socialism, Communism etc, ad nauseam, ad infinitum...

But such constructions prove odd to the point of absurdity in light of one of our dearest held ideals and beliefs: that ours is a government of, by, and for the people. If we are the government, yet are profoundly distrustful of it, then it follows that ultimately it is our very selves upon whom we look with such suspicion. In psychological parlance this affliction might be labelled an oddly paranoid crisis of identity. Certainly a mark of low self-esteem. Writ large across an entire culture (or at least half of one) it is giving rise to some pretty bizarre behavior.

In August we watched in jaw dropping astonishment a political process exhibiting signs of what could only be described as derangement. We were treated to the antics of birthers, deathers, tea-baggers and just plain haters high-jacking what should have been a productive (if lively) discussion on the complex issues of health care concerning us all.

But no conversation could heard over the shouting of mobs (town hollerers) intent not on fostering discussion, but rather on silencing it. The tactic has had mixed reviews, for while it certainly halted the reasoned, measured discussion Americans deserved, it also exposed an ugly vein of racially tinged hostility running through what passes for the GOP these days. Precisely the kind of hostility that has been known to cause independents to run screaming away from any party perceived to be so consumed.

Oddly, the syndrome noted by Thomas Frank in his prescient 2004 book "What's The Matter With Kansas," seems if anything to be more profoundly in evidence today. The central insight of the book was that the conservative leadership in America had found a way to compel their constituents to vote with machine-like consistency against their own economic, and social interests. This was accomplished by hammering on the most emotionally charged issues in any given political cycle thus raising conservative animus against liberals to such a fever pitch, that they would ignore even the most blatant of self-harming policy agendas put forth by their leaders. It worked then and scarily, it's working again.

In much the same way that Calvinism in the past issued draconian rules against anything bearing the faintest whiff of pleasure, extreme conservatism has come out against health care reform. Calvinists were driven by the mere chance that somewhere, somehow, someone out there might be having fun. And if they weren't allowed to have fun, no one else should be allowed. Today's conservatives similarly rail against the possibility that somewhere, somehow, someone out there might receive needed assistance from the government. It is a notion predicated on an peculiarly hypocritical denial of reality. Such denial wants to believe that "If I can control my life and destiny, everyone else can as well!" In truth, we control little if anything in this life. Without a moments notice events can overtake us, leaving us diminished, harmed, even destroyed. Conservatives like to suppose that it is weakness to admit this. Grownups accept it, make accommodation, and move forward.

We all tacitly trust government to handle threats to our security and safety. Who do we call upon to put out a blaze that threatens to destroy our home in a fire? Don't we depend on the police to protect us when real threats are perceived against our communities and homes? We create institutions like these and put them in place because we recognize that sometimes, events can overwhelm even the well prepared among us. Guess what folks, essentially that's socialist. And do we want the decisions of Fire and Police Departments to be subject to the corporate concerns of cost analysis and annual profits? Would you consider yourself and your family as safe?

Frankly regarding health care in America, our fateful wrong turn occurred when we allowed business and the profit motive anywhere near the profound and uniquely human issues of health, life and death. Because with health and disease, as with the above issues of crime and disaster, events can overtake us to devastating effect. If so much is provided to protect person and property by Fire, Police Departments and disaster relief, how much more important is protecting the health of the very bodies inhabiting the homes that we defend?

The right is great at the art of branding. They have given us the "Death Tax," "The Patriot Act," and now in a political sneer that would make Lee Atwater grin ear to ear, we have "Obamacare." I'd like to try my hand at the art by suggesting a new name for the health care system now in place in America that allows upwards of 4000 citizens to die annually simply for the lack of affordable health insurance. I dub such a system "Corporocare."

For the record, liberals will admit that a total governmental takeover of health care in America is socialist when conservatives can admit that a health care system completely beholden to the bottom line of remote corporate share holders is fascist. Returning to the subject of those failed discussions we endured in August, the time has come for reasonable people to find accommodations that, while allowing room for corporations to exist, will always refuse to cede human life and dignity in doing so. We need health care for all, we need it now.

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