Friday, August 21, 2009

Buy America

You know that famous Calvin Coolidge quote, "The business of the American people is business"? I've been thinking a lot about that lately, while watching the country get caught in this vile shit storm of 'town hells' and Fox news lies and our tall, lithe president apparently standing so straight because he's afraid he's misplaced his spine--all as we try to do something so seemingly morally 'right' as improve our health care system to make it more fair, accessible and effective. It shouldn't even be a question that we need changes, but the rabid right is essentially proposing that we do nothing. They're barely even admitting the status quo is flawed (one of those Fox news lies is the oft repeated mantra that we have "the best health care in the world"; in upside-downy world maybe...).

Paul Krugman (fantasy dad) reported this week that when news broke that White House was waffling on the so-called 'public option', the stock prices of the big insurance companies got nice little bumps. So it's pretty obvious where they stand; on a wad of Twenties. It's been reported they take home up to 30% of every consumer dollar in profits--which is more than the law allows casinos to bank. Your insurance company is making a tidier profit than The Flamingo. On your health. A little crazy, right? (As for all the wing nuts at those town halls? They truly do seem to be a nice, florid cross-section of stubbornly uninformed, ugly Americans. If they aren't obvious shills for the medical/health care/big pharma industries, they're surely unwitting dupes. It's embarrassing, frankly.)

So it's all about money. Cold, hard, cash. A few very wealthy, very invested businessmen who make a living off of our health--or more precisely, our illness--just don't want reform. They like their mini-mansions too much. That's pretty much it. It's not any more complicated than that. We unfortunately have a system that makes health care a commodity like anything else: toilet paper, MP3 players, flip flops. And if someone is selling you something, they want to make a profit on it. The business of America really is business, no matter what.

In trying to refute the entire notion of a public option, I've heard some Republicans (shouldn't we just start calling them Republicants, btw?) say the public option wouldn't be fair--to the insurance companies (and gosh knows, the government should be all about making things fair for corporations...). I heard California Republican congressmen John Campbell say, essentially, "Why should there be a government run option for health care to provide competition? The government doesn't make furniture or shoes to give those industries competition." This argument is so specious and despicable it's almost impossible to debate. The man is equating chairs with health care. Saying that since the government doesn't provide us inexpensive, non-profit La-z-boys it shouldn't provide us inexpensive, non-profit life-saving heart surgery. Lovely.

With that kind of thinking it feels like you have to take a beat, triangulate, try to reason; there's a crazy person in the house, take some deep breaths and back away. But I think we should be doing the opposite: Going Big or Going Home. I actually think the fact that there's even an issue about the government being involved in this at all is the problem. Maybe we're tip-toeing around a bigger concept here. I mean, what is the basic function of the government? To take care of its citizenry, yes? The right wing is all about defense and security. Why? If not about just proving they have bigger balls (and admittedly, it might be), then it's ostensibly to stop other people from killing us. If we can spend seemingly unlimited amounts of money making sure that some foreign entity doesn't invade and start slaughtering us, why shouldn't we spend money making sure that diseases don't invade and start slaughtering us? In fact, in some ways we do: everyone is all too happy to have the CDC whipping up batches of swine flu vaccine--to protect the citizenry. Isn't that what health care should be? Protecting the citizenry from unnecessary death or preventable suffering?

I understand that Obama wanted to get what he could, start with something that seemed doable and non-threatening to the entrenched interests, maybe work reform incrementally. But as the wacky right distorts and lies and screams and froths at the mouth, filled with misinformation and free-floating rage, I have to think the moral argument wasn't big or compelling enough. If they're this upset now? Maybe we should have just asked the big questions and shot the big wad. Maybe we shouldn't be arguing fine points about how to enable everyone to afford health insurance. Maybe we should be arguing about why health insurance even exists.

Why shouldn't health care fall into the same category that other 'essential' services? The government (whether national or local) makes sure we have police and fire departments, clean water, safe medications, salmonella-free why shouldn't it make sure we don't die of an undiagnosed tumor or untreated diabetes? To my way of thinking, making health care something we have to 'negotiate' for in the 'marketplace' is positively perverse. If your house is on fire, do you have to 'shop around' for the cheapest engine company? Do you get a better price on your tap water than your neighbor does because you work for a big corporation and she's self- employed? Do you have to find a nice 'plan' to buy into just in case you ever need to call a cop? Can you imagine? "I couldn't afford police insurance, so when someone was breaking into my house I just waited it out in the bathroom and hoped for the best."

Of course, the fact is we all do buy into such a plan: by paying our taxes. So yes, I am in fact suggesting that health care be covered by our taxes. Crazy talk, I know. Positively Socialist! But let's be honest here; we have 'socialist' systems already--taxes we all pay to provide essential services for the public good. So why are we are we drawing the line at health care, pretty much the most 'essential service' of all? (If you don't have your health...) Maybe Obama should just say: Sure, fine. I'm a Socialist. Unless you live in the woods, off the grid, and eat bark, you kind of are too. If you drove to this here town meetin' on a public road, you're just as much of a pinko as I am. So just sit down, open up and say, "Ahh".

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