Last weekend as I watched the news endlessly yak on about the health care bill, I realized it’s not about health care at all. It’s about fear.Franklin D. Roosevelt once said, “Let us never forget that government is ourselves and not an alien power over us. The ultimate rulers of our democracy are not a president and senators and congressmen and government officials, but the voters of this country.” He also said something about having nothing to fear but fear itself.
I don’t see eye to eye on Roosevelt politically, but he got it right this time.
Democrats and progressives want you to think that no one can afford or even get health insurance anymore because of the mean, greedy, corporate insurance racket.
Republicans and libertarians/Tea-Partyers want you to think that the Democrats are trying to build the next Soviet Union, take away all individual freedoms, and kill a few maimed elderly and unborn babies in the process.
How can we act rationally when the fear inside us is drummed to extremes?
Personally, I think the health care bill is too big and too expensive. And I think Obama should have prioritized a lot more pressing issues above this.
But I think the people that are for it genuinely care about providing health coverage to all Americans. And in the House Sunday, the vote (narrowly, but legally) showed America wanted coverage more than job creation or reduced debt.
The truth is, yes, America is shifting left. We (the people) have been for awhile. Teddy Roosevelt wanted health coverage for all Americans a hundred years ago, around the same time the country started busting monopolies and passing labor laws. Since then, we’ve gotten federal medical programs like Social Security, Medicare/Medicaid, and the State Children’s Health Insurance Program.
Before you start thinking we’re on the express train to Commietown, remember that we aren’t as left as much of the Western world. Britain passed its National Health Service Act in 1946. Sweden has a government-funded “equal access” health care system, which has been in place for years.
In fact, Scandinavian countries are commonly thought of as the most socialist of modern countries. That is, they are democratic and socialist, not dictatorships and communist. Finland isn’t Cuba. Norway isn’t North Korea.
What is there to fear with some government oversight? Following Europe’s political path is not a death march into communism. Some people like the government protecting them.
And others like the government to stay out of personal business. Similarly, what is there to fear with some restrictions on government? Americans like their personal space. We can’t always compare ourselves to our European counterparts. A lot of immigrants came here to avoid European governments.
In politics, there isn’t right and wrong, or good and evil, just a spectrum of political preferences.
In either direction, there are extremes which can be dangerous, but some steps to restrict government spending isn’t anarchy just as some steps to expand government oversight isn’t 1984. We have this handy little document called the Constitution which says what we can/can’t do that stops us from the extremes.
But even that is played by both sides against the other. The right says that the founding fathers would have never wanted this health care bill, that freedom was the all-end-all for the founders and should be for us. The left says that the health care bill provides a better quality of life and better pursuit of happiness for Americans, so it is exactly what the founders would want.
There is a fear that if we don’t do exactly what the founders intended, we’re horribly un-American and should be locked up in Gitmo, so every issue has to match up with what a bunch of rebellious, rich, white guys wanted in 1776.
The founding fathers set a good framework for this country, but just a framework, not the whole house. Back in the day, when the ink on the Constitution was drying, Congress couldn’t agree on exactly what the Constitution should include. So they passed the Bill of Rights, which I’m pretty fond of. They also left in that part about slavery, not because they intended America to always be a slave country, but because they knew Congress would deal with that at another time.
That’s the cool part about our government. The people get to vote and send their representatives to make the rules as we the voters see fit. Think drinking is the cause of all social woes? Pass the 18th Amendment. Decide that was a bad idea? Pass the 21st. We can adapt our laws to our current feelings and political leanings (within some fundamental limits of course).
I don’t think our founding fathers ever imagined the America we live in now. The government is much stronger than even the Federalists could have predicted. Federal highways, federal economic rules, federal education rules, federal health care rules, and on and on and on.
But they also never imagined airplanes, computers, Marxism, atomic weapons, women’s suffrage, or Wal-Mart. It doesn’t mean we have strayed from what our founders told us to do, just that the world has changed and America with it.
The creators of this country didn’t know what they were getting into. They didn’t have another democracy to follow. They tried their best to set up a system where the people could have a say in their government. Where the government would actually work for the people instead of vice versa.
And that’s it. They didn’t leave us direct commands on climate change or abortion or health care. We get to decide what we want all on our own. We are not restricted to 18th century opinions.
But instead of sitting down and rationally deciding what our political opinions are, we vote with fear.
A liberal, instead of voting for say, social justice, votes in retaliation of neo-cons. A conservative, instead of voting for fiscal responsibility, votes in retaliation of government oversight. The New Deal passed swiftly because America feared complete economic failure. The PATRIOT Act passed swiftly because America feared of terrorism trampling our normally un-touched shores.
We want government health care because we fear getting kicked off corporate insurance. We don’t want government health care because we fear a system too big and too indebted to operate.
Now that it’s here, sit down, take a deep breath, and actually read the damn thing. Decide what health coverage you want and get it if you can. Decide what representation you want in Congress and vote in November. We can change the country every two years. Just change it with optimism, not with fear.