America’s Flirtation with Healthcare’s Dark Side

The Affordable Health Care Act is one of those things that people will always talk – and argue – about. But it seems strange, doesn’t it, that being healthy should be a controversial topic? Is it because of America’s near-mythical love of the rugged and independent individualist, making his or her (but especially his) own way in the world? The idea that each of us can and should be able to take care of ourselves?

If so, it’s kind of a foolish notion, particularly when the whole concept is largely wishful thinking, one of those images a people form of themselves that might sustain them despite it being mostly untrue. The defenders of the Alamo, for example, paragons of 19th century American exceptionalism, were friends and neighbors helping each other out. None of them were there alone. They were there together. They saw it as together.

Humans are social animals – community builders. Always have been. It’s why mass extinctions follow us wherever we go and always have. We get together, sharpen some spears and clear the area of danger that threatens all of us – not to mention filling communal cooking pots. Along the way, we build roads, plow fields, plant and harvest crops and build cities. And we do it together.

So why can’t we stay healthy together? Why is that community spirit suddenly subordinate to individualism? If individualism mattered so much, we wouldn’t have police or fire departments either, and even Republicans don’t want to do away with those things – they just want to profit off them by privatizing them, which is great for corporate interests but terrible for the individual.

And what is a corporation? A group of individuals. Acting corporately is acting together – society and laws are the result, laws we all expect everyone to obey so we don’t fall prey to a Hobbesian “nasty, brutish, and short” scenario. Individualism goes right out the window when corporation enters, so why the obsessive focus on the individual where it comes to our health?

We have Ezra Klein telling us Saturday, “The Democrats’ commitment is to provide every American with health insurance. The Republican Party’s commitment is to prevent any American from being forced to have health insurance.”

But that’s not really the difference at all. Yes, Democrats do want every American to have health insurance, but the Republican commitment is to deprive Americans of that insurance – in other words, to make sure as few Americans as possible have health insurance. Why? Because insurance cost corporations money. Those groups of people, where our health is concerned, must prosper over the individual. In a way, their focus is on the individual, but not in the way Klein imagines.

American attitudes towards health are rather bizarre and incomprehensible. You’d think we’d want to be healthy, that we’d want to have the means to maintain that health and to get well when we get sick, but an opinion on CNN shows that even cancer survivors can think of health insurance as a “necessary evil”.  How does that work: “my life would be over without health insurance” but it’s a necessary evil? It’s necessary as can be but it ain’t hardly evil.

How can health be evil?

It’s silly to act all rugged individualist where our health is concerned. Let’s not emulate the generation before mine where it was unmanly even to complain or take note of a health problem. We are faced with all sorts of environmental causes for disease that previous generations did not face and it gets worse all the time. There are now many known genetic causes for disease, including my heart disease. There isn’t anything I could have done to avoid inevitable problems, as a doctor once foresaw. You can live a life of moderation as every wise man has ever recommended and it won’t save you from a genetic or environmental disease pathology. It won’t protect you from accidents or from malfeasance. In the vernacular, shit happens.

And it happens to people who have taken every reasonable precaution.

So what, we’re all supposed to take it like men and die with our chins up? That’s very British I suppose but we’re not British and we’re not the Americans we thought we were. We never were.

The obverse of everyone deserves to have health insurance is “only the rich deserve health insurance” because the way things are going, those are the only people who will be covered, or at least adequately covered. How many times do you actually find a plan that covers your teeth or your vision? How many insurance companies balk at medically necessary tests? My insurance company is currently balking at one that might explain why my son is still alive. Seems kinda necessary, doesn’t it, being we’d like to keep him that way?

Corporations – those groups of people who have decided that collectively they are an individual on top of all the individuals making up that corporation – have decided that real individuals, those outside of that corporate shell, are not really people at all, because that is the consequence of corporations being people. If they are, we are not.

So next time it strikes you that corporations are treating you like shit, like just a statistic that doesn’t really matter except as part of a demographic, it’s because that’s all you are to them, and they’re not going to spend a single penny on you that the government does not force them to spend. Which is why government is the enemy to corporate America and to the corporately funded Tea Party.

Once upon a time, as Ezra Klein points out, the Republican Party wasn’t hostile to health care for all. They agreed with Democrats on its necessity. As Klein quotes the very conservative Sen. Jim DeMint saying to President George W. Bush, “We believe the health care system cannot be fixed without providing solutions for everyone. Otherwise, the costs of those without insurance will continue to be shifted to those who do have coverage.”

That was before the Tea Party turned such thinking into socialism and forced Mitt Romney to declare his own Massachusetts health care mandate an abomination before God that needed to be aborted at once, retroactively if necessary. Suddenly, everything that smacked of corporatism – except corporations – was evil: if you want help then then by God you’ll pay for it and we’ll let your house burn down to prove it! F*ck you, f*ck your house, and f*ck sick little Jimmy who was born with a hole in his heart through no fault of his own!

Just remember this: if you vote to put Romney in the White House, Romney will veto the Affordable Healthcare Act for you but he will have socialized medicine for himself. We’ll be paying for it. So will every other Republican who wants to deprive you of socialized medicine; they will have it too and you will be paying for it. They’re not responsible for their own care anymore even while telling the rest of us that we – and you – are, responsible not only for our own but for theirs.

It is a world where little Jimmy might die because of the hole in his heart while the CEO of the corporation where his father works has plenty of profits to pay for a nice house and gardens and golf club but not a penny for Jimmy’s life. It’s a world where the golf club membership, a corporate jet and vacation homes are more important than a human life – any number of human lives.

To say that the GOP has become the party of Scrooge…well, they have. A Scrooge that doesn’t reform and wake up one day with love in his heart but a Scrooge with irredeemable character flaws, a Christmas Carol written by Bernard Malamud rather than Charles Dickens.

But what DeMint, in that once a flowering of conservative sanity and moderation, was saying is that we have to fix this corporately – together – and not just for individuals but for all individuals. For everyone. Not just John Smith down the street or even for John Smith on his own without help, but by everyone for everyone. As a community should, we lift each other up when it is needed because what helps one of us helps all of us. And that’s not communism or socialism; it’s just common sense.

Our ancestors knew this. Why have we forgotten it?

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7 Replies to “America’s Flirtation with Healthcare’s Dark Side”

  1. I had written a detailed comment and glitched it. Suffice to say that to let the health of the public go to Hell is to do as much with the future of the country, but now that the Dissocialists have gone global, they don’t need it any more.

    You have written a truly moving article. I wish both you and your son well.

  2. I’ve been asking myself a lot lately, “when did we lose our humanity?” It mystifies me that people were actually cheering during those brief few minutes when it was incorrectly reported that the individual mandate had been struck down by the Court. How can you cheer 30 million people being unable to get health care insurance? How can you cheer the prospect that young adults will be kicked off their parents’ insurance plans? I cannot fathom cheering for denying insurance coverage to 17 million children with pre-existing conditions.

    This isn’t just limited to the health care legislation. We see it with the attacks on the poor who are receiving assistance; they are called lazy and are accused of taking advantage of the system. This demonizing gives Congress the justification to cut funding to assistance programs so they don’t have to cut defense spending. We’ll sacrifice thousands upon thousands of people all for the sake of a few more bombs and planes. We have no problem cutting funding for school lunch programs but heaven forbid we end oil subsidies. Teachers, firefighters, and other public workers become the enemy – in spite of the vital public service they perform. They belong to unions, therefore, they are evil and must be destroyed. They talk about “breaking” the unions, as if unions have done nothing positive for ALL of society.

    We see it, too, with the fight over undocumented immigrants. Should people come here legally? Yes, of course, but it pains me to think that we would separate an undocumented mother and father from their children who were born here and are citizens. We will do this because the relative few illegal immigrants in the country (about 10 million compared to a population of over 300 million) are blamed for all of our problems. They do jobs others don’t want to do and contribute to this country in many ways. Still, they are demonized unfairly and we live in a world where the arrest of a six year old undocumented immigrant is cheered.

    We see all of this in our every day world. Still, I have no answer to my question. I don’t know when it happened, but somewhere along the way, we forgot what it means to be human. We forgot what it means to live in a community where the health and wealth of all is promoted and encouraged. We lost our humanity and we must try and find it again – for all of our sakes.

  3. I don’t know how many reasoned, logical, benign explanations like this one that I’ve read over the past 3+ years to “explain” the progressive POV towards American society and politics…

    …and it never fails to amaze me that these reasoned, logical benign explanations bump up against the inpenetrable wall of right wing obdurance, and not one word of common sense gets through.

    Hrafnkell Haraldsson, I just hope your commentary reaches a few so-called “independents” who are still uninformed and on the fence about the direction they think this country should go.

  4. This question of losing our humanity has bothered me for a while, too. I think at least a part of the answer is fear, which is the cornerstone of conservative ideology: fear of change, fear of The Other, and fear of having what is “rightfully mine” taken away.

    On Thursday a Facebook friend posted a positive comment about the Supreme Court ruling and I was taken aback by the rage in a lot of people who replied. The gist of their anger seemed to be rooted in the idea that now they will be paying for other people, and their own hard-earned money will be taken away, as if someone else’s mammogram or cancer treatment will be directly deducted from their bank account. Right-wing pundits and politicians have been stoking this fear, of course, and fear elbows reason out of its way.

    So many people can’t accept that we’re all in this together because they are too terrified of The Other to believe that we could actually be one tribe of humanity.

  5. As usual Hraf, you addressed what I’ve been struggling with. How can a healthy populace be evil, and it’s always the same answer; greed, contempt, and more greed. You’re still reading my mind.

  6. Paws – humanity started leaving the building when man-turned-god Reagan said government is the enemy and the religious right gained influence in the GOP. It was all downhill from that moment on.

  7. Perhaps we need to look at the rabid anti-Communist fetish as a facet of the problem of lost humanity. The Communist Manifesto is actually a cry for a humane approach to life.

    The average American has more in common with the proletariat than the bourgeoisie, thanks to Reagan’s rapacious looting of our commonwealth assets. The attack on the public sector is an attack on everything Americans used to be proud of.

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