Sunday, March 13, 2011

The Fate We Choose

I asked my pharmacist, “Have you been following the debate over single payer?”
“No.” he said, “I don't think it's going to happen.”
“Why not?” I asked.
“The insurance companies won't let it happen. There is too much money involved.”

If we were not on a national and international stage, we might only be asking “What is the best way to deliver health care?” But the debate here in Vermont – our debate over single payer health care delivery – is much larger than how to best deliver health care. It's even larger than the the question “What is the relationship between the citizen and the government?” This debate is about the question “What do we want our lives to be like?” What is the reason for life? Why are we here? Why are we engaged in the democratic experiment? And “What fate shall we choose?” Is it our goal for everyone to have a reason to live and a quality of life that justifies living, or is it our goal for some few to live richly, while the vast majority of people live from pay check to pay check, at risk of eviction for any episode of ill health, eating second rate food? As the income gap widens, as the federal budget shrinks and college becomes less accessible, parks are over-run by commerce, as police and fire departments are halved or eliminated, as class sizes grow and arts and music disappear for our children, as the middle class disassembles, as the uber-rich cut environmental law exceptions for themselves, allowing them to pollute with eternal impunity, the fate of the poverty class awaits the middle class.

We are in a fight for our lives, our nation, and humanity. Confronted nationally by a declining quality of life, by increasing insecurity, the dogma being shouted is to preserve the right of a few to get rich. Too many of us believe this dogma. Confronted by downward mobility, we are told to blame the government for “spending too much”, for excessive social welfare, for too high entitlements. We are promised that if we reduce taxes, reduce even the bulwark of the middle class, Social Security, even while the rich get richer and the regular people become poor and then poorer, our wealth will come. They will invest with their hyper-exuberant tax savings, they say, the economic pie will get bigger, they say, and those jobs will restore prosperity, they say. Really? Do you really believe the uber-rich will not just keep the profits for themselves? Confronted by the end of the middle class, we desperately hope these promises will reverse the slide of our fortunes. But these promises are the cause of that slide.

How is it that keeping more tax money enables the uber-rich and corporations to invest, when their bank accounts are fuller than ever and corporations are hoarding money? While the US spends more on its military than all other countries combined, how is it the same political-right that demands lower taxes also takes the military budget off the chopping block? How is it that just when the political right has finished its spending spree, and the priorities of an economy in recovery under their political opposition take hold, then they call for austerity? How is it that just when the Treasury must begin to repay America's debt to the Social Security Trust Fund, just when the people of the nation need their collective safety net most of all, then they call for cuts in Social Security benefits, lest taxes must be raised. Whose money are they saving?

The extreme political right is not just unwilling to pay for their own priorities, they want to destroy the social safety net. They will do anything to advantage their own accumulation of wealth, even destroy the democratic experiment we are living. Read the libertarian literature. They want to end taxes. But without taxes, only oligarchs have money, and an end to taxes is an end to democracy. They say “Freedom is incompatible with democracy”, because democracy promotes tyranny of the majority. They show no temperance, no self-restraint, no regard for the commonweal. They are prepared to destroy our system government. And with their control of the right-wing media machine, they are succeeding.

And they will go to any end to prevent us from instituting a single payer health care system, because our success will endanger their project to make America safe for Oligarchy.

If we allow our political and economic policy to be guided by the anti-government pseudo-populism, only one political principle applies: The ends justify the means. Do any harm needed to hold and keep wealth and power. Scream, lie, distort, manipulate, steal, kill, take, hoard, what ever is needed, get it. Truth be damned, science be damned, justice be damned, the fate of the Earth be damned, the fate of other people and our democratic experiment be damned! Just get power. And blame the government for everything that goes wrong.

They would have us forget the power we have, demonize our institutions of collective action, and accept the slight of hand by which their wealth accumulates in ever deeper piles, while our nation, the first nation founded by the people, for the people, is stolen from us. They conveniently overlook that the government is us. They want us to forget that from we the governed comes all of the power. That the government is the institution through which we effect our common goals. They plan on us being hypnotized by the drumbeat of “get yours, you are alone”, and that we will lose the ability to fight back, make this our nation, make this a nation that is just, make this a nation in which lives can be lived with hope.

The choice we have is between living like the Japanese or Norwegians, whose lives are quite good, or like the Pakistanis, the Libyans, or even the Somalis, whose countries follow the writ of Libertarian-Capitalist self-interest. In countries with high social equity, like Japan and Norway, in the vision of our founders, and in our country until the Libertarian attack, two principles are (or were) joined in the means (by which ends are accomplished): the rights of personal voice, prosperity, and well-being, and the responsibility of a shared fate. In a just society, advocates for different ideas of how to create that nation seek a shared solution that aims for the most good for the most people. And it is in the resolution of different principles and visions that meaningful solutions are found. In an unjust society, only one principle applies. That one principle which destroys opponents. The principle of power. That one principle which we must summarily reject.

We have decided that “Health Care is a Human Right” because our conscience tells us we must, because whither the law, prevailing opinion or the demands of national security, we know that the better life it produces for individuals produces a better life for everyone, even those who can afford all the health care they could want, and that makes it the Right thing to do. Access to health care, education, healthy food, sound housing, are absolute human goods. We decide to call them “Rights” because we need to, we must, push back against the belief that “to get wealthy is a right, and for you to be impoverished is not my problem”. To get wealthy is not a right. And to be impoverished is not necessary. (Read extensive research by Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett in The Spirit Level, Why Greater Equality Makes Societies Stronger, Bloomsbury Press, 2009)

We must fight now for health care as a human right with everything we have. When the advertising rolls out telling us about the great plans the insurance companies have to improve health care, when they charge that taxes will increase, when we are attacked with the label “Socialist”, when they talk about their passion for the health of patients and what a great job they do, we must answer their distortions and lies with truth, we must forcefully tell how they fail to deliver health care, and we must remind everyone: all they want is our money – they do not care about us. They haven't delivered, they can't deliver, and they won't deliver, the health care we need, because affordable health care for all, because health care as a human right, for profit, just isn't possible. It's a social project that only we, the people, through our government, can undertake.

Which fate do you choose?

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