Friday, August 7, 2009

Shout Out

The easiest way for consensus on an issue to be reached is through discussion and debate, a laying out of facts and a critical examination of the effects of changing systems to alter those facts. The idea, is to reach a solution to a particular problem by incorporating the ideas of all parties in such a way that, no matter the outcome, all parties feel they have had their say and can agree to compromises on their position. It was this process, adopted by the Founding Fathers, that led to the formation of the United States, the layout of its government, and the process through which problems affecting the citizenry were to be solved.

Was the system perfect? No. The founders chose to leave the issue of slavery for another day, codified it in the Constitution, and thus, in the end, a civil war had to be fought to iron it out. It did, however, lay out a perfectly effective groundwork for solving problems moving forward, if you were willing to live with the occasional flaw.

The founders would not recognize their system now, mainly because it has been co-opted by partisanship. Republican, Democrat, Liberal, conservative, fanatical religionists, secularists, men, women, young, old... rather than debating issues, battle lines are more often drawn. Each side has their say, but at a distance, through the media, or the Internet. Groups talk at each other, not to each other. Rhetoric, vitriol, and spin are orders of the day. It is far easier to call names than to call for hashing out problems. Each side in every "debate" has become so entrenched, that any issue takes on the characteristics of the Somme or Verdun, where shells are lobbed, skirmishes are fought, but in the end, no ground is gained or lost.


Currently, this is exemplified by the current problem of health care reform. "Current" is the wrong word, for the health care system in our country has been broken since probably the early 1980's, and no one has been in a rush to fix it. It has gone from being a necessity of life to a free-market big business. It has also become so entwined with employment, that economic downturns only swell the ranks of those unable to afford quality health care, causing them to utilize emergency services for even the most routine medical complaints. And this goes around and around, swirling and twisting as the economy writhes in pain form the short-sightedness of Wall Street barons.

If you are lucky to have a job, be independently wealthy, or be part of some organization, then you no doubt have access to quality health care. If you are poor, destitute, or perhaps have a chronic condition, you don't. The vast majority, as with anything, lie in the middle, swinging between having health insurance and not, between good health and sickness, between simple co-pays and staggering bills. There is no solid ground to stand upon -- one day you have a job with excellent benefits, the next you don't, and while they offer you the ability to take your health benefits with you when you go, the premiums are astronomical for someone now on unemployment insurance.

And so, our government is trying to change that. Well, some in our government. There are those, bolstered by market forces, the pharmaceutical industry, health insurance providers, and their own inability to see the forest for the trees, who oppose changing the system, who have fallen back on the cant of "let the free-market handle it." The free-market has been handling it for some time now -- and that's how we got into this mess. Remember all those foreclosures and bank failures?

The preamble to the Constitution states that part of its intended purpose is to "provide for the general Welfare." Tied to the ideas laid out in the Declaration of Independence, about "life, liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness," this would seem to indicate that the founders thought it important that the Federal government ensure that everyone who is a citizen was cared for, not just in the fact of having established rights, but having available those services which would further the lives of Americans as a whole.

This frightens some people.

This idea, that everyone should have general access to quality health care scares big business, which is making it's living off the lives of Americans. Medical care is essential to the health and well-being of every person, but people have now been reduced to statistics and actuarial tables. People are a risk; if we insure you, you might get sick, that would cost money, and we need to maintain our profit margins. It scares conservatives, who see it as socialism, a system whereby the State treats all citizens as equals, when we all know that some are more equal than others. It also scares ordinary citizens, not because they understand the problem, but because they have been told it should scare them. Fear-mongering has generated irrationality in the citizenry.

So now, when we should be coming together, to discuss our concerns, discuss our needs, discuss the costs (both human and financial) of leaving so many without health care, we find movements to shout down those who are for change. Rather than engage in honest debate, hear all sides, build consensus, there are those urging thuggery and mob tactics, to disrupt the discussion rather than take part in it. It has gotten so bad, that meetings have been cancelled, and elected representatives have received death threats.

Irrationality carries the day.

A wise man once said, "all we have to fear, is fear itself." At this time, those words ring truer than they have in a long time, not because there is normal fear of the loss of jobs, homes, health care, dignity, but because there are those who would use abject fear to stall, delay, diminish, and derail the ability of the American system to tackle a problem and solve it, as we have so many times in our nation's brief history. Fear has become the new coin of the realm, and those forces who would deny the average citizen their right to a peaceful, prosperous, and healthy life are spending it. They do not want discussion, debate, or consensus, for if the light of truth is shone on their prevarications and obfuscations, then the American people will see for themselves, that the Emperor truly has no clothes.

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