Friday, July 17, 2009
Zero Sum Game
We watched It's A Wonderful Life last night, and there's a scene that really smacked us in the face (not the obvious one at the end, mind you):
Bailey: Times are bad, Mr. Potter. A lot of these people are out of work.
Potter: Then foreclose!
Bailey: I can't do that. These families have children.
Potter: They're not my children.
Bailey: But they're somebody's children, Mr. Potter.
Potter: Are you running a business or a charity ward?
I remember one of the Iraq war demonstrations in 2007, a Freeper was yelling about the 3000 "they" killed. Their inaccuracy notwithstanding, I asked about the 1.2M people we killed. "They're not MY people!"
This seems the fundamental difference between conservativism and liberalism in a nutshell. The former is in the "I've got mine, get your own and fuck off" camp, the latter in the "how can I help" frame of mind. It's like a dichotomy in the Meyers-Briggs: do you prefer 'justice' or 'mercy', do you prefer 'hoarding' or 'sharing'?
Anyway, in light of the healthcare reform stuff happening now--not the mortgage crisis or the stimul, uh...Wall Street bailout--and our own family's healthcare crisis, this felt even more germane than before. It's not really even a question of "do we have the right to healthcare" but "what do we as a civilized society do to provide for all our people?"
Wingers certainly like to (mis)quote the Declaration and conflate it with the Constitution. If we have the right to life and the pursuit of happiness, why can't we also organize ourselves in the form of government to provide for that in various ways? Wait, we do all the time, including the common Defence.
Yet when it comes to the general Welfare part, they decide that's somehow an overreach or not in line with the Framers' "original intent." Of course the original intent was to give us a fairly limited, overarching document that would grow with our needs as a nation, but whatever.
Rights are often construed as being what protects from government, but that's not mutually exclusive with the notion that government can and should create structures that enable to exercise those rights. In fact, it was stated explicitly in the Declaration: to secure these rights, Governments are instituted.
So if life and the pursuit of happiness are rights according to our basic Revolutionary ideals, health is a necessary condition for those rights, the 9th Amendment notes that the omission of an explicit mention of rights does not mean they don't exist, we create government with power to secure the rights, and Congress has the authority to promote the welfare of the people in our nation, then why the big debate about whether we should provide healthcare to our citizens? That might be as rhetorical a question as it is long-winded.
What is a right, even if the government doesn't directly infringe on it, if we have no practical way to exercise it? We're not talking about a guaranteed outcome, but a fundamental principle has been and must be that failure to protect rights by government is tantamount to inhibiting them.
You say women have a right to reproductive freedom, including abortion, but there's only one provider in a 1000 mile radius, that's not much of a right, is it? You say people have the right to free speech, but there's only one corporation that controls the airwaves, presses, billboards, etc, then you can't really influence your government and fellow citizens, can you?
I submit that our government is obligated to provide health coverage from that perspective. That's ignoring the other issues of compassion, cost savings, increased competitiveness, and so on.
When Congressman Welch called on Wednesday, literally minutes after we'd gotten home from the hospital, he first asked how Ericka was doing, which I very much appreciated. Then we chatted about the absolute need for a public option and ultimately single-payer (he's a cosponsor of HR676).
In the Socialist Republic of Vermont, we have a close approximation of that with Green Mountain Care. Without it, we would have been royally fucked this week. Given how well this system is working, it's a puzzlement that we can't somehow give all Americans the same security.
I of course then linked this discussion to Palestine, and we debated the best way to push forward the peace process, lifting the siege, etc. We are not on the same page on specifics. I want Congress to reassert itself regarding the purse strings and at least put conditions on military aid to Israel as a way to create space for Obama and Mitchell to work. Peter would rather punt and have Obama show the leadership.
I take his point that the Administration is in charge of foreign policy and that Congress can't micromanage the peace process. But when American dollars fund the Wall and checkpoints that prevent pregnant mothers from accessing the medical care we needed this week, there are things the Legislature can do without allowing shuttle diplomacy and the other delicate work of long-term peace to evolve. There is a crisis NOW that must be addressed.
When we arrived at the ER on Sunday, they sent us first through a triage room. Anybody who has watched MASH knows that's how you figure out medical priorities and what to do with incoming patients.
The same thing needs to be done in Palestine. Working toward a real solution with two sovereign states at peace is a great thing. It does jack shit for the 1.5M people imprisoned in Gaza, let alone Palestinians living in the West Bank Archipelago, when it comes to the daily exercise of their rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
Peter did correctly observe that we need to engage with peacemakers on both sides, and he appreciated my point that we must be more balanced in our allocation of aid. How about putting some of those Caterpillars to use cleaning up the rubble of destroyed homes in Gaza instead of their usual purpose of creating more rubble knocking homes down? How about investing $3B in rebuilding infrastructure in Gaza?
Of course this will all be moot if aid cannot flow into the shattered country, so lifting the siege is paramount. Peter recognizes that and did send a letter along with several other Members to Bibi requesting the borders be opened. But they really do need to apply financial pressure as well. Perhaps every dollar that actually is allowed to do good in Gaza then gives Israel a dollar? Seems like that could be politically tenable even if Congress still has a knee-jerk need to "support our dear friend Israel" with military aid.
In the end we both acknowledged that no matter what the US does, parties to the conflict will have to ultimately work their differences out themselves. That will require empathy from each of them, recognizing that even if those kids on the other side of the Wall aren't their children, they're somebody's children. And giving the other side something doesn't mean you lose: both will win, because it's not a zero sum game.
Anyway, it was just a 12 minute call--he had floor votes and those horribly long markup sessions on healthcare to attend--but it was frank, with some agreement and some items for further debate. I'll be working with his scheduler to set up a meeting during the summer recess to push things along. If all goes well, I will be driving to it from home, not the hospital or the Ronald McDonald House, and my child will still be a long time in coming into this world.
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