Since this will probably be my last post for a week or so, I thought it ought to focus on an important and timely topic. Like the national health care debate, and what it says about our love-hate relationship with government.
I'm sorry, did I say debate? What I meant to say was meaningless shouted accusation and innuendo fueled by questionable statistics and political buffoonery.
Few problems are more important, and few are less likely to be satisfactorily resolved any time soon. As with many other thorny issues, there is an element of truth and sincerity on the part of every side to the argument...but the elements of truth are so deeply buried under hurled accusations and countercharges that the average person can't begin to understand what the options are, much less evaluate which one is the best.
One of the most amazing aspects of this debate is what it says about our views of and relationship to our government. As soon as any mention is made of a health-care option that involves any degree of government involvement, the airwaves and print media are filled with ads that thunder about how the world will end and we will all die horrible, lingering deaths if that inept government sinks its twisted claws into our medical care. Announcers, their voices dripping with scorn, warn us of the unspeakable danger of unelected government bureaucrats making decisions on our health care.
Hello... hello... can we take a moment and cash a reality check here?
You may not have noticed it, but unelected bureaucrats are already calling the shots on what sort of care you receive. The only difference is that they don't work for the government (which we elect), they work for insurance companies and the health management industry (which we don't).
The American tradition of mistrust of government is rooted deep in our national psyche. It began with rebellion against the arbitrary authority of a distant king, and continues to this day. We don't trust government writ large, and still less the fallible individuals who compose the leadership of that government. I'm no different in my scorn for individual lawmakers than anyone else.
But is the government really as bad as we think?
Take a minute and read this article by Julian Zelizer, a professor of history and public affairs at Princeton University's Woodrow Wilson School. In it, Professor Zelizer looks at the history of the Medicare program as an example of how the government can create a successful and beneficial program. Whether you agree with his analysis or not, it's useful to read something that takes a bit less hysterical approach than most of the drivel you read or hear nowadays.
In a perfect world, when we needed medical treatment we would walk down our tree-lined streets to the clapboard home of the local doctor behind its whitewashed picket fence. We'd go in and a kindly, avuncular Marcus Welby would carefully examine us, prescribe necessary medicines that would be filled for free by the local pharmacist, and never mention payment for his services. But the world ain't perfect. Marcus Welby owes his medical school hundreds of thousands of dollars for his education...and wants to make a decent living, and the drugs he prescribes are developed by companies that spend billions of dollars on research and development, testing, and lawsuits...and want to make a profit.
One way or another, decisions on our health care are going to be made not just by kindly doctors, but by people hunched over ledgers and computer screens in hidden offices. We just need to decide whether those people - those bureaucrats - work for the government over which we have some measure of control, or for an insurance company focused on profits, which we don't.
Let's stop shouting and start thinking and discussing.
Have a good day. More thoughts later.