Friday, July 24, 2009

Why Real Reform Takes Forever

It's hardly surprising that health care reform has taken much longer than expected and has been a contentious process to enact. Our country comprises hundreds of millions of residents, takes up a massive land area, and is home to so many different shades of political point of view that it amazes me at times that we can even agree on anything. In particular, the always-thorny tightrope act between regional concerns and greater national interest that we call Federalism complicates and typifies the American experience. This, first and foremost, has created a delay in the process of securing true universal health care coverage. The larger issues embedded along with the facts and proposals speak to both how we view our immediate neighbors to how we view our fellow Americans, regardless of where they might choose to call home. The short answer can be summarized in only one word: fear.

Fear guides the reservations of many who distrust any government program and automatically assume it will waste money and give rise to massive corruption. Fear guides the decision of each individual Representative or Senator when he/she wishes to have the particular views of his/her constituents incorporated into the proposed legislation while using strong-arm tactics to ensure of this. Fear provides ammunition to the insurance agencies who have thrown their collective weight behind defeating any kind of health care reform and/or public option. Fear encourages unfair stereotyping and hasty generalizing of people other than us who are found in other states, other regions, other economic classes, other ethnic backgrounds, and otherwise live lives we foolishly believe to be nothing like our own. Cynicism runs hand in hand with fear, which, as Franklin Delano Roosevelt eloquently noted in his First Inaugural Address, "paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance."

I have always found it deeply unfortunate how negativity and the most distressing of human emotions provide for the pretense of unified sentiment in ways that positivity and altruistic efforts to improve conditions for every living being do not. Naturally, this is nothing new. Religion acknowledges this directly, pointing out that the basic nature and inclination of every human is disproportionately selfish, self-centered, and self-absorbed. Yet, it also states that this is the tragic flaw of all humanity and until we find a way to curtail our me-centered attitudes, we will never be free.

We can, however, be coerced to unify our voices, but this only works with any frequency when we are either attacked by another country/enemy group or about to declare war on a hostile party. Look throughout history and one can find numerous examples of disparate religious, ethnic, and ideological elements thrown together under a single banner who eagerly banded together under a common flag for defense and out of fear of defeat. Of course, when the battles subside and the militaristic rhetoric dies down, so too does that cause of unity. What we are struggling with then is an ancient matter no less known to our distant ancestors than to ourselves at present. And until we find a means to extend the big tent to each of us by means of cooperation and mutual purpose, governments will continue to resort to tactics that propagate discord and hatred to manipulate popular sentiment in their own favor. Change is possible, but it will require us to have an honest conversation about the big picture, rather than getting bogged down in the pointless bickering over policy and triviality. We do have a choice.

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