In his column today, Charles Blow hypothesized that so many people, not just the extremists, don't trust the government to handle health care coverage because they don't trust Washington itself. At this point, everything is so mixed up, I think it's impossible to find a single cause, but there's definitely some truth in what he says, though the "Washington" he talks about is a bogey man, a scapegoat. The Blob, if you will. When arguments become as irrational as the health care coverage arguments have become on the right, you should know immediately it isn't the issues in front of their noses that people are fighting over, but something else. The people who are screaming about federal health care are people who felt adrift, unconnected, abandoned, whether justifiedly so or not, without the Rush Limbaughs of the world. These demagogues promise belonging to them. Unfortunately, the quickest way to make people belong is to make them feel you are on their side and then to give them someone or something to hate. More unfortunately, the hate-mongers can plant seeds of doubt in people who aren't buying the whole snake-oil show but who don't know how to look outside the right wing's very tightly built box. The right has succeeded in undermining many, many people's basic common sense. The right has undermined trust in what's reasonable.
I'm hoping that some of the extreme right's followers watched Ted Kennedy's funeral today on Fox. Here in Mexico, we had no other option except for CNN en español which overrides the English with Spanish, sometimes good for us, this time not.
While Fox has taken the lowest of the low roads in post-funeral event coverage, the coverage of the events themselves has been impeccable. Shepherd Smith, the only Fox anchor I can tolerate at all, was the reporter in charge. He had on with him a woman whose name I don't remember and Edward Klein, a Ted Kennedy biographer who certainly didn't come across as a Kennedy hater. It was impossible to watch on Fox (and listen to the very unobtrusive) commentary without realizing you were watching the story of a family, with family values, with faith, and also with very definitely liberal political values, definitely spokespeople for "liberal" causes. You also had to realize that that their liberalism grew out of a Christian concern for the suffering among us.
The Kennedy family as anyone over maybe forty eight must know is marked by not just tragedy but sometimes despicable behavior, by corruption, by arrogance, by unfaithfulness and a barrage of other sins. And while we weren't privy to see them, I'm sure there have been terrible family rows, betrayals, and their consequences. But that is also part of their importance: they provide many lessons in forgiveness and compassion for themselves as well as for others. And they seem to have learned those lessons. They embody something that horrendous, self-righteous people can't acknowledge: it's how we deal with the bad that makes for good human beings, not that we always avoid it.
I think Obama's team thought that if they tried to appeal to basic decency to, if you wish, religious values, and virtually all religions (though not all interpreters of religion) include the values of caring for one another, looking after one another, building community, then the administration wouldn't get anywhere. So the Obama team seems to have stressed in the context of better coverage for those whom the insurance system has screwed (not necessarily the poor), cost-cutting and reducing federal deficits. So they have presented us with a kind of cold picture of health care coverage under the federal government, one that shows very little of how it would expand rather than contract treatment options for the country's citizens, one that certainly doesn't do anything to build a sense of community among Americans. Rather, it seems to draw people to say, "Well, he might get something, but what's in it for me?"
So I think it's time to look at Ted Kennedy as the knight of federal health care coverage: the federal government representative who called on the sick and comforted them, sought treatment options for them, and got some, not just for friends but for children, for instance, and for people with disabilities. Someone who was beloved because he loved so much, not just people he knew, but people he didn't: people who many of us don't even acknowledge exist.
Instead of talking about saving money (which a federal program would do, certainly in the larger context) we should be like Ted Kennedy, talking about loving our neighbor as we would want to be loved: of wanting them to get the kind of coverage we have or feel we should have. Of understanding that just as the very rich are often rich because of lucky breaks or inheritance or being in the right place, and all the benefits that flow from these, so the very poor are often very poor just because they were in the wrong place, or born in the wrong town, or were of the wrong color or faith or sexual orientation. And sometimes the not so poor struggle for the same reasons, or because a boss didn't fill out a health insurance form right, or the insurance company found they'd once a long time ago seen a therapist for depression or have had some other pre-existing condition, this very condition being that hich means they can't afford treatment.
We'll get a lot further for all of us with compassion than we will with hate. Please, Administration, go with the moral imperative! Go with Ted Kennedy!