One City

by Jerry Kolber

What the hell happened to health care reform? It turns out that not only is Barack Obama not some sort of savior, messiah, or angel, as his post-election pre-office halo seemed to suggest, he is also not even able to push a clear mandate for comprehensive health care reform through congress – Harry Reid must now shepherd the health care reform bill through another series of compromises and deals before it gets near the President.  And the President must deal with a Republican congress whose political mandate seems to be to respond to anything from the White House with “I’m rubber you’re glue, anything you say bounces off of me and sticks to you.” 

On the day Obama took office, wars didn’t end, the sick didn’t miraculously heal, falling profits didn’t turn into showers of gold, polluted rivers didn’t start shimmering with fish and sunlight.  Heck, he didn’t even make good on his promise to ” have the
[health reform] negotiations televised on C-SPAN, so that people can see who is making
arguments on behalf of their constituents, and who are making arguments
on behalf of the drug companies or the insurance companies.” Meh, fail. 

But how did this happen? How did we go from tremendous momentum for the plan the president proposed to a swampy soupy bill of watered down intentions?

The Republicans have done a truly magnificent job of co-opting the
health insurance debate on behalf of the insurance companies profits,
convincing many people who are smart enough to know better that: “Not
only will killing the public health insurance option keep more money in
your pocket (benefit), it will also keep Obama from killing your
grandma (clobber the competition).” It’s a perfect advertising slogan –
the benefit of OUR product and why THEIR’S sucks.  And short enough to
be Twittered, no less. 

Meanwhile, freshmen Rep. Alan Grayson
of Florida offered the only Democratic version of such beautifully
crafted propaganda: to paraphrase him, “The Republican health care plan
is for you to not get sick. And if you do get sick, they want you to
die quickly.”  While not quite right speech, at least he got the
clobber the competition part right.  He failed to offer the benefit of
the Democrats plan, though, so even as the media breathlessly reported
the shocking discovery of an actual set of balls in the Democratic
party, he didn’t get even fifteen whole minutes of fame.

The Republicans continue to apparently have God on their side (many
referring to the GOP as God’s Only Party), though last time I checked
God is not a Republican. God also mentioned in a few books he wrote
that taking care of the least among us is a top priority for good Jews
and Christians, so that would seem to make a moral imperative of actual
affordable universal health care.  Heck, I don’t need God to tell me
that doing whatever it takes to make sure that people can just go to a
fucking doctor is the right thing to do.  We’re not talking about how
to give people free ice cream. It’s freakin’ health care. 

Of course, I haven’t read every last word of scripture, so maybe there’
s a chapter coming up about how God’s chosen people are the insurance
companies. Or maybe God is on vacation from the Republican party. 
Maybe right now GOP stands for God’s Out Partying, or maybe God just
took a break from the Republicans to see if he can fashion a new spine
for the Democrats.

But here’s the problem. As a  Buddhist (or frankly, anyone with a
well-developed sense of personal place in the world) I can’t point over
there and say “See, those people over THERE are why we are the only
industrialized nation without a simple, straightforward and fair system
of health care.” There is no Republican or Democratic party – there are
just people who identify with those parties, and then coalesce around
the most vocal members of those party’s agendas. There’s me. So, I have
to ask myself these questions:
  How does our intentions and desires overcome a handful of lobbyists with a whole lot of cash?
On a personal level, what I am doing on behalf of health care?
Am I taking care of my own health and the health of those around me,
even (or especially) the physical and mental health of people I don’t
What have I done today, right now, to end sickness and suffering and violence in my own corner of the world?
How many wars, on how many fronts, am I personally waging right now?  (answer: a lot more than two…)
What would it take to end those wars?  
What would a healthy, non-violent, spiritually mature life look like for me?

But then I come back to right now, and one guy with big ears who did a
whole lot of listening and a whole lot of talking. So, listen up Prez.
This ain’t Chicago. You don’t know yet who your friends are and who
your enemies are. But we elected you because you promised.  Right now,
you’re still coasting on good willl and a decent popularity rating. 
You’ve still got a little more than 75% of your term left to accomplish
100% of what you said you would.  Start talking again in the same
clear, meaningful, actionable, direct language that made us believe in
you last year.

Because otherwise, you could end up just being another Jimmy Carter, only without the big peanuts.

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