Monday, March 22, 2010

the end of the beginning

In the midst World War II, on the heels of an important victory for the Allies forces against the Axis, Winston Churchill took a moment to reflect.  It was later said that before the Second Battle of El Alamein the Allies had no victories and afterwards they had no defeats.  But at this critical juncture of history, among the shouts of glory and vitriol, Churchill cautiously reminded his people, "Now this is not the end, nor is it even the beginning of the end, but it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning."

The health care overhaul approved by Congress last night hardly matches the magnitude of that great war though its effects may linger with my generation much as the World War II lingered with the Greatest Generation and the Baby Boomers.

No, our great war is not against an Axis of Evil or a piece of legislation or a political party or a philosophy.  Our struggle is against ignorance and apathy.  It is against the manipulation of politicians bent on controlling not only our deeds but our thoughts as well.  Our weapons in this battle are information to diffuse the malaise of too many arguments and technology to free us from the quagmire of rigid ideological dogma.

You need to know how this health care overhaul will affect you.

You need to educate yourself.  A good place to start is with this article in the New York Times and another in the Wall Street Journal.  But don't stop there.  Keep researching and asking questions and learning.  Don't just trust me or the talking heads on television or the blaring voices on talk radio.  But decide for yourself what you want for yourself, your family, your friends, and the rest of this country.  I know not everyone cares about politics and most of it feels like it doesn't affect your daily life.  I promise you that won't be the case here.

You need to know that health care didn't become free yesterday because Congress said so.  Congress is a powerful force in American life but they are not omnipotent.  Doctors and nurses still must be paid; prescription drugs still cost money; medical research still requires the financial resources that underwrite every great discovery.  That's the way the world works.

That means that insurance companies now forced to cover individuals they normally would not choose to cover without being paid to do so will be forced to raise premiums on those who already have insurance.  The vast majority of you reading this article probably have health insurance through your employer and may not even know month to month what you are paying for that coverage.  You will soon as you see more and more money drained from your paycheck to cover the cost of other people's medical care.  Insurance companies aren't going to make less money because Congress is mad at them.  That's not the way the world works.

See, Congress chose the worst possible way to keep costs down by asking government to control them.  Don't believe me?  Just do a little research on the development of Medicare and Medicaid since their inception.  You'll find that costs have skyrocketed out of control on a constant trajectory since the inception of those programs.  Working in state government, I have seen up close and personal how North Carolina like almost every other state across the country is nearly going bankrupt paying its medical bills because of Medicare and Medicaid.  Government is not an organization that find efficiencies and pinches pennies.  It spends money like a 12 year old boy at an arcade.  Until it's all gone.  When you print your own money, those numbers can really add up.

But people shouldn't have to be without health insurance.  It's not a privilege, it's a right.  Putting aside the odd paradox of newly discovered human rights for a moment, if it is a right to have health insurance then surely it must be a right to choose not to have it.  However, under this legislation come 2014 you won't have that right anymore.  If the time comes between you deciding between owning a car, or buying a home, or paying tuition and purchasing health insurance, the government has already made that choice for you.  I'm all for charity.  But charity hasn't traditionally been something that government has forced us to buy for ourselves.

As Ronald Reagan once said, "We have long since committed ourselves, as a people, to help those among us who cannot take care of themselves."  That is a promise we ought to keep, a dignity that ought to be held in high honor in this country.  But at what cost?  Will we really allow the federal government to take over every aspect of health care and its delivery to ensure that no goes without?  There are only two ways to make health care "cheaper" under government control.  Tax more to make up the difference between what people can afford to pay and what it truly costs or offer less care and poorer quality so that no one has to foot a bill we cannot afford to pay. 

That's no way to run a health care system.

As a country, as a people, we have abolished slavery, invented the automobile, survived two World Wars, put a man on the moon.  We made snowboarding an Olympic sport.  You're telling me that we cannot figure out a way to make health care affordable and accessible to all who want it?  I don't believe it for a second. 

We can do better than what we did with this bill.  And I hope you'll help us do it.

Now, to my Republican friends, a couple reminders are in order.  This is not the end.  It's not the end of liberty or freedom or capitalism or our constitutional republic.  It is not the end of American exceptionalism or the American dream.  If the history of this country has taught us anything, it is that the idea that is America may be tarnished but it is never broken.  Our flag may tatter but it is never.  Just as our government cannot declare something, it cannot long enslave those who would be free.  We as a people are stronger and smarter and better than our representives and every two years we get to remind them of that.

There are no final victories and no final defeats.  There is only here and now and the fight that has been and the fight that is to come.  America is an idea perpetually in the pains of birth crying out, demanding both liberty and unity.  There is only perserverance and courage and idealism and strength and hope to come.  We will not survive.  We will not endure.  But we will prosper.  Freedom always does.

This not the end.  It is not even the beginning of the end.  But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.

1 comment:

Julie said...

This is a great blog!