The Once and Future Soapbox.

August 28th, 2009

I am so completely furious over all the healthcare fear-mongering right now that I am cross-eyed and can’t get work done.

I’m an artist and, in general, I try to keep this blog as rant-free as possible, or to at least limit the rants to one or two a year; my talents lie in conveying individual stories in an entirely fictional context, through words and images.  The reason that you’re here reading this is that you think I’m entertaining or witty or can draw a pretty picture or describe an aesthetic or spiritual experience in a way that touches you.

I very much hope that my audience includes people who broadly disagree with me on many political points; I want to make stories that are compelling to people regardless of whether or not they agree with me about contemporary fiscal policy. We are all walking around with what amounts to the same equipment, and while I don’t believe that accessibility is a necessary mark of Good Art, it’s among my personal values as an artist.

If at some point I managed to accidentally influence your opinion on what obligations we have to our fellow human beings, well then, that’s just extra credit.  If I talk you into something you end up regretting, please accept my apologies.  I am not a professional Haver of Significant Opinions.

But I also like to think that I am, in my very particular way, a fierce and consistent American patriot.  A copy of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence sits on my shelf of sacred texts, alongside my scholastic New Revised Bible, the poems of Dylan Thomas and Rainer Maria Rilke, the Fagles translation of the Odyssey, and letters to and from my loved ones. I think this country is remarkable and has accomplished things unprecedented in human history, and that we often take the greatest of those accomplishments for granted.

At the same time: we are not perfect.  We have lots of room to improve.  Other countries have good ideas, one that we can learn from.  One of America’s greatest assets is our cultural youth.  Our values are not set in stone.  We came into being on the premise that Things Can And Should Change, and that the great, centuries-old cogs and wheels of European civilization turned at an unacceptably slow pace, unable to enact their own best ideas.

We as a nation acted on those ideas.  We built on them.  And it turned out, on the whole, rather well.

But the American experiment isn’t done, and we still have things to learn from those who came before us.

And I do believe, in the very fiber of my goofy little artist being, that caring for the sick (and we will all, at some point, be sick) is one of them.  And I believe that the wild patchwork of solutions currently in place in many European countries offer many better options than our own system. We will not be whole as a nation until nobody’s is financially ruined for life because they were switching jobs when they were diagnosed with liver cancer, or told that their complicated pregnancy is a “pre-existing condition”, or that the only local doctor approved on their corporate insurance plan lives thirty miles away, or that their provider has discovered a convenient loophole which allows them to be dumped from coverage because they’re going to prove too expensive in the future.

Capitalism is an ingenious system.  It has brought us great prosperity.  But government exists to accomplish those tasks not motivated by profit, and to guarantee that capitalist ventures are not allowed to trample our fundamental American principles in their search for a profit.

If we need to cover all citizens by means of universalizing access to private insurance, I am all for it.  Oh, sure, the idealistic little leftie inside of me would just be thrilled to see a single-payer system run by a government as lean and efficient as private industry but motivated by service rather than profit. I would also like for public schools to be just as excellent as the fancy private school my parents sent me to.  I would also like a car that runs on lawn clippings and a colony on Mars.

But what I want most of all is to make sure that there is an affordable healthcare plan out there for everybody whose price is based on income, and that everybody is signed up for it.  There need to be plans that will instantly cover you when you’re transitioning between jobs or your employer is switching its offered coverage.  Plans that can’t turn people down for coverage or charge them $900 a month because they aren’t healthy 25 year-olds who’ve never caught a cold. Plans that can’t call your body a “pre-existing condition” or drop you when you actually become ill.  Plans that have to offer you access to a physician within ten miles of where you live. Plans that can’t refuse to pay for a test because of its results.

Which plan you sign up for should be a matter of choice.  If you think government care is a rotten idea, you shouldn’t have to use it.  You can go to a private school, too.  But what all those reform opponents who rail about not wanting their choices to be taken away seems to fundamentally fail to understand is that, by defending the current state of affairs, they are denying choice to those who cannot afford healthcare or who are being abused by what coverage they have.

The only choice that we are really attempting to remove is the choice to deny Americans their fair and essential right to pursue happiness.  Anybody who questions the basic patriotism of making an attempt is either pursuing a personal agenda, or has been misinformed.  Disagree with the proposed methods; question the interpretation of our collective principles; propose alternatives; defend some of the great things that the current private industry does offer; cite the failures of other systems and show your sources.  But don’t pretend that what we have right now is what we as a nation deserve.

When we made this country up, we decided that we all owed each other some basic opportunities.  Those of us who’ve already achieved prosperity through the marvels of the American experiment agree to chip in, in order to present that opportunity to others.  We agree to take a little cream off the top.  We agree to – yes – spread the wealth around.  Not a ton.  Just enough to establish a baseline quality of life, an American quality of life.

We don’t all have that right now.  Even those of us who feel the most secure are closer to being victims than we realize.

Anybody who tries to scare you with vague visions of jackboots or gulags or grandparents with euthanasia needles forcibly jammed into their arms is insulting the great American experiment, your personal intelligence, your needs as a human being, and your rights as an American citizen.  The only fear we should be invoking in this discussion is the fear that exists as an inherent part of today’s status quo.

My Representative, Earl Blumenauer, has provided this excellent and straight-forward information on the current House Bill.  (Yep, he’s the “death panel” guy – those death panels that actually, according to this legislative transcript I’ve got right here, would simply be a system for compensating doctors for talking to patients who ask to discuss how they want to be treated should they become terminally ill.  Right now, if my mom wants to explain to somebody what it means to request a Do-Not-Rescuscitate order, she’s often doing it off the clock.  She gets paid more for freezing off a wart than for helping somebody make one of the biggest decisions of their medical life.)

I really recommend reading it.  It clears up a lot of the bullshit.  E-mail Earl if you like; he’s a swell guy with a really dorky bow-tie, and while he is a Screamin’ Liberal he likes to hear from just about anybody. Tell him, and your own representative, what your perfect vision of healthcare in America is.

And now I’ll go back to making cartoons, because it’s my job, and not mention this shit again if I can help it.  I’ve shut off comments on this post not because I don’t believe that your response is worthwhile, or that my statements shouldn’t be exposed to criticism.  I’m doing it because, if we all really care about this issue, we’ll stop nattering about it on discussion boards and Facebook and start enacting our beliefs with our votes, our financial donations, our conversations in real life, and our communications with elected representatives.

Nobody’s heart or mind was ever won over in a Comments section.  I urge you to speak out via your own venue, to respond to me privately, or to carry those principles out in your real-world life.

And go in peace, to love and serve our country.

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