Nothing that has value, real value, has no cost. Not freedom, not food, not shelter, not health care.
– Dean Kamen
I propose an experiment to determine the actual depth and breadth of this thing we call “American Exceptionalism.”
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
That, right there, is the national hood ornament, the first thing you see, the first thing you learn when you study up on the country, and the thing you remember forever after the first time you hear it. I have plenty of issues with the nationalist concept of “American Exceptionalism,” but those words, as a founding national ethos, are pretty damned special.
Which is why, even in the age of the Affordable Care Act – a piece of legislation that is helpful to many to some degree or another, but is also the greatest boon to the insurance industry in the history of the concept of insurance – I consider the very idea that health care in the United States is a multi-billion-dollar for-profit industry to be among the most repugnant phenomenons going.
It’s like this, and to me, the matter is rock-paper-scissors simple:
Without health, there is no Life…because you’re dead from a disease you can’t afford the treatment for.
Without health, there is no Liberty…because you’re trapped in a sick body, and in a sick bed, because your insurance doesn’t cover your condition, so sorry, condolences to the family.
Without health, there is no pursuit of Happiness…because you’re sick, and also broke from spending all of your money on trying not to be sick any more.
I hail from the great city of Boston, and if the hospitals in my home town are any example, I know for a stone fact that this nation has the medical infrastructure, the medical equipment, the medical talent and the medical will to treat the diseases that cost people all their money when they become afflicted and can’t afford the care.
But we don’t do that, because health care in the United States is a for-profit industry, just like petroleum speculation, “defense” spending and pork futures, and that’s just crazy…and even with “Obamacare” delivering us into the warm embrace of the insurance industry in order to give us all “options,” the whole process is a rank offense to the national ethos we allegedly hold so dear.
There is no life, there is no liberty, there is no pursuit of happiness without health. Period, end of file.
The same could be said about food, and shelter. There is no life without food, no liberty when all of your time is focused on finding you next mouthful, and no pursuit of happiness when you are hungry and have to beg or plunder dumpsters to eat. Those without shelter endure the same awful truth; there is no life, there is no liberty, there is no pursuit of happiness…but only brute existence, mere and meager survival, one grinding day into another, until you find yourself in a pauper’s grave in some Potter’s Field, unmarked and unwept, just gone, because you didn’t count.
“Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.”
So here’s the experiment:
Let’s live up to the ideals we’ve been trained to take for granted, the ideals that have been besmirched and folded and spindled and mutilated in the name of peddling “America” as a brand. This is not a brand; this is a country. All sorts of people have called me an addled fool for clinging to the hope that the idea beneath our founding documents is strong enough to overcome what ails us, but I still believe in it – in spite of and in the face of all its perversions – because it is an extraordinary idea. You will never convince me otherwise.
It is an idea worth fighting for, and I will go down swinging to defend it.
So let’s start here: if we shave a few scant percentage points off the “defense” budget annually, every single person in the United States can get health care if they are sick, food if they are hungry, and shelter if they are on the street. It won’t cost anyone any more than they’re already paying right this very moment to be in a permanent state of war.
According to the founding DNA of the nation – “Life, Liberty, the pursuit of Happiness” – it is not only a moral imperative, but a matter of national obligation. We can do this. Our problem is not a lack of funds. Our problem is our gruesomely misplaced priorities. We can be so much more than we are.
Doing this would not make us “exceptional.” It would not make us special. It would, simply by providing care for our most vulnerable citizens, invite us into an ever-growing community of nations that are doing what we have stubbornly refused to do.
It would not be exceptional. It would certainly be moral. If you look out your window at your fellow citizens, and if you have the eyes to see, you will surely agree that the time for this has come.