Who Are We?
Have we really become a nation that would leave a 30 year old uninsured coma patient to die on the side of the road? Worse, have we come to the point where answering YES to that question in a crowded amphitheater results in cheers instead of stunned silence? Have we really fractured our social contract to that extent?
After 9/11/01, it was impossible to walk down the street without exchanging smiles with people you passed. There was a ruefulness to the grins, a piece of we're here and it's scary but we're in it together, that bound us together as Americans. It was wonderful.
Neither skin color nor a thick accent got in the way of the feeling that we were on the cusp of something new, that we were starting to see one another as members of a beleaguered group, as people who needed one another in order to survive. Bush 43's failure to capitalize on that sentiment is at the top of my Things He Screwed Up list.
I imagined a call to action. I waited for the renewal of the Peace Corps and VISTA. I looked for speeches exhorting us to volunteer and help America heal. Instead, he told us to shop. It was an epic fail, as the kids say these days.
We were kind and we were caring and we were one. We donated dollars but no one asked us to do anything else. And so, we gradually fell back into our individual silos, looking outward for government to fix things but not being pushed to do much on our own.
We argued about Gitmo and renditions and enhanced techniques and I wondered who had hijacked the American spirit. We don't do that seemed to have vanished from our vocabularies. The ends took on frightening proportions and seemed to justify the awfulness deemed necessary to get there. But where is there?
There used to be that we are better than that. There used to be that's not America. There would never let a coma victim die on the side of the road.
Apparently, individual freedoms are triumphing over the common good. As a well-insured individual with enormous health care costs I have seen first hand how my bill is inflated and padded and creatively constructed to cover the costs of caring for the uninsured. Indian gaming revenues and donations make up the bulk of the hospital's income. The insured cover the rest, whether for their own care or to cover the unpaid costs of the uninsured. It's not a model designed for the long term health of any of the systems involved.
I am infuriated every month when I pay my Blue Cross bill. I pass helmet-less motorcyclists and bicyclists and I grimace. I hear young people talking about saving money as the by-pass purchasing health insurance. I know that I am on the hook for all of it. And that's not okay.
I know that not everyone has enough cash to go around. I know that purchasing insurance is complicated and that hardly anyone understands how to do it, let alone how to do it well. We've grown up in an employer-based system and it's killing our businesses, slowly but surely. I know all that.
But I can't be held responsible for caring for those who refuse to care for themselves. Nor can I let them lie comatose on the sidewalk, suffering without assistance because they didn't plan ahead. I wonder if the gentleman who shouted YES at CNN's Tea Party Debate is insured himself. I wonder if he has elderly parents whose basic health-care needs are met through Medicare. I wonder if he's rinsing catheters or re-using syringes to save dollars.
I doubt that he'd have run out of the Safeway and stuck his hand in my gushing wounds.
That's the America I love. That's the America that President Obama encouraged us to regain. That's the country my grandparents emigrated to. I'm not sure where exactly the Tea Party thinks they are living, but it's certainly not my America.
No, indeed, it's not.