I happened to watch Michael Moore's "SiCKO" last night, and this theme of paradigms of American culture and politics swirled through my mind yet again.
If you've seen the film, then you likely recall Moore's trip to England and France to investigate "socialized medicine" with its concommitant horror stories of people dying in waiting rooms and postponing critical surgeries and bureaucracy out the wazoo over the slightest protest in treatment, how you can't choose your own doctors and how doctors are badly underpaid and treated and...
Well, you get the drift of the right wing talking points regarding single-payer healthcare.
Naturally, Moore pretty much debunks those forthwith. Yes, the film takes a POV that is probably at best generally accurate but biased towards only showing positive stories ("So how much did you pay for the delivery?" "Nothing" "You mean you can just walk out of the hospital with a baby and no bill???"), however, the generally accepted truths of nearly everyone he speaks to in England and France is that American health care is the pits compared to European healthcare and that the system in place in Europe works without creating an undue burden on the taxpayers.
People still drive nice cars and doctors can afford million dollar homes, and even the middle class can afford a comfortable apartment and a nice television on $80,000 a year combined salaries. In France. Where you get unlimited sick leave, a 35 hour work week, and minimum five weeks' paid vacation.
Sweet deal, huh? Mind you, the average French worker is more productive than the average American worker. Gee...can't imagine how treating a human adult like, well, an adult might engender a better sense of loyalty than all these "team building exercises" and sloganeering!
Makes you wonder what is wrong with this country?
There were a few telling incidents and quotes in the movie that made me think about this column today, which I had planned on writing anyway.
1) Tony Benn, a Socialist former member of the British parliament was interviewed by Moore on camera. Put it this way: even the British call him a far-left winger. He had some interesting things to say, including the following: Keeping people hopeless and pessimistic - see I think there are two ways in which people are controlled - first of all frighten people and secondly demoralize them...An educated, healthy and confident nation is harder to govern.Pretty remarkable statement, when you ponder it for a moment.
What is the best way to keep a nation frightened? Yes, a terror attack works, of course, but that has limited impact on long term governance, a goal of both parties here.
No, the best way to frighten and demoralize a people is to make them think the enemy lies within our borders. It could be the blacks. It could be the undocumented workers. It could be the latte-sipping liberal elite. It could be the John-Deere-cap-wearing rednecks. It could be the working classes that cling to their guns and their God in their desperation, even.
But the enemy lies within our borders and we must be vigilant.
The enemy DOES lie within our borders, but it's not the enemy we think it is.
2) In summing up the differences, not just in healthcare but in the attitudes of the citizens of nations like England, France and even Cuba, Moore says They think of 'we first,' not 'me first'.
This goes hand-in-hand with the great cultural divide, I think, I referenced in point one. It's hard to think of "we first" in America for a slew of reasons, not least of which is simply the massive physical distances between "us" and "them". "They" are the flyover states, or the coast-dwellers. "We" are the true Americans. "We" know better than "they" do.
It's hard to think of "we first" because we are all hyphenate-Americans. We all self-identify with another place: Irish-American, Russian-American, Dominican-American, African American. Hell, we even have to refer to the indigenous people with a hyphenate, Native American, so as not to exclude them! Our tribe comes ahead of all others.
This diversity has had some profound and good impacts on America: from different backgrounds, we have not only derived different "American" foods (hot dogs, German; pizza, Italian) but different ideas, different perceptions have become inured into American culture.
But only after the feared "enemy within" was absorbed and assimilated.
All this, however, is hung on a backdrop of the very American "Protestant work ethic"...a German import, by the way.
3) While pondering the French culture, with its universal healthcare and its government-paid college tuition (not a loan, a grant and out of pocket costs are nominal, under a thousand euros), and dollar-a-day childcare for working parents, Moore points out that the French government is terrified of its workers, and proceeds to show footage of various strikes across France.
Hm. A government serving the people, instead of the people serving the government. Interesting concept!
While we here in America are trying to downsize our government, put the "people's money back in the
Wow. Any coincidence that the US is ranked 37th on the list of health care services, just ahead of Slovenia, despite the fact that we outspend every other nation on the planet, including China (which doesn't even place in the top 50, so at least they're getting bang for their bucks!)
We need to reorganize the priorities of this country, and sadly, neither Obama nor McCain (nor Clinton, hedging my bets) is going to pull the levers and push the buttons necessary to do this (maybe Clinton might. Might.)
We collect hundreds of billions in tax revenues, and the complaint about universal healthcare, or any one of a number of social programs, is "it's going to cost the taypayers money."
Yea. And as Tony Benn put it, If we can find money to kill people, you can find money to help people.
Americans are among the most generous, giving people on the planet. When a disaster strikes in Myanmar or China or Peru, Americans are the first with their wallets open, giving to the Red Cross, or to Doctors Without Borders.
I would advance the cause of universal healthcare (first) with a simple question: "If you could help your neighbor in a crisis, would you give him a dollar?"
"People pay taxes not because government needs us to. People pay taxes because other people need us to."
That ought to be the mantra of anyone running for President. We've lost a sense of community in this country. That community threatened the entrenched interests of the corporate and administrative sectors. People had a bit of power, but lost it in the 70s and 80s.
President Clinton tried to bring it back, but even his attempt was derailed by the powers that be. President Bush has further eroded and blunted that power under the guise of "homeland security," a permanent terror state devised to punish people who get out of line along with genuine threats to the nation.
To think that the next President won't use these tools is like asking me to stop using my perfectly good left hand. That's simply not going to happen, no matter how well-intentioned I might be. I'll slip up and so will the next President.
We have to take the country back.