Health Care Reform and the Soul of the Nation
” Of all the forms of inequality, injustice in health care is the most shocking and inhumane.”
- Martin Luther King, Jr.
Progressives are fond of citing Martin Luther King Jr.’s famous words on the moral priority of health care. But it is the vitriolic opponents of health care who seem to have grasped its full importance, manifesting a level of fear and hatred – in thinly veiled assassination threats and the prominent display of guns — that is nothing if not reminiscent of the opposition to desegregation and the civil rights movement in the 1960s.
As Paul Krugman has argued, this is not simply ignorant rent-a-mobs mobilized by health insurance interests – though that is certainly part of the story. They are also people who seem to feel profoundly threatened by Obama’s presidency, and see the prospect of health care reform as a threat to the American way of life.
As progressives and even moderates and some fiscal conservatives have pointed out, the folks whose hatred has hijacked the health care debate are wrong about nearly everything – laughably wrong about the technical details of the current health care system and proposed reforms, and bizarrely wrong in their characterizations of Obama and other Democrats as dictatorial tyrants. But they are surely right in believing that the adoption of meaningful health care reform providing universal health care coverage would fundamentally transform this country. Passing health care reform that responsibly provides quality care for all American citizens would be the most significant challenge in more than 30 years to the growing dominance of large corporations over every aspect of social life.
The task of progressives, and particularly the religious left, is to persuade Americans that the fundamental change in American society that true health care reform would represent need not be feared; that extending the full measure of American freedom and fairness to all citizens, not just the privileged and the powerful, will enrich us all. The values embedded in health care reform — empathy, responsibility and care for the common good – are at the heart of what has made and can make America great.
Fifty years ago, America stood at a similar crossroads, with the struggle for Civil Rights seemingly stalled by implacable and vicious opposition. Justice ultimately prevailed because of the left’s response to hatred and violence. Progressives, including the religious left, rallied around African American civil rights leaders to form a broad-based movement of good will that stood up to hatred and violence and called America to its higher values. Health care reform will be won if progressives form a similar movement now. Some of the pieces are beginning to come together: doctors and nurses on the front lines of the health care crisis have emerged as leaders of the movement, theorists like George Lakoff have begun to move beyond policyspeak to articulate a moral framework. and the religious left and other progressive groups have begun to mobilize.
The real question is whether a mass movement will form behind them. Health Care must become the Civil Rights movement of the 21st century.Not only is rational health care policy at stake, but the very soul of the nation.