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Political fallout from the health care battle is still being recorded, even as many Americans are beginning to realize the justice and the decency of universal health care.
I hope everyone saw the picture on the front page of the March 27 Roanoke Times. Hundreds of people were lined up to take advantage of an annual dental care clinic that’s offered free. There they were, the uninsured in full view, getting up early, probably before dawn, to stand in line for the care that they can’t afford.
Need any more arguments for health care reform? Indeed, many of us find it very difficult to imagine how anyone can realistically be against the vision of health care for all. Surely those who oppose it do so from the ivory tower comforts of having good insurance and not having the worries of those who don’t.
The health care debate has featured a very hyper example of what conservatives always do: demonize the role of government in order to win the argument. This is an old tactic. Ronald Reagan called Medicare “socialized medicine.” He issued the most dire warnings of how we would “lose our freedom” if it were passed. Well, it did pass and we are yet a free country, aren’t we? He was wrong.
The voting public needs to learn a lesson at some point and start rejecting these old, fear-based tactics that conservatives always employ when government is proposed for anything beyond just funding the military.
Yes, there is a mistrust of government among Americans that lies deep within our national heritage. It goes back to the days when our Founding Fathers fought the tyranny of King George III, who ruled from across the seas in England.
But modern conservatives have wrongly characterized government social action as “tyrannical.” There is no tyranny in a senior citizen receiving a Social Security check, or in that same person benefiting from the Medicare program. These programs are the result of solemn promises made to the American people because a dire need existed.
We’ve always had two choices in the United States: We can be a country that relies entirely upon the money system, and not lift a finger to help those who suffer from the cruelties of capitalism: poverty, unemployment, underemployment, and the predictable cycles of recession and depression that capitalism always suffers.
That’s one choice. But we can also maintain a free market system that, while the basis of our economy, is not the only hand that governs us.
The second choice - the one favored by liberals and progressives - is to supplement the vagaries of capitalism with a strong central government that builds a true social safety net to help those who fall through capitalism’s cracks. That’s what every modern Western country has done; it’s been done because it’s the just and compassionate thing to do.
Yet the conservatives among us continue to perform a disservice to the public by demonizing every attempt government makes to help people. They’ve been wrong every step of the way, but they continue with the same policy.
There’s a reason that George W. Bush tried to pass himself off as a “compassionate conservative,” because he knew that his party didn’t show much compassion. It’s what we’ve come to expect from the right, but it’s not a very compelling vision for this country.
There is nothing tyrannical or despotic in trying to provide health care for all. You won’t lose your freedoms in any way whatsoever. The tired old, right-wing view of these matters must be rejected. Again, universal health care must be a right, and not just a privilege.
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Rick Howell, a Bedford native, can be reached by e-mail at NewCenHowell@aol.com.