Sen. Ben Nelson, D-Neb., the last holdout,
announces support of Senate health care bill on
December 19, 2009. (AP Photo/Harry Hamburg)
Conspicuously missing from the entire health care reform debate has been the moral issue of whether health care should be a fundamental right of American citizens or not. The United States is currently the only advanced nation that does not offer universal health care to its people, despite efforts from previous presidents going back to FDR, and including Truman, Nixon and Clinton. Now, for the first time in our history, after a breakthrough in the Senate this weekend which resulted in support for the Senate bill from a filibuster-proof 60 Senators, this elusive milestone, this historic transformation of health care from a privilege to an affordable right for everyone, this triumphant achievement, is about to become the law of the land. This is truly a time for citizens to stand up and cheer, to celebrate this long sought right that should be fundamental to any civilized society, a time to march through the streets in joy and gratitude.
But nobody is. Everyone is angry. Everyone hates the bill, except for its architects, and even they seem sheepish and embarrassed about the whole affair. The Republicans have unanimously condemned the bill as just more budget-busting Marxist devilry, every bit as pernicious as Social Security and Medicare, while progressive Democrats and independents have staged a mini-rebellion, lashing out at the bill as little more than a feeble act of cowardly compromise and capitulation. In fact, some party leaders and political pundits, including Howard Dean and Keith Olbermann, have all but rejected the bill, calling for its scrapping and a fresh start, or an alternate route through the tedious and dubious budget reconciliation process.
Even President Obama, whose soaring rhetoric inspired tens of millions across the nation during the 2008 election campaign, has been curiously silent on the moral imperative, the human rights issue. Why is that? We didn't he start the debate off with this fundamental question? Why haven't we seen it addressed in any of the hundreds of national polls conducted during this long and bitter fight? Why haven't we seen it debated by the pundits on Sunday talk shows and week night cable news programs? What could be more important about health care than whether we are entitled to it as a right, or only through our economic purchasing power, and our ability to qualify for private health insurance under the terms they establish?
Is it not a civil rights issue when you get right down to it? Of course it is. Then why haven't we approached it as such, as a clarion call to rectify an egregious and shameful societal failure, a heinous form of discrimination against those whose health fails them? Isn't it bad enough when you become sick or injured, or a victim of some dread condition through no fault of your own? Is it not a moral outrage to then be denied insurance, to be shackled to a job for no reason other than the employer provided insurance, to be unable to protect your family from the economic ravages of serious illness?
Shouldn't this have been the time that we said. as a nation, that enough is enough, that we will no longer tolerate this assault against ourselves, that we will, at long last unite in this struggle to provide human dignity to every one of us through health care reform? Shouldn't we all have approached reform as a forgone conclusion, an objective that would be met no matter how long it took or how furiously we argued about the details, because it was the only righteous, the only just and acceptable outcome?
Then why didn't we? Why haven't we? What is wrong with us as a people that we don't perceive this issue as an urgent struggle for human rights that must not be denied any longer?
I wish I had the answer.