As I was reading Roger Ebert’s well-worded defense of healthcare reform on his blog, I was reminded of how irrational people can be when their “principles” are affronted. Let me explain.  Ebert confronts nearly all of the prominent statements from opponents of the president’s healthcare reform plan, point by point.  Here’s an excerpt:

Many of my readers opposed the Obama plan, some of them in great detail. I will not try to simplify their arguments; you can read them for yourself. But here, in broad outline, are some of their most common statements, and my responses:

It is “socialism.” Again, yes. The word socialism, however, has lost its usefulness in this debate. It has been tainted, perhaps forever, by the malevolent Sen. Joseph McCarthy, who succeeded somehow in linking it with the godless Commies. America is the only nation in the free world in which “socialism” is generally thought of in negative terms. The only nation in which that word, in and of itself, is thought to bring the discussion to a close.

It is wrong for ideological or philosophical reasons. Readers have written about their belief in Federalism, Free Market Capitalism, strict Constitutionalism, personal liberty, Libertarianism, and so on. To one of these readers I wrote something like: “Do you think your views on federalism will be of much interest to unemployed wage-earners unable to obtain coverage for their families?” To another, I wrote: “I hope your philosophy will be of comfort if you develop a serious illness.”One reader said that the only things the Constitution guarantees us are “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness,” and Congress should enact no laws about anything else. Actually, it’s the Declaration of independence that mentions “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness,” but never mind. Some might believe universal health care would be of great assistance in enjoying life and the pursuit of happiness. It is a peculiarity that some of those happiest to cite the Constitution are the least interested in its Bill of Rights.

(he lists 6 or 7 more — which I’d encourage you to read — including an appeal from the Gospel of Matthew)

First off, I enjoy his questions to “people of principle” about how they benefit those most in need, including themselves if a tragedy should occur.  As it is with many fiery debates in the public sector, it seems that those who yell the loudest many times have no direct connection to the issue at hand.  (ie, knowing someone without healthcare)  Second, I was thinking about “socialism,” and all the socialized things we enjoy in this country.  Post offices.  Schools.  Retirement. The list goes on.  I’m sure there are more.  I don’t hear healthcare critics calling for the shuttering of school houses because education is not one of the explicit “guarantees” of our founding documents.  Also not hearing stories of people mailing their social security checks back to Washington, D.C.  “I always use FedEx for sending letters and packages to friends and family … do my taxes have to go toward a ‘public option’ for mail?”  Maybe I’m just not listening hard enough or looking in the right places.

All that said, I’m not sure the plan that’s on the table is the best we can do.  But that’s not what this post is about.  It’s about thinking through our arguments for or against something, putting ourselves in the shoes of another, and doing it with civility.


2 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Helen on September 21, 2009 at 5:29 pm

    Just a few thoughts: while I like snail mail, the post office is practically bankrupt (and most businesses do send important documents & large checks via FedEx rather than using the postal system because they have to be sure what they’re sending will reach the destination quickly). As the government has slowly taken schools over from the local communities our schools have gotten worse (my high schooler came home last week & informed me that many of her fellow students don’t even know cursive so she had to help make a print so they’ll at least be able to read cursive & that’s just the tip of the iceberg). Here in CA many school districts are having to lay teachers off &/or making them taking pay cuts. As for McCarthy, while his tactics may have been questionable, most (perhaps all) of his accusations were found to be correct when the USSR fell. And Social Security and Medicare are pretty much broke as can be expected when the government gives away a lot of that money to people who never put a dime into it. The people who never contributed should return the money but why should anyone who put money into Social Security send it back to DC?


    • Great point regarding principles in relation to the founding fathers. Besides education, the postal system, and retirement…the original founding fathers never mentioned things such as Interstates, Dams, or Sewer Systems but things like those were deemed necessary for the country to survive / thrive.


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