Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Obama vs. McCain: Health Care

Listening to NPR on the way home from work, it seems the most striking difference between Barack Obama and John McCain in tonight's debate came on the issue of health care. Barack Obama said it was a right and John McCain said it was an individual responsibility.

This is a major ideological rift between myself and many Americans. Individual responsibility is important to Americans more than in any other nation. It supercedes class structure, which is a prevalent aspect of society in nearly every other Western culture, especially in Britain. The British don't believe in social mobility nearly as much as Americans. They are taught as children that, while hard work can get you a long way, you're unlikely to rise that much in the system despite your best efforts. If you're born into a working class family, you're like to remain working class throughout your life, unless your name is, perhaps, John Lennon. Americans, conversely, are convinced that if they work hard enough and have a scrappy bit of ingenuity, that they can be up there on Forbes billionaire list in a few years.

I don't want to knock the American entrepreneurial spirit. After all, it's what helped make us the richest nation in the world in the early 20th century. Without it, I would likely not be working at my current place of employment. This idea has, however, carried with it the belief that the hardest working among us are more entitled to certain benefits than the uninspired masses.

We have, as a nation, decided that certain living necessities are a right for all citizens. Here's a short list: Public schools, police and fire departments, libraries, funds for our elderly. These are things that we all pay for through our taxes and that we would likely revolt if someone tried to take away. Imagine having your house ablaze and the fire department shows up and asks you to fill out paperwork and give a down payment before they to work on saving your house. Any candidate who proposed such nonsense would be out of the raise by the end of the sentence.

The ability to see a doctor when ill is not, however, one of those rights that we as a nation feel the need to provide. We commonly, with only minor irritation, sit in emergency rooms and fill out forms, stress over our co-payments, and fight lengthy battles with our insurance company to make sure we are covered. These issues are not a problem in almost any other Western nation. Hospitals and doctors are just another thing they all decided, as morally conscious people, that they would provide regardless of the cost.

Hearing McCain say tonight that health care is a responsibility and not a right, and hearing so many American voters concur with that sentiment makes me think we really have our priorities mixed up. If a candidate in Britain, France, Canada, Sweden, Norway, etc. said "Maybe we shouldn't give health care to every single citizen" they would be out. No debate, no town hall meeting, Out!

This is one of the most important issues we face as a nation to restore our moral dignity. I can think of no logical argument against it. The only issue I see is: are we going to care for our citizens or aren't we?

Those against universal health care always say the same thing: "You can't choose your own doctor. Health care in Canada isn't like Michael Moore says. It's not perfect!"

Our public schools in America are far from perfect. I haven't heard anyone suggest we should abolish them and force all children to attend private school. Oh, your parents can't afford private school? Guess they should have tried harder then, huh.

If you think about one's health the same way one does about education and safety from fires (and of course, one's health is much more important day-to-day than these things), your only conclusion should be that we are going to unequivocally give the care we give to the richest among us to everyone.

Americans feel strongly about this issue. Disagree with me? Many do. Please leave a comment and we can have a friendly discussion in which you hopefully don't call me any names.

If you missed it, here's the full debate, courtesy of the Washington Post:

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