My friend Adam posted a great link to his Facebook today. It’s an open letter to the Tea Partiers by John H. Richardson in Esquire. Many of these protesters, opposed to what they call “big government” like to claim that things like health care are part of “big government,” are antithetical to American values, and are perhaps even unconstitutional.
Claims like those make me wonder if perhaps these patriotic protesters somehow missed US history. Taking care of each other, interdependence, and community spirit are founding American values. Most of our early colonies were founded as “commonwealths,” where the good of everyone was considered crucial to the good of the colony. According to the Esquire piece:
Way back in colonial times, Americans spent between “10 and 35 percent of all municipal funds” on what was then called “relief,” according to Walter I. Trattner’s standard textbook on the subject, From Poor Law to Welfare State: A History of Social Welfare in America. Aid to the poor and sick was the largest single government expense, providing crucial sustenance to the widows and orphans of the Indian wars, the survivors of epidemics, starving immigrants, and a surprising number of abandoned bastard children (during the Revolutionary era, between a third and 50 percent of all first children were illegitimate — take that, nostalgists of family values!).
I’d also add that a democracy is only ever as strong as its citizens. Only people who are free from basic want, secure from preventable disease, protected in the event of catastrophic illness, and ensured a basic level of education and employment are able to be the kind of citizens who can participate fully in a system of representative democracy. Our constitution’s preamble asserts that the purpose of the document and the government it establishes includes a responsibility to “provide for the general welfare.” It is for this reason that our founders, notably John Adams (who is my favorite and for whom I am crusading for a monument in Washington D.C., although that is a subject for another post), were so adamant that public education be a cornerstone of our democracy (which is why I am personally very passionate about the subject of public education and not a huge fan of private or home school, though of course people should have those as choices). I see public health as an extension of that concept. If medicine had been more of an established science at the time of our nation’s founding, I’m sure providing for the public health would have been more explicitly mentioned. (As an aside, I’d encourage any vaccine doubters to see the John Adams miniseries and observe what a miracle early innoculation was for this nation.)
The bottom line is, for all the rugged individual John Wayne-iness of this nation, there’s an equal tradition of people coming together to create communities dedicated to the good of all. We can’t be the shining city on the hill if our image is tarnished by people in this great nation unable to access even basic medical care, with people always at risk of poverty and homelessness if a catastrophic illness should befall them or a loved one.
I sure hope we get a vote on a final health care reform bill this week. Bills have already passed the House and the Senate, and now we just need those two bodies to come together to get something passed for President Obama to sign.