Sunday, August 16, 2009


Tabitha Southey weighs in on the American health care brouhaha in yesterday's Globe and Mail. In so doing, she writes possibly the most depressing thing I have ever read:

"[I]n America, where anger is the most validated emotion, even the feeling that things are actually pretty good in one's life is considered best expressed as fury that they might not continue to be that way."

I've noticed that myself over the past decade or so, as politics has become increasingly polarized in both our countries.

I'm not smug. In Canada, our own "most validated emotion" is self-pity, which is arguably at least as damaging. We're world-class whiners, black-belt-bellyachers. We bitch incessantly about everything: the weather (too hot, too cold); the government (by turns too uncaring and caring too much) in general is an endless litany of unpleasantries, even when--sometimes especially when--our attention is forcefully drawn to just how comparatively good we really have it here.
Anger exists here, but it simmers well below the surface. Expressing it openly is a social faux pas along the lines of going out in public with your gitch showing. So the anger mutates into boring and unseemly whingeing about "unfairness". We moan and groan theatrically, begging for intervention from anyone who will listen, knowing deep down that nobody really cares, and moaning and groaning about that.'

Not so America. In that hallowed land, the angrier you appear, the more likely you'll be listened to. Maybe that's in part because down there, if you're really pissed off, you just might pull a perfectly legal gun you've perfectly legally concealed about your person and proceed to not-so-perfectly legally (but oh so perfectly cathartically!) blow the head off your anger, so to speak. I don't know.

It amazes and confuses me, though, this health care debate. It's inexplicable to me that so many people are so ready to fight--violently, if necessary--to maintain a system that turns its back on almost twenty percent of the population.

One wonders why this fight never happened over education, which is (correctly) considered a human right in the United States, and administered in most cases by the big bad government. There are fundycostals who reject the education system out of fear their children might learn something, and a smattering of others who home-school for more valid reasons...but by and large, most American children are taken away from their parents by the government for seven hours a day, five days a week, over a period of many years--without a peep out of the parents.

But make it about some kind of health that's not academic and BANG! Jack springs out of his box primed to go off. Threaten to alleviate a disparity and you'll be threatened right back. I just don't understand it.

Americans can think collectively--indeed, they have a sense of collective national pride that's deeply felt and easily expressed. I'd like to see them think about health care collectively. It's not hard. We up here in Canada have been doing it for almost forty years--more than sixty if you're from Saskatchewan. It's become a habit, and a comforting one. Even after all this time, there's still endless debate about the form our system should take (and all but the most blinded zealot would agree it needs change)...but that debate is framed in terms of collective outcomes ("what will this accomplish for society) more than individual inputs ("what will this cost me?")

What to know the damnedest thing? The damnedest thing is that our system, for all its flaws, is substantially cheaper per capita than the American system. If America really wanted to, it could cover everyone and save a lot of money doing it. That's not pie-in-the-sky thinking, it's verifiable fact, because every other Western democracy has universal health coverage at a fraction of what America pays for selective coverage.

Creating such a system would be an act of political will that would reverberate down the generations and forever change American society...mostly for the better.

But bringing a gun to a town-hall meeting and "doing your best Al Pacino" will get you on television.


Rocketstar said...

We are a nation embedded with fear and the Republican's played on that deep seeded emotion and injected as much fear as they could and the fear junkies that we are ate it up and want more.

Jenn'fer said...

Great post! It's comforting to hear those from another system can see the craziness for what it is... a couple of things:

1) Rocket's completely right (as he usually is). This health care debate is the new wedge issue that will be used in GOP talking points during the 2010 election cycle (helpful in trying to retake the house and senate). Like all wedge issues, it's most effective when aligned with fear rather than reason or logic.

2) Your comment about the Canadian system being less expensive is exactly the point. The powereful in the US don't want things to be cheaper... they want them to be more expensive. The more expensive an item is, the higher the margin. The higher the margin, the bigger piece of the pie is that goes to the shareholder. Capitalists want prices to go up, not down. Until we take the profit out of health care, we'll never be able to win the Public option argument. There's no money to be made in the public option. I think that's a good thing...