Friday, October 2, 2009

This is why we can't have nice things

Being in a philosophy graduate program is interesting, especially if you do political philosophy, and particularly if you are a political philosopher trying to teach medical ethics while there is a health care reform debate raging around in the background. You wind up having a lot of arguments in the offices. Which is nice, it distracts you from the fact that you are inhaling new forms of mold with every breath.

This current health care debate is a fascinating peek into what has happened to politics and political thinking in America. I wasn't able to put a finger on what the difference was until discussing nationalized health care with a fellow grad student on Wednesday.

What struck me in the conversation is the different understandings of the role, in fact of the ontology, of the government in the lives of the people. We have a peculiar sense, it seems, that the government is against the people, rather than the government being part of the people. Now, this is not necessarily a mistaken sense. One need only look at the difference between the desire of the people to have a public option (however that is understood) and the willingness of the politicians to utterly ignore that desire and instead vote it down to further the interests of their corporate sponsors.

So when I profess the (what seems to me to be) very sensible desire to pay more in taxes in exchange for a more equitable, just, and prosperous society I am frequently met with incredulity, or in the case of Wednesday's conversation, an argument for just choosing to give to what charities you want. We are unaccustomed to thinking of our taxes as being a contribution to our communities. So that Glenn Beck, Fox News and their whole deranged cadre of teabaggers can unashamedly promote a sort of immature anarchic libertarianism now that Obama is president and people on Medicare can protest the idea of government-run health care.

If the great zombie army of teabaggers really wanted to return to the original intent of the Founders they would be advocating for extensive campaign financing reform, so that we can take our country back from the corporations that are eviscerating our democracy. In a democracy, representative or otherwise, there is, in the wonderful alliteration of Lincoln, "government of the people, by the people, and for the people." As the people, we have a right to demand care and services to flow from the contributions from our taxes. While the argument against a nationalized health care system seems to be a two-part movement (a. "OH NOES! TEH SOCIALISME!" then b. "OH NOES! UR GONNA PAY MOAR TAXES!") what it ignores is that while the tax rates may be higher in European countries (and I'm too lazy to do the Googling necessary to find out if that's true) what those European countries get back in exchange for those taxes tends to not be thousands killed in someone else's desert to advance the corporate interests of the politicians, but rather health care, education and other tangible, communitarian goods.

There are very good reasons that we think of the government as being contra the people, entrance into the political realm requires vast sums of money. There is a chilling effect on political participation when Congress votes against the will of the people to further the will of multi-national corporations, just as there is a chilling effect when Election Day is scheduled on a Tuesday and not treated as a national holiday. The only way to combat this alienation of the people from the government is to demand that it is given back. We are, in theory, the government. We should do more for ourselves. We deserve it.

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