If he was around today, what would Peter Maurin write about the health-care 'debate'? I'm fairly sure he would write about the emptiness, divisiveness and bias of the current rhetoric, and the responsibility we all have, as a community, to care for the poor. Or perhaps that is just what I would want him to write about. Maybe that's what I want to write about.
There has been so much fear injected into the discussion of health care reform - so much fear that people's initial reaction to any idea on the topic is that of fear and mistrust. That initial reaction poisons any constructive dialog. That fear is fanned-up in people by those whose intentions are to manipulate the public discourse as a means to achieve their goal of opposing the government. It doesn't matter so much what the issue is, as long as it can be used against the current government. Health care reform is the current issue, but it could be pretty much anything else.
It reminds me of how hot winds can whip a small fire up into a major firestorm. Without the hot wind, the small fire would be contained and we would all see things more clearly.
And this brings me back to Peter Maurin, who had a way of cutting though the smoke and getting some clarity on an issue. One example, from 'They And We':
1. People say:
"They don't do this,
they don't do that,
they ought to do this,
this ought to do that."
2. Always "They"
and never "I".
That's a good insight, even for today's debate.
The other day I got a chain-email that had a link to a YouTube video of some guy appealing to Catholics by making arguments against the health care reform effort by linking it to socialism, and the church's stance against socialism. The funny thing was that there were elements of truth in most everything he said, but so much of it was taken out of context as to make it very misleading. I had a hard time watching all the way through because it was so manipulative. So then I decided to take a look at what the bishops have to say about health care reform; while I don't always like or agree with them, they are after all the bishops and they deserve to be heard.
On the US Bishops' web site I found their four-part position on health care reform:
- a truly universal health policy with respect for human life and dignity
- access for all with a special concern for the poor and inclusion of legal immigrants
- pursuing the common good and preserving pluralism including freedom of conscience and variety of options
- restraining costs and applying them equitably across the spectrum of payers
OK, that sounds pretty good, reasonable, and gospel-driven. Some bishops are going to be further to the right of this, and some to the left – but for a group statement for assisting Catholics in understanding what the church wants, this is good. I can easily relate this back to 'whatsoever you do for the least of these', 'love your neighbor as yourself', and so on.
I'm not sure where I go from here; I'm fairly certain that it needs to be driven more from an 'I' vs a 'they' perspective. I do know that in the past few years, the cost of my health insurance has more than doubled while the coverage has decreased. My wages certainly haven't doubled, either. I do know people who have gone without health care, and people who have filed bankruptcy because they couldn't pay their health-care bills. I know that in one of the most prosperous and resourceful nations in the world, it isn't right that people go without healthcare or go bankrupt because of healthcare. What I am less certain of is our ability to engage in a constructive process that creates a universal health policy that all can access, that serves the common good while maintaining personal freedom and that fairly distributes the costs of care.