November 19, 2009

Always On the Wrong Side

Family and friends on this side of the Atlantic are puzzled by America's hysterical health-care debate. They see TV images of angry protestors who don't want Washington to change a system that, from this persepctive, is grossly unfair. They ask me to explain.

Well, I tell them, it's really an old story. We all know that conservatives (like the protestors, their cable-TV cheerleaders and most all GOP politicans) are resistant to change. Conservatives were against emancipation, women getting the vote, the GI Bill, the Civil Rights Act. And much more, as Nicholas Kristof of the NY Times explains:

"Critics storm that health care reform is 'a cruel hoax and a delusion.' Ads in 100 newspapers thunder that reform would mean 'the beginning of socialized medicine.'

"The Wall Street Journal’s editorial page predicts that the legislation will lead to 'deteriorating service.' Business groups warn that Washington bureaucrats will invade 'the privacy of the examination room,' that we are on the road to rationed care and that patients will lose the 'freedom to choose their own doctor.'

"All dire — but also wrong. Those forecasts date not from this year, but from the battle over Medicare in the early 1960s. I pulled them from newspaper archives and other accounts."

Similar arguments were used in 1935 by conservatives to fight against Social Security, and in 1965 against Medicare. Ronald Reagan warned, "If you don't stop Medicare, one of these days you and I are going to spend our sunset years telling our children and our children's children what it once was like in America when men were free."

Kristof continues: "These days, the critics of Medicare have come around because it manifestly works. Life expectancy for people who have reached the age of 65 has risen significantly. ...

"Yet although America’s elderly are now cared for, our children are not. A Johns Hopkins study found that hospitalized children who are uninsured are 60 percent more likely to die than those with insurance, presumably because they are less likely to get preventive care and to be taken to the doctor when sick. ..."

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