America, I Love You. Americans, On the Other Hand…
By Evan Handler
Actor, author, screenwriter, and journalist
I have found the last week to be one of the most politically dispiriting of my adulthood. After President Obama’s address to the nation on health care, I posted an opinion piece on Huffington Post which garnered well over 600 comments, as well as dozens of emails sent directly my way. The piece was in support of strong health care reform legislation, including a “public option,” and used my own history of overcoming acute myeloid leukemia, as well as my wife’s Italian family’s health care experiences in that country, as reference points. Most responses were of the “Thank you for saying what I’ve felt” variety, and it’s always gratifying to be told I’ve said something important, or made someone else feel heard.
The strong minority current won’t surprise anyone who’s followed the health care debate, or most any political discussion, over the past couple of years. A vocal minority has let me know, over and over again, that they don’t want the government taking any more of their money; that they want to be able to decide how to spend and invest their own money; that they don’t want to have to pay for anything for anyone else; and — the big time, firecracker, most-consistent comment of all — they don’t want any Americans to have government-subsidized health care insurance if one single, goddamn, fucking, disgusting illegal immigrant might be able to get their hands on it, too.
Okay. I get it. And here’s my response to both groups.
First, to those opposed to any European-styled government subsidized health insurance option: I found every one of your arguments to be small-minded, selfish, fear-driven, ill-informed, self-serving, and — most crucially — detrimental to the long-term interests of the United States of America. As I indicated in my last piece, the oft-stated logic of “government out of my life” is a fantasy existence you’ve never experienced, and that you’d whimper in fear over were you ever subjected to it for an instant. Make a list of the industries you’re aware of: medical, chemical, automobile, steel, housing, whatever. Each and every one of them would crush you with glee without government regulations if it added to their profits by one one-millionth of a percentage point. They’d sell the juice they squeezed out of you as a refreshment drink, if they could get away with it. As corrupt and inefficient as your government is (and it clearly is), it’s the only thing keeping you alive moment to moment. Reform it, by all means. Keep it honest. Throw out the bums who aren’t protecting you adequately enough. But, end its involvement in your life? Scale it back? You’re kidding yourself. That’s a joke. Take one look back at history (please, just one look!), and see how workers, and children, and consumers are now protected where they were once injured and exploited. That’s called “progress,” and we’re hoping to add a little more.
To those who insisted, “I don’t use public transportation, my local taxes pay for my town’s sidewalks, I don’t use this, I don’t use that,” yours are idiotic arguments. The concrete under your feet, the steel used in elevators, the earthquake and flood resistant building codes, the dams that don’t break and drown you, the cars that (hopefully) don’t fall apart as you’re driving them, the airplanes that don’t (usually) land on your head — every single thing that keeps you safe every day of your life is provided to you by a government standard or regulation. Argue with me about it all day long; go ahead and take offense at my use of the word “idiotic.” None of it changes the fact that you wouldn’t survive a week if you were really in it on your own, and that your resistance to recognizing it is a much bigger problem than 11 million people who entered this country illegally. You, in your refusal to acknowledge your interdependence with everyone else, are a bigger problem than they are.
As to those immigrants, and the rage I’ve seen inspired by them, just give me a break. You’re all immigrants. Every one of you. Every one of your pink, overstuffed, jiggly “American” asses is stuffed full of tortillas, or pancetta, or paella, or schnitzel, or knockwurst, or moussaka, or Dublin Coddle, or whatever the fuck your ancestors ate before they crawled their way over here. And, when they got here, someone hated them just as much as you’re hating whoever’s newest here now, and fought against their having anything you now enjoy.
If it’s only the illegal entry that’s an issue for you, let me ask you this: If you lived in Country A, where you and your family were starving, and you knew you could get a job in Country B, are you telling me you wouldn’t sneak across a border to feed them? Of course you would. And, if the people of Country B kind of, sort of allowed it, and benefited tremendously from your willingness to harvest their crops, or work on their assembly lines, or vacuum their offices, or clean their children’s school toilets for pennies, it would be pretty shitty treatment, indeed, to turn you away from an emergency room if you got got sick, like I’ve heard recommended in terms of the undocumented residents of the United States.
As to those undocumented residents, get ready to have your blood really boil. They’re not going anywhere. No one is going to round them up and send them home, other than in token gestures to calm you down, and no amount of mistreatment is going to force them to run home in any meaningful numbers. What needs to happen, and what will happen, is that they be put on track to gain legal residency status, so that they will pay taxes, and be rightfully protected from all the evils I’ve outlined above, just like the rest of us human beings living here. The reason it needs to happen and will happen is that it’s the more cost efficient thing to do. It’s cheaper than keeping them here as a marginalized population, with all the costs included in that, and it’s cheaper than the impossible process of gathering, prosecuting,and sending them away. Really, when will enough be enough? Don’t you realize, can’t you realize, that all the change you’re fighting against — just like the protections that are now taken for granted, but that someone fought against once-upon-a-time — will happen, eventually, whether you like it or not?
That last bit is the only thing that comforts me right now. No matter how hard the nitwits (and the clever ones who manipulate them) fight, eventually everything they despise will come to pass. Gays will get married and enjoy equal protection. There will be some form of government-subsidized health care coverage for all. And the vast majority of the 11 million or so undocumented immigrants currently here will be granted some degree of permanent residency status. These things will all happen, even if it’s thirty more years until they do, because they need to. They are the most correct solutions. (Don’t tell me, “There’s no right or wrong. We just happen to disagree.” Nonsense. I don’t accept it. There is right, and there is wrong, and those against strengthening protections for those least able to protect themselves are wrong.) The joke is that, by fighting, and delaying, those who think it’s just “unfair,” or that providing rights or protections for others will “cost too much,” or who want “the government out of my pocket,” will make the final tab so much higher than if the reforms were implemented now. The costs of exclusion are astronomical, from ER care for those with no coverage, to cultural warfare and political campaigning, and eventual (lost) lawsuits by those who’ve been trampled upon.
My prediction is that, finally, one day, with fewer fireworks than anyone could now expect, with more of a groan of exhaustion than much celebration, enough of the opposition will have seen enough carnage to come to their senses, or have discovered they can love the gay children they’ve given birth to (imagine that!), or had a catastrophic illness themselves, and the right laws will come into play, and the country will change. But what will we have gained from the long delay?
As to those who agree with some, or much, of what I say, you’d better get off your asses right now. I mean right now. The greedy and the foolish are ruling the day, even after they lost an election (and even though they hold no majorities, either in government or in population). Because they’re working harder. They’re yelling louder. Their hatred is out hustling your good will by a mile. How many of them showed up in Washington, fifty-thousand, or 1.5 million? It doesn’t matter. Because no bigger demonstration existed to demand government-subsidized health insurance be available to those who want it. Were there facts shouted at the town hall meetings, or lies? It doesn’t matter. Because there was no larger force, to sing “I Ain’t A-Scared of Your Lies, ‘Cause I Want My Health Care,” to the tune of the old civil rights song “I Ain’t A-Scared of Your Jail, ‘Cause I Want My Freedom.” That would have made the evening news. Because it would have taken a spectacle, and used it as a jumping point to create a bigger, more powerful, one. Because it would have framed the effort for what it is, a struggle for what should be a civil right. And, at least for one small day, a news cycle would have been won, instead of lost.
Oh, the mail I’ll get now. The comments will scream that I don’t know what I’m talking about, because one or two of my facts might not be perfectly correct, or phrased. People will take offense, and say I’ve lowered the level of dialogue with my language. But there is no dialogue. One glance at the comments section to my last post, or at my emails this week, and you can see. Dialogue is over. There is no convincing those who will not listen to reason.
It’s funny to remember and compare such a small incident, but it applies. When I still lived in New York, I owned a small apartment in a co-op building. There was a security guard who patrolled the block at night, and he was paid by voluntary contributions from those who chose to give. Ten dollars a months was the requested amount. Ten dollars a month, from people who owned Manhattan real estate, in order to make the block a bit safer, and a bit cleaner. But payments to the guard’s salary were dwindling, so a survey was done, and it became clear that while 50% of the people on the block were contributing, our building had a participation rate of only 30%. At a board meeting, some of my neighbors said, “I don’t go out at night. Why should I have to pay for a security guard when I don’t go out at night?”
“Well, would you rather have to step over broken glass and used condoms during the day, when you do go out?” I asked. “Would you rather have noise and music from groups that gather at night, or hear screams from people being robbed, or worse?” It didn’t matter. They weren’t moved.
So we did what the law allowed us to do. We took a vote, and we made the ten dollars a month a mandatory part of the building’s monthly maintenance charges. We went from 30% participation, to 100%. In other words, we stopped trying to reason with them, or make them understand, or agree. We used our majority, and we rammed it down their throats. It’s time now to do the same. This is a war we’re in. Not a shooting war (and I condemn anyone who takes up arms on either side of it, like some have already done at supposed “Town Hall Meetings”). It’s an ideological war. And the longer it takes to recognize and acknowledge that fact, the longer it will take for our society to throw off the outsized influence of those who are willing to wage one from the other side.
So, if you feel inspired, if the words of the last post meant something to you, do something. Don’t write to me on Facebook, or merely pass the article on there (though I thank you for doing so this past week). Call Senators and Congressmen/women. Flood their phone lines. Send them emails. Shout out to them from the street. Carry signs. Gather. Organize. Call ten friends, or a hundred, or fifty-thousand, or a million-and-a-half, and go to Washington. Scream and shout. Wage war. Insist.
We were once a nation of such potential. A nation built on the pride of its self-proclaimed superiority. We’ve been embarrassing ourselves in front of the world since shortly after 9/11, 2001. In spite of a change of leadership, there doesn’t seem to be an end in sight. Shame on the citizens who are trying to obstruct, and shame on the politicians who pandered to them this past week.
The words on the Statue of Liberty, liberators of concentration camps, inventors and innovators throughout the twentieth century. And what’s the United States’ most recent contribution? Collateralized debt obligations, credit default swaps, and eleven million brown, yellow, and red-skinned people who’ll be denied the privilege of paying money to purchase health care insurance. Hooray for the red, white, and blue.
Evan Handler’s latest book is “It’s Only Temporary: The Good News and the Bad News of Being Alive.”