Let me head off your objections right now: son of bride of health care is not just son of health care, because Mrs. Health Care subsequently remarried and lives in Ohio. Father of son of former bride of health care is John Boehner, and even though he pretends to be friendly, he keeps subtly insulting health care by saying things like, “I understand where you’re coming from; when I was younger, I had to eke out a living sweeping somebody else’s floors, myself.” Basically, new husband of ex-wife of health care is a dick, and every time he claims to do health care a favor he only humiliates it further. Last week, for example, he organized a purely symbolic overturn of last year’s reforms with the Repealing the Job-Crushing Health Care Law Act, which really puts certain other phrases from this paragraph in perspective. It was a pretty cynical move, incorporating as it did both a purported desire to improve the law and a sure exemption from having to do so. Anyone could see what spray-tanned second husband of health care was doing except those closest to him, and so the duty to say something fell to former coworker of both health care and father of son of former bride of health care, David Frum.
“If I were working for a 2012 Republican presidential aspirant,” Frum writes, presumably clearing his throat before continuing, “I’d be preparing now for this debate question: ‘Governor/Senator:* Do you believe that the federal government should ensure that all Americans can buy an affordable health insurance policy?'” In theory, the answer would be yes; that’s been the stated Republican position for the last two years. In practice—”practice” here meaning “everything the GOP has done since the Clinton administration”—the answer is a resounding no.
The problem, as Frum points out, is that Republicans as a party and we as a society want to make sure everyone gets medical treatment, but we’re not willing to make sure everyone gets medical coverage. As a result, we wind up collectively behaving like a person who doesn’t buy health insurance: spending a ton of money on hospital care and triage to save a little on prevention. We don’t want to pay a few billion dollars a year to make sure everyone has insurance, so we spend a few hundred billion annually on uninsured care.
It’s hard not to see this failure to think clearly as partly attributable to our failure to speak clearly. Boehner and his fellow conservatives have proven willing to say “all Americans deserve good health care,” but they are unwilling to say, “all Americans deserve health insurance.” That’s probably because their real position is closer to “not all Americans deserve health insurance; buy it yourself or get used to coughing.”
Put that way, the position sounds pretty harsh. That’s because it is pretty harsh, in a way that most Americans are uncomfortable with. Frum cites a Kaiser Family Foundation poll from the last decade:
In a survey conducted during the George W. Bush years, The New York Times tested Americans’ generosity. What if helping the less advantaged increased the cost of your own health insurance? Forty-eight percent were still in favor of a government plan; only 38 percent said they were not. What if the plan added $500 to your tax bill? Forty-nine percent were in favor, 44 percent said “no,” with independents polling slightly higher in the direction of “yes.”
Americans totally want to “help the less advantaged.” Much like our desire to “ensure access to affordable care” and “reduce costs,” this interest breaks down completely when it stops being a goal and starts being a plan. A mature nation, like a mature Republican party, would acknowledge that wanting things is meaningless if we’re not acting to get them. As it is, we’re like a doctor who appears briefly at a patients bedside, tells him he really wants him to get better, and then sighs deeply before leaving the room. “Wish in one hand,” my grandfather used to say, “shit in the other, and see which fills up first.” As a society and as a government, our hand is full to overflowing. Yet we keep staring so fixedly at the empty one.