But the urge is there. A couple days back I wrote an intemperate post about this country and health care. I want to revisit that, and talk a little bit about my love of and frustration with my country of birth.
But right now, sitting down to write it, I feel very tired. I don't think this is a post that wants to be written in its current form, but I'm going to try anyway. First draft stuff. I suspect I'll regret this in the morning, but at least I'll be regretting something I did stone sober.
It seems to me that the Big Idea behind America, the major theme for this country, is that People Here Can Recreate Themselves. I've heard people say that the U.S. doesn't have a cultural tradition, but that's bullshit. The tradition in this country is to cut ties with the life you had and create something new.
It's why immigrants from more family-centric cultures spend so much time working and running around that they would have spent with their parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles and so on. They get lonely. And why not? When Americans recreate themselves, they create new families, too, out of their friendships.
If someone wants to argue that this is a good or bad thing, they can--it doesn't interest me. I think it's good for people with rotten families and great friends, and tough on everyone else. But that's how it seems to me.
Of course, most Americans don't have an old country to leave, but there's still that cultural imperative to remake yourself into something better. Richer, healthier, better-dressed and better-laid. And when we have problems in our society, that tends to be the first option people turn to: Change yourself and your situation to fix it.
And that's great, when it works. If you can go from addict to business-owner and family man, you're a role model. Good for you.
But it only works on the individual level. You can deal with the problems of addiction by sending everyone to NA. Some will fail and need other help, possibly help they can't afford on their own. Some of these 350 lb. guys will cheat on their diet and get diabetes. Some of those women standing out by the loading dock over there are never going to be able to give up their nicotine and end up on a respirator.
It's just the way these things work. Not everyone who creates themselves anew comes up with a winner.
And what do we do about all those people? Add in all the people who have terrible problems through no fault of their own, like the family with the kid who has leukemia, or the 25-year-old guy who suddenly comes down with prostate cancer. What do we do about them? Wish them luck? "Hope you don't lose your house, and the food bank is behind the church." Is that it?
Other nations do it better. They also do it smarter and cheaper. They get together as a community--as a nation--and provide health care for everyone. But not here.
There's no single reason for this. The people who benefit from the current system have the money and power to fight change. America was founded on a tax revolt, and it's deep into our national myth that you don't want government doing anything to help you because they'll only waste your money and make things worse. Americans are frightened of change in something so important to them--what if it all comes out worse than it is now?
But there are other obstacles, too. Psychological ones. It's a very short step from "People recreate themselves" to "People should recreate themselves." From there, we get to "I'm trying to recreate myself here; can't you solve your own problems?"
That's why I talked about addicts, smokers, and overweight people above when I could have stuck with the blameless little heart-tuggers like premie babies. "Why should I pay for that fat guy's heart attack? He should have gone to the gym," is a compelling consideration to many people.
The problem is that it's a rhetorically-powerful point that doesn't lead to a healthy, vibrant country. We sap our community and our economy by driving sick people into bankruptcy (even people with health insurance) and by chaining employees to jobs they hate because their kids need braces. Do we really want to perpetuate this awful, destructive, exhausting health care market just to keep someone from getting something we don't think they deserve? Do we even recognize that this feeling is spite?
Americans like to think about their freedoms. They like their freedom of speech and having government out of their religion and the freedom to move anywhere in the country and do as they please.
The (un)funny thing about that is: those freedoms are not nearly as rare as they once were. We keep talking about them as though we were still living in 1784, cleaning powder from our wigs out of our keyboards. We're not rare or special in that regard any more.
What is rare is that we're a rich nation and we can't even get together and create an equitable health care system for ourselves.
I've spent the last few years feeling like an outsider in my own country, a country I love. I'm not on the far left or anything--I'm a moderate liberal. Only the Glen Becks of this world would call me an extremist. And yet I feel more and more like a don't belong here. More and more like I'm hoping this country would turn into a place where I was a centrist and damn but it's not happening. Sen. Obama is the leading presidential candidate, and he doesn't even have the guts to propose universal health care.
So why am I still here when I can find the same freedoms I enjoy here in another country? I can tell you that a move that big would be tough, financially and personally. And it would be hard to leave the country I was born in. But I'm thinking about it more and more. I'd like to fit into the place I live.
First draft. That's all that is. Forgive the roughness of those sentences; I'm damn tired.