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American Values

You hear a lot about whether it's consonant with American values for the government to make sure its citizens don't go medically bankrupt or find themselves unable to afford chemotherapy. That, after all, is communism, and we all know there's a reason the pilgrims left Europe 228 years before the publication of Marx's manifesto. But a recent Brookings poll suggests caring for one another isn't as far from the American psyche as some like to think.

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Interestingly, that overall number was 77 percent in 2008. It dropped substantially this year, as Americans decided they hated the health-care ideas of both parties.

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That's negative-sum politics in action: Opponents of health-care reform have actually done more damage to their own ideas than to those of the majority party. But since their own ideas don't have much of a chance this year, that's an acceptable short-term outcome. The problem is that the long-term outcome is that Americans grow to loathe and distrust everyone in the political system.

In 1994, Newt Gingrich took back the Congress and promptly tried to arrest the growth in Medicare spending: He was roundly beaten back for it. Demonizing the Democrats didn't give the Republicans a mandate to govern. It simply made it harder for anybody to govern, as the Democrats did it right back to the Republicans. So we had another 15 years of rocketing health-care costs, steady increases in the number of uninsured, and large additions to the national debt. Hope everyone is happy!

By Ezra Klein  |  October 9, 2009; 11:05 AM ET
Categories:  Health Reform , Polls  
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Comments

My problem with the poll is that it asks whether it is "the government's" responsibility, as if "the government" was this separate entity from "the people."

As much as we may want to deny it, government is the messy accumulation of our own willingness to act together on issues we say are important to us. So instead of asking whether it's "the government's" responsibility, I'd ask whether it's our responsibility. Because ultimate accountability in our system does not rest with 535 legislators on Capitol Hill; it rests with the 230 million eligible voters of this country.

When we reconnect with the fact that we are the ones responsible for our government, then we can try to get back to a rational discussion of what we want to get done together. "The government" is only a vehicle for those actions.

Posted by: dasimon | October 9, 2009 11:19 AM | Report abuse

Your analogy is perfect! Government demands for specific social interaction drove settlers to the New World -- the deeply religious settlers felt that they should care for one another as a matter of humanity, not as a matter of Government order.

As you say, caring for one another is not far from the American psyche; as you do not say, though, Government mandates are far from the American psyche. Charity hospitals survive today because of, well, charity, and because charitable communities are capable of discerning those truly needing help from those capable of helping themselves. Government intervention removes both the charity and the discretion.

Posted by: rmgregory | October 9, 2009 11:20 AM | Report abuse

This is one of the two most central issues in health care reform.

Should there be a general sharing of health costs across the population?

If so, why? If not, why?

Here's an argument even libertarians can respect:

http://findingourdream.blogspot.com/2009/09/what-is-health-insurance-health-care-is.html

Posted by: HalHorvath | October 9, 2009 11:47 AM | Report abuse

An interesting fact that has some bearing on this would be that the lower half of income earners pay little or no tax. Many get back more than they put in the system through "refundable credits".

So, why should it be surprising that a large portion of the population, when asked if they want some FREE STUFF would say "Hell, YEAH!"?

Ask 'em if they would also like a FREE HOUSE or a FREE VACATION or FREE AUTO INSURANCE.

I think you'll most likely get a similar statistic.

Posted by: WrongfulDeath | October 9, 2009 12:11 PM | Report abuse

@rmgregory

"Charity hospitals survive today because of, well, charity, and because charitable communities are capable of discerning those truly needing help from those capable of helping themselves."

Totally false...Charity hospitals don't discern the truly needy from the capable. They would treat way more truly deserving people if they had the resources. They have to turn away truly needy people all the time because there is no room for them. They only serve a fraction of the truly needy.

Posted by: srw3 | October 9, 2009 12:31 PM | Report abuse

@WrongfulDeath

False on taxes!!! Most poor people pay way more than they get back from EITC, because they pay sales taxes, state taxes, and social security and medicare taxes ( ss and medicare are deducted before they even see their paycheck.) They certainly pay way more taxes as a percentage of their income than middle class or especially wealthy people. See Warren Buffet's comments on the % that he pays in taxes vs the people that clean his office at night.

Posted by: srw3 | October 9, 2009 12:36 PM | Report abuse

A large part of the "pox on both of your houses" has to come from Dems who wanted single payer or Medicare for All and now see the Dem plan as enriching the insurance cos at the expense of everyone else while forcing people to buy crummy insurance. I think lots of people thought Obama meant real reform, instead of pandering to pharma and Big Insurance and people who think they have it good because they haven't actually tried to use their coverage. The disappointment is at least as great on the part of Dems as people scared into thinking Obama wantsd to kill them or their Grandma.

Posted by: Mimikatz | October 9, 2009 1:29 PM | Report abuse

"Basic need" is a nebulous term. Paying for your own cold remedies, allergy medications and even to have cuts and bruises patched up is one thing; paying a small mortgage's worth of medical bills to treat a cancer diagnosis is an entirely different proposition.

"Do you think it's a problem that people have to sell their homes or declare bankruptcy to pay medical bills?" will get you a very different response, even accounting for the people who think that medical bankruptcy and empoverishment happen to Those People Over There.

Posted by: pseudonymousinnc | October 9, 2009 3:01 PM | Report abuse

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