In early February, I received a packet of letters from eighth-grade students at Saint Joseph School in New York City. The students suggested ways to be both challenging and respectful while discussing politics, and many sounded more mature and honest than some adult Democrats and Republicans or MSNBC and Fox News commentators. I hope that as they grow up, they will not become contaminated by the degraded discourse of our politics and media.
Our political discourse suffers anomie, or normlessness. There is little respect for any position other than self-interest. Instead of thoughtful critique we hear knee-jerk expletives. If you watch the three major networks and PBS, you may not see much of this, although I think it is true that they are slanted to the left. But if you tune in to the cable channels, you will find grist for every mill—pundits who deride Sarah Palin as stupid and pundits who “wonder” if President Obama is a citizen. Watching some of these programs could make a person feel he or she is in a near occasion of sin. Whether you are a liberal or conservative, the sin might be wrath. Worse still, it could be despair.
As for myself, I will take my young correspondents’ advice—to respect President Obama but also challenge him. The president was thrust, even before his swearing in, into a daunting state of affairs, a country that was militarily and economically compromised. This does not mean he can blame everything on former President George Bush. President Obama should give Bush credit for the good decisions he had made, acknowledge what programs the new administration maintains and announce what policies it will change.
Most important, he should be ruthlessly honest with us. This is the only way to lance the boil of self-interest inflaming the body politic. But it will be a difficult task, because members of his audience do not want to hear any bad news, at least none that touches them.
Instead of naming and confronting this delusion, it seemed the president, until now, wanted only to please everyone. As it turns out, no one seems pleased. Just look at the health care reform mess. Pro-choice groups claim that a conscience clause for doctors and hospitals is violence against women. Trial lawyer lobbyists do not want restraints on lawsuits. Insurance companies object to interstate competition. Patients oppose limits on the procedures or coverage they seek. The right wants less government and less taxation. The left wants more programs and services. The reason most people are resistant to true health care reform is that they are afraid of losing something.
The president displays many virtues—especially in matters requiring prudence, justice and temperance. What he must call upon on now is his fortitude. He should admit that all of us are going to lose something. And he should ask this: What, specifically, is any of us willing to accept for the common good? More taxation? Fewer entitlements? Both are required of us. But if the answer is a resounding no from the right and left wings of our country, we can be assured that things will only get worse. With trillion-dollar wars and trillion-dollar deficits, the economy will reel. Without health insurance reform, it may come apart.
In health care, no matter what the upshot of the recent White House summit, we need a single-payer system insuring basic care for all. And we need competition among the insurance plans, even across state lines, for those purchasing a Cadillac, boutique or special options plan. We need the tort reform and limits to lawsuits against beleaguered doctors that will displease many lawyers. But we also need the freedom to buy approved medications from other countries, which will displease big Pharma. And we patients must finally realize that in matters of health, we do not have a right to everything possible.
As Americans, we must be willing to sacrifice a bit of our vested interest, if our economy and health-care system are to be preserved. In late January, the president told Diane Sawyer on ABC’s “World News,” “I’d rather be a really good one-term president than a mediocre two-term president.” He now has the opportunity to prove it. Maybe his fellow Americans will be inspired by his own willingness to sacrifice a second term in order to tell us not what we want to hear, but the truth we need to hear. Read this article in Spanish. Translation courtesy Mirada Global.
Read this article in Spanish. Translation courtesy Mirada Global.