HEALTH CARE/Joan Retsinas

Wisdom of Dr. Seuss Needed

The country is in the grips of messianism. We the electorate have imbued our leaders with superhuman powers. Consider President Obama. He vowed to fix our health care system, as did his competitors. His fervent supporters, however, translated a campaign promise into an iron-clad prediction. And one year post-election, with no major transformation in hand, we who elected him are sighing, disappointedly: the President we thought was Moses, slated to lead us to universal coverage, is human, just like us. He couldn’t single-handedly reform an entrenched system.

Now on the right a new avatar has arisen: Scott Brown. We hear that this charming, photogenic newly-elected senator from Massachusetts — a superhero to conservatives — can stop any major legislation. Never mind that the Democrats have a majority, 59 to 41. The defeatists are predicting an inevitable filibuster, one that will derail — maybe for another decade or so, until half the working people of America are uninsured — substantive legislation. Scott Brown will slay the liberal enemy.

This messianic complex will cement the status quo in place, because it absolves us the electorate of responsibility. We need only await a powerful leader to make changes. All that Constitutional “we the people” rhetoric is passé: powerful “others” determine our ends, not us. We can spend our days working, our nights watching football. Hardly a vision of democracy.

As an antidote, I recommend the tale of Horton the elephant, who lived in the Jungle of Nool. As everybody younger than age six knows, Horton heard a “Who.” A “Who” is microscopic, a speck of dust living on a piece of clover. Nobody else — certainly not the monkeys or kangaroos in Nool — heard the “Who.” Indeed, there was a whole world of Whos out there, but the denizens of Nool didn’t hear them. So the cacophony began: that idiot Horton was talking to a speck of dust. Destroy the speck. Nothing exists. He is talking to nobody.

Horton knew that Whoville’s survival lay not solely in his savvy — the elephant was an unlikely hero — but in themselves. So Horton exhorted them to yell as loud as they could. He urged every Who in Whoville to scream its existence. Collective screaming worked. When every last Who joined its voice in the clamor, the denizens of Nool heard their voices. And once the kangaroos and monkeys heard the crescendo, they joined Horton in pledging to protect these very tiny beings.

Today the political landscape could be the Jungle of Nool. Our politicians are talking loudly to each other, spewing forth a flurry of ideas all doomed to destroy the chance for health reform. Listen to the cacophony: A deal-killing filibuster is inevitable. Mandates are un-American. (States have started to pass laws nixing any future mandate.) Nobody can be expected to read a 1,200–page bill, as though all the Ivy League-educated legislators never got past phonics. The system is sound; we need only tweak it. We need to shift from health care to jobs, or the war, or the catastrophes thousands of miles away.

And the people who are yelling the loudest are, not surprisingly, people who are doing very well, thank you, under the current system. Insurance executives, coupled with the legislators they have bought, are dominating the discussion. A chorus of well-insured conservatives who loathe government are adding to the din.

Missing are the rest of us. We are the Whos — invisible, unheard.

This is the time for every last one of us to speak up loudly, so that the denizens of Washington will hear us. Included in this Whoville are the 44 million Americans who have no health insurance. Conservatives would tell them that they are lucky to live in a free country, where nobody is forcing them into an insurance plan. They can wait in emergency rooms, delay buying medications, and field calls from collection agencies for hospital bills that exceed their lifetime income. Add to the clamor the voices of the people who expect to lose their health insurance within the next year, because they can’t afford the premiums, or because their employer will drop coverage (another freedom conservatives cherish). Now add the voices of people whose basic high-deductible insurance policy — one that we are all free to buy — won’t cover much. Throw in the people who have fallen into the “pre-existing conditions” abyss. Finally, add everybody related to one of these specks.

If all of us in Whoville scream our presence, the people we elect will look past the lobbyists and the executives and the right-wing bloviators and see us. And help us. That is the wisdom of Dr. Seuss.

Joan Retsinas is a sociologist who writes about health care in Providence, R.I. Email

From The Progressive Populist, March 1, 2010

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