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Archive for the ‘Essays’ Category

When It’s Not Enough To Be a Hero

Posted by sdrury on January 3, 2010

On January 13, 1982, Air Florida Flight 90 crashed into an icy Potomac River moments after taking off from Washington National Airport. The weather in the Washington, DC area that day was frigid, with the temperature in the low-20s and the region had been blanketed by snow from a record-setting blizzard. Washington National, since re-named after Ronald Reagan, who ironically was president at the time of the tragedy, had been closed for a few hours that day due to the inclement conditions. A subsequent investigation into the accident revealed that the plane had not been properly de-iced and should never have taken off.

All but five of the passengers and crew were killed. Before coming to rest in the Potomac, the plane struck several cars on the 14th Street Bridge, killing four people.

Amid the senseless loss of life, what emerged from that day were stories of incredible acts of heroism.

Two such stories were those of Lenny Skutnik and Roger Olian, neither of whom was affiliated with the flight or with emergency personnel. Olian was parked on the 14th Street Bridge on his way home from work as a sheet metal foreman. Seeing what was happening, he leapt out of his car, ran down an embankment, and upon hearing the desperate shrieks from the river, jumped into the Potomac while bystanders looked on. Navigating through ice floes, he yelled words of encouragement and told the survivors that help was on the way even though he wasn’t sure if it was. In retrospect, it seems that Olian was attempting to comfort people, complete strangers, as they neared a horrific death. They later reported that his actions gave them the hope and impetus to struggle on.  Once Olian’s own act of humanity had been completed, he was later pulled to safety himself.

Skutnik was working in a nearby office at the time, and like many others, went close to the river bank to watch the rescue operation unfold. Once at the scene, it became apparent to him that one passenger was too weak to grab the rescue line that had been thrown to her from a helicopter. Even though numerous rescue personnel were nearby, he refused to stand by idly, watching someone drown or freeze to death. So, he tore off his coat and boots and jumped into the river and assisted the woman in reaching the life line that led to her rescue. The woman was then taken to a local hospital, her life saved by a complete stranger.

To make it plain, both Olian and Skutnik threw themselves into frozen water to save the lives of people they did not know.

This past Christmas day another air tragedy, albeit of a different kind, may have occurred aboard Northwest Airlines Flight 253 were it not for another act of heroism. Above Ontario, Canada, as an Airbus with 290 passengers on board was making its final descent to Detroit, a 23 year-old Nigerian terrorist named Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab attempted to ignite an explosive device he had sewn to his underwear. Fortunately, the device did not detonate properly, but it still created a small fire and passengers later reported hearing a popping sound. As the terrorist was attempting to re-ignite the device, he was grabbed and subdued by another passenger, Jasper Schuringa, preventing him from doing any more damage. The fire was extinguished in short order and the perpetrator, later identified as a member of Al-Qaeda, was handcuffed by a member of the crew with assistance from Schuringa who had endured minor burns to his hands. The plane landed just after noon, without further incident. Schuringa was applauded by his fellow passengers as a hero.

By the afternoon, as word about the near-cataclysm had spread, an associate of Schuringa contacted CNN, informing the network that there were pictures of the incident, taken from a cell phone, available for sale. The following day, Schuringa, who is a Dutch national, signed an agreement with CNN, giving them the rights to the photograph in exchange for an undisclosed sum of money. In the next few days, Schuringa made similar arrangements with the New York Post and ABC News. Other news organizations reported that they also were approached by Schuringa, or his representatives, with the offer of rights to photos in exchange for financial considerations.

When news of Schuringa’s post-flight maneuverings gained traction on the Internet, many wondered if he was exploiting a national security failure for personal gain. Nevertheless, he continued to appear on media outlets, without compensation, to describe his story. It should be noted that Schuringa lists his profession as a film director and told interviewers that what had happened to him over Canada bore an eerie resemblance to a script he had written several years earlier, not long after the attacks of September 11, 2001.

In the aftermath of their efforts, Olian and Skutnick were given Carnegie Hero’s Medals, (among the many honors they received) and were lauded by President Reagan during his State of the Union address two weeks after the disaster. In 1984, a television movie aired,  paying tribute to their actions along with the many other feats of bravery that occurred that day. While many books have been written that mention both men for inspirational or spiritual purposes, neither Olian nor Skutnick has written a book to call his own. As of 2009, both men were in the same line of work as they were that day they plunged themselves into the Potomac.

It almost goes without saying that Schuringa would not be the first person to profit from an act of heroism and he most certainly will not be the last. Yet the alacrity with which he seized his moment gives one pause. How long after suppressing the threat did Schuringa think he think he ought to promote his own bravery? Would he have acted in such a manner had he thought there was a chance he wouldn’t be recognized? The answer to the latter is “of course he would” and only Schuringa knows the answer to the former. Schuringa’s accomplishments should not be minimized, for his fellow air travelers are undoubtedly grateful for his presence on their flight. But a distinction must be made, particularly in comparing his deeds to those of Olian and Skutnik nearly 28 years earlier. When Schuringa thwarted the terrorist, first among the lives he saved was his own. Conversely, Olian and Skutnik intentionally risked their own lives for the benefit of people they did not know. On the hierarchy of heroic altruists they rate a notch or two higher than Schuringa. The specific acts of gallantry aren’t so much the point here as are the responses that followed and the conditions that created them.

Commentators are quick to point to events where things “change”, as if drawing a circle around a date on a calendar will clarify complex human behavior. However, in considering Schuringa’s conduct post facto vis a-vis Olian’s and Skutnik’s, it is apparent that a fundamental change has taken place.

Previously, in a more Romantic era, people did things (worked, prayed, cared for their family, maintained good health, etc) because, in an empirical sense, they were the “right” things to do. You did the right thing as a matter of course, indifferent as to whether someone else was watching you, with no expectation of praise. Ted Williams, the great Boston Red Sox slugger from the 1940s and 1950s, once remarked that it’s easy to give it your all when the stands are full, with thousands watching your every move, but it was the truly great players that gave their maximum effort regardless of circumstance. Often, doing the “right” thing meant putting the needs of the group ahead of the needs of the individual.

Things are different now, different than they were in 1982 and a mere silhouette of what they were in Ted Williams’ day. Now, one can’t help but wonder if the only reason people do the “right” thing at all is so they’ll get credit for it. By extension, one wonders if being acknowledged for a heroic deed has become more important than the deed itself.

In 1982, MTV, CNN, and ESPN were in their infancy. Their success was far from assured. Watching any of these channels today, as they document the endless parade of people with insatiable desires to do something worthy of the camera’s gaze, that’s hard to believe. There are no shortage of subjects who feel themselves worthy of notice.

To be fair, human beings are, and have always been, social animals that seek feedback, and we do all manner of things to get it. To be sure, positive feedback is preferred, but some attention is better than none at all. With the explosion of media in the last generation, there’s more opportunity than ever before to be appreciated. The problem is, that although the number of places a person can be appreciated has multiplied exponentially, the things that merit such appreciation haven’t.

So, scenarios were manufactured to produce them. Television screens are now filled with phony conflicts, callously billed as reality shows, which exist solely for the purpose of designating winners, who, by definition, must be feted. The shows are populated by dozens, if not hundreds, of people, who seem hard-wired to engage in activities meant to elicit some response, irrespective of form. Can it be a coincidence that almost all of the “characters” in these shows were born after 1982 and, therefore, know only a world of cable television?

Lacking the prodding of producers and cameramen, some among us have taken matters into our hands by devising false crises on our own. A few months ago, a Colorado man informed authorities that his son had blown away in a balloon setting off a search and rescue mission that was followed, step by step on live television. Except the boy was perfectly fine, sequestered away so that when he was found by his father, his dad could be hailed as a hero in the news media, and therefore launching a reality of his own.

The most popular “reality” shows of them all, are, of course, sporting events, whose participants are routinely dubbed “heroic.” Let’s take this moment to be clear. No athlete, ever, while in pursuit of victory for his or her team, can have performed in a way that could be described as heroic. Admirable? Perhaps. Heroic? No. Using such terminology is an insult to people, like Lenny Skutnik and Roger Olian, and, yes, Jasper Schuringa, who actually have performed heroically when something more than a win or a loss was at stake.

And then there are the numerous websites where even the most quotidian of choices can be met with chords of approval, be it a knowing remark or an apparitional thumbs up. Facebook, specifically, with its 350 million users (and growing), is the king of the affirmation, allowing “friends” to pile plaudits on our choice of breakfast or our taste in music or our inclination to take a nap. Or whatever else we choose to share. How long did it take Jasper Schuringa to type, “Just foiled a terrorist plot from another one of those crazy Muslim suicide bombers!!!” into his Facebook status?

We shouldn’t be offended by Schuringa because we created him. And given the chance, most of us would have mimicked his actions—including what he did after the plane landed. We are entitled, after all.

Before anyone rings a death knell for heroes, be advised that as long as there are police officers and firefighters there will be acts of unselfishness. But in our current landscape, where the line between competing character traits—like narcissism and altruism—is blurred, determining who or what makes a hero has become virtually impossible and by necessity we need someone to tell us who they are, thereby diminishing the heroes in the process.

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Posted in Current Events, Essays, We're Doomed - Americans, We're Doomed - Humanity | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

If You’re A Yankee Fan You Must Be a Republican

Posted by sdrury on November 5, 2009

Picking a sports team is a lot like choosing political parties. Both allegiances will test your loyalty and tempt you into abandoning them forever, but ultimately you stick with them because this is the group with which you’ve cast your lot, and for better or worse, they reflect your ideals. It’s an alchemy of the heart and head that makes disappointments and accomplishments especially acute. Democrats especially understand this. The party that roots for the underdog, challenges the status quo, demands a more just society, knows that change takes time. It was almost a century from the time slavery ended to the time of the first major civil rights legislation. They know the emptiness of the 1960s, having had their finest leaders vanish like a cloud of dust around second base. They have slogged through the politics of personal destruction of the last two decades. To be a baseball fan is to have suffered. To be a Democrat is to have suffered. It’s why if you’re a Democrat, you can’t possibly be a fan of the New York Yankees.

Baseball, at its leisurely pace magnifies our loyalties. Other team sports, with their time outs and quarters and huddles create their drama in clumps of spastic action; oversized bodies crash into each other on ice, gridirons and courts. Whereas baseball players are laid bare. When getting a hit 30% of the time make you an accomplished player, failure is the norm in baseball rather than rule. Democrats understand this. Ask a Yankee fan to recall a time when one of his heroes failed on a grand scale. They can’t. When the Yankees have lost it’s due to the heroics of an opposing player (like this ) rather than a mistake from one of their own. For every other team the opposite seems to be to be true, certainly for the Cubs and, my favorite team, the Red Sox

Rooting for the Yankees is not a struggle. They don’t require patience or persistence. They don’t break your heart. The longest gap between World Series championships is fifteen years (1962-1977). Think about that. The Red Sox went 86 years between rings. The Cubs? A full century. Proud franchises like Cleveland and the Giants have waited over half a century. The Tigers, Orioles and Pirates, all historic franchises, are on droughts of 25 years or more. And consider, there is not a Ranger or Padre fan alive who knows what it means to have been a champ. Would a Yankee fan have stuck by their club over a comparable drought? Being that many of them were apoplectic at their most recent spell, now broken, of eight years, I doubt it.

For as much as they might not like to admit it, Yankees fans, as with the owner of the team, George Steinbrenner, can be like petulant children at the grocery store, causing a scene and creating mayhem until they get their way, irrespective of the expense that may incurred, financial or emotional. The fans wear their boorishness like a badge of honor. Whenever a new player joins the team, the question that immediately follows, “Is he any good?” will be “Is he tough enough for New York?” Callers queue up on radio talk shows to boast how they “tell it like is” or “demand a winner” which are merely excuses for behaving like obnoxious simpletons.

Like many Republicans, they have no issue compromising their morals for the sake of victory. In the early 1990s Steinbrenner acquired Steve Howe, a relief pitcher who had been suspended seven, yes, seven times from baseball for drug use. In their most recent dynastic stretch, from 1996-2000, Steinbrenner brought in criminals like Dwight Gooden and Darryl Strawberry, if only to humiliate their former team, the cross-town Mets. They were cheered with a gusto later reproduced with the “Drill, Baby Drill” chant from the 2008 GOP convention. Yankee fans have that very same sense of entitlement. That somehow they deserve to be in every World Series and that the Fall Classic is diminished by their absence.

It’s never been enough for the Yankees to just win, they feel compelled to pummel any potential roadblocks into submission. In their three straight world championships from 1998-2000 they permitted the other teams to win a combine total of one game. Bloodlettings, in the truest sense of the word.

But Steinbrenner has never been much for equanimity. He’s the only owner to have been suspended twice by the commissioner of baseball. In 1974, Bowie Kuhn banned him for two years after he was convicted of making an illegal contribution to Richard Nixon. Then in 1990 he was barred for three more years by Fay Vincent after it was discovered that Steinbrenner, in a conceit that would make Karl Rove proud, paid a small-time gambler $40,000 to dig up dirt and embarrass on one of his players, the Hall of Famer Dave Winfield. The reason? Steinbrenner wanted to avoid paying Winfield’s charitable foundation the money it was contractually owed.

This came as little surprise to anyone, because Steinbrenner had made a habit of belittling his employees in a public forum. He even insulted the amiable Yogi Berra. Perhaps he felt he was justified in this sort of conduct since he so often overpaid his players after plucking them from anonymity and presenting them to the biggest stage in all of baseball.

Much as Republicans have long preyed on the gentility of Democrats, the Yankees history of preying on the haplessness of others is a long one. Prior to the free agent era, the Yankees raided other teams for the likes of Roger Maris, Johnny Mize and Enos Slaughter. And of course, in their early years, the Yankees took advantage of Harry Frazee, owner of the Boston Red Sox, to acquire Babe Ruth and launch their dynasty. Frazee, was a man in love at the time, who needed money to produce a musical starring his betrothed and the Yankees were more than happy to oblige. They felt that exploiting love was worth baseball championships.

And since they acquired the Babe, the Yankees have represented the status quo. They are the men in pinstripes, standing guard against hippies and minorities and agents of social change. Rooting for the Yankees was once compared to rooting for U.S. Steel, a polluting, anti-trust breaking, union-shattering monolith. The Yankees have never been a team of the people, for the people or by the people. They are the WASPs at the country clubbers who mock the working-class kids wiping off their golf clubs. They are the Matt Damon character in School Ties , they are Johnny Lawrence, and any other bully whoever prowled a schoolyard.

Recent years have only accentuated the Yankees belief in wealth and privilege over hard work and decency. In the middle of a recession, the Yankees constructed a $1.5 Billion Stadium/Monument to Self-Glory, much of which came courtesy of the tax dollars of the very fans they supposedly love. The fans overlook this detail, even as the best seats in the very stadium they helped pay for run as high as $5,000 per ticket, effectively pricing the overwhelming majority of them out.

Should we be surprised the Yankees ignore this manner of excessiveness? Of course not. The Yankees have retired fifteen different numbers (the Red Sox and the Cardinals combined have fourteen). One, Reggie Jackson’s 44, was only worn by him for five years. Others belonged to solid if unspectacular players like Ron Guidry, Elston Howard and Don Mattingly. There’s no such thing as too much in the Bronx, where the plushest seats are occupied by many of the Wall Street bankers, who, having had their houses in the Hamptons saved by taxpayers, giggled at the gullibility of the proletariat yet again to the tune of billions in bonuses.

This matters little, to average Yankees fans as they invoke tradition and excellence—in the same way Republicans call back to the glory days of Ronald Reagan in the 1980s, when the rich got richer while the rest of the economy plummeted and the term “homeless” entered the vernacular. Yankee fans blindingly subscribe to the Yankees propaganda arm, the YES (Yankee Entertainment and Sports) Network because they it’s the only place to watch games on television. I’ll ignore the spectacular bias of the games’ broadcasters who often look at the opposing team as an inconvenience.

It’s impossible to discuss the New York Yankees without discussing their payroll. In 2009, their payroll was $201 million, a full 50 million ahead of their nearest competitor. The recently defeated Phillies, a formidable but undermanned squad, checked in at $113 million. Here I’ll admit to being squeamish about the Red Sox free-spending ($120 million). I find much of it redundant and their thrashing of the Colorado Rockies in the 2007 World Series in four straight was too Yankee-like for me. I confess to having missed the last out, because their victory, much like the Yankees’ this year was a fait accompli from the early summer. It’s true that spending money is no guarantee of success, but it helps. The Yankees occasional missteps in recent years were more a testament to the complexities and genius of baseball rather than a condemnation of an open market. I wonder what Kansas City Royals and Cincinnati Reds fans must think as they struggle to simply have a winning record while they are outspent in triplicate and, as if that’s not demoralizing enough, many of the best teams’ best players use steroids.

Which brings us, finally, to the present team. They have three players who will certainly be inducted into the Hall of Fame (Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera and Alex Rodriguez) and two more (Mark Teixera, C.C. Sabathia) whose career path points in that direction. Not to mention Messrs. Pettitte, Posada, Burnett, Matsui, Damon and Cano who were or will be All-Star caliber players. It would be an upset if they hadn’t won the World Series. This doesn’t make their victory any more upsetting. What is disarming is the team’s resemblance to contemporary Republican figures.

Jeter, the Obama-like figure, at the center of the team is a red herring. His imperious manner and elegance is admirable bur one can’t help but wonder how this modern post-racial player ended up working for George Steinbrenner. Rivera is the Cheney figure–at least the in office version. He conveys an introspection that might be aloof at times. He appears out of nowhere at the end of a game to save the day without anyone being really sure how he does it. Teixera, the Mormon-ish first baseman, could pass as Mitt Romney. A.J. Burnett, the pitcher and Arkansas native, would undoubtedly have made Mike Huckabee proud when, upon signing an 82.5 million dollar contract, he added yet another trailer-trash tattoo (As did Sabathia). Then Damon, the Joe Lieberman of the team, having come over from the other side (the Red Sox) to return the team to glory. And the preening, strutting, narcissistic A-Rod makes the perfect male counterpart to Sarah Palin. Would it be a stretch to imagine him winking into a camera in a critical spot?

Lastly, I can’t help but look at Joe Girardi, the Yankees manager and see George W. Bush—they both fell into control of this powerful machine and are just trying not to screw it up. Indeed, the only thing that made presidency of George W. Bush tolerable was the fact that the Yankees were shut out of World Series rings during his reign of error. That said, I’ll trade eight years of Obama for eight years of Yankee victories. Some things are worth the sacrifice.

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Michael Jordan inducts himself

Posted by sdrury on September 12, 2009

Most hall of fame speeches tend to be filled with gratitude to the numerous people who helped the individual reach the pinnacle of the sport. Thanks to the family (especially Mom) childhood friends, high school coaches, teammates, repeat through college and then the pros. Add a story or two from your early years that defines you. It’s a tried and true format. 

Michael Jordan, in his Hall of Fame induction speech, followed this format, sort of. There’s not too much that can be said about Jordan that hasn’t been said before. He changed basketball. He changed the way sports is marketed. Jordan’s skill on the court was such that, in the final moments of a close game, when everyone watching knew he would get the ball, he delivered. Not only did he get the ball, he made the shot. Repeatedly. Off the court, his easy smile and confident manner, lifted several companies, notably Nike and Gatorade, to heights they could not have imagined. Jordan changed how corporations use sports to market their wares. Many have wondered whether or not this was a good thing.

In the event, Jordan arguably became the most admired person on the planet, certainly the most admired athlete. He was, and is, a living icon. I encountered Jordan (with Mario Lemieux at his side) at the 1999 Ryder Cup matches in Boston. He towered over the rest of the spectators. And if anyone needed any help locating him, the broomstick-sized cigar he was smoking made it a little easier. Even though his passion for golf was well known, it was a shock to see MJ (with ML and Dick Ebersole, the president of NBC at the time) standing quietly there in the gallery, with the little people. To Jordan, everyone must have seemed little. Consider that several people whispered “Hey, that’s Mario Lemieux, too.” There’s plenty of places that would come to a halt with the arrival of Lemieux. But next to Jordan, he was an afterthought.

Anyway, I walked up to Jordan and asked him what brand of cigar he was smoking. Who did he like in today’s matches?   Could the US right the ship and defeat a scrappy European squad? They would thanks  to this: (http://www.justinleonard.com/oh-that-putt-20080916.html). We were standing behind the green of a hole (which one I can’t recall) watching and analyzing the approach shots and putts of players (which one’s I can’t recall). When they holed out, Jordan continued talking, now about his own golf game . So, I walked with him to the next hole. There was no posse and no handlers. Of course there was a throng around him and Lemieux. But, he talked softly, owing to his surroundings, about his own struggles with golf. I mentioned that I was going to be married in less than month. He wished me luck and talked about his kids and how he took his sons to the golf course once in a while. Near the green of the next hole Jordan, understandably, paid attention to his more famous cohorts. I am tempted to say that this was a Jordan that few people ever got to see; Dad and golfer- but I don’t think that’s true. What is true is that golf and fatherhood humbled Jordan, brought him down to earth, in a way that basketball never could.

And it was the soaring Jordan, looking down on the rest of us, who made the Hall of Fame speech. He admitted that there’s not much about him, that we, the soared upon, don’t know about him. No author as accomplished as David Halberstam ever wrote a book about Magic or Bird or Isiah. No book about an athlete included “The World They Made.” We know it all abot Michael. It must be hard to view yourself with any sort of distance when you’ve spent your entire adult life, not just being revered or respected, but deified, as Jordan was. When tears dripped from his eyes, as he took the dais at the Hall of Fame, it was hard to determine whether they were of gratitude for the honor or of sadness that the occasion marked an end to his iconic reign.

It was the latter. He proceeded to list all the people who challenged or doubted him. This list included many people, legends in their own right, who were sitting in the audience. The message was clear. Not only did I prove you wrong, but I beat you. It came off as childish, and beneath the man. He crossed the line when he adressed his own children, in front of the thousands on hand and millions in the television audience, “I wouldn’t want to be you.”

Jordan’s  mother, sitting in the front row, seemed to recognize that her son’s pride had got the best of him. She looked as though she wanted to tell him to go back to his original plan for a speech, which was to go to the stage and say, simply, “Thank you.” Mothers, even Michael Jordan’s, really do know best.

Jordan’s competitive streak is cited by many, as the fuel for his greatness. It’s embarrassed him at times on the baseball diamond, the card table and the golf course. But he was not being inducted to those Halls of Fame. It was basketball. Where he rarely felt failure or lost. He took the opportunity of his Hall of Fame induction to remind everyone of that. He even hinted at a comeback. It must be hard to say, “No, I must move on” when everyone around you is saying “Yes.” Another, equally famous MJ found this out earlier this summer. Let’s hope someone, (maybe his mother?) will tell him, No Michael. You must move on.

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Obama. Not a Socialist

Posted by sdrury on September 9, 2009

For the last month or so Barack Obama’s health care reform plan, vague as it is, has been deemed socialist by his critics. The charges are nothing new, as Obama listened to them during his the general election portion of the presidential campaign. He patiently dismissed them in much the same way as he quashed an annoying fly earlier this summer. But now the socialist charges are tied, rightly or wrongly, to plans to reform health care. One thing that should be patently clear from anyone who looks closely at Obama’s record thus far is that he is most definitely not a Socialist. Neither his environmental policies, (just ask James Hansen), nor his Supreme Court selection (other candidates were far more liberal than Sonia Sotomayor-despite her finding in the New Haven firefighters case) nor his plans for Afghanistan (which are downright hawkish) can be considered liberal, let alone socialist. And let’s not forget his thoughts on gay marriage or torture extreme interrogation techniques or bailing out Wall Street. Barack Obama is not a socialist.

Yet the accusations persist. Obama is very much a pragmatist and politician. In my view, Obama has given the conservatives ample opportunity to coalesce behind a health care proposal. They have chosen to pick a fight with him. Which is fine. It’s not like liberals never picked a fight with Bush the Younger. The main Republican counter proposal to Obama’s health care package seems to be to do nothing and keep the status quo. Which, unless you’re among the affluent, is simply unacceptable. The Republicans know full well that if Obama is able to get reform through he will nearly impossible to beat in 2012 (given the paucity of Republican candidates this will be a tall order anyway). Obama is fully aware of this fact as well. Which is all the more reason to join Max Baucus and say that, “We tried to do it with the GOP, but we’re moving on without them.” And the message to conservative Democrats will be, “You WILL vote for this legislation and shall be thusly rewarded come re-election time.” Obama has to play politics with members of both parties.

Explanations about the utter farce that is the American health care system can be found in better places. It’s a challenge to find an unbiased view but here’s two: http://www.theatlantic.com/doc/200909/health-care and here: http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2009/06/01/090601fa_fact_gawande.

But, the fact is that any plan that includes the government would, especially given the conservative bloviators obsession with the term, be labeled “Socialist.” What’s remarkable is that this reductive terminology was soundly rejected by the electorate in the  fall. Now less than a year later, perhaps through Republican perseverance (or maybe just volume) it’s back.

 

Obama ought to address this once and for all. He ought to lecture people, like the former professor that he is, on what socialism really is. (Sidebar–How could anyone keep a straight face and compare Obama’s inexperience unfavorably to Sarah Palin’s? Imagine Palin teaching a law school class for a second. OK, stop. Yes, it’s comical–like the sub who covered your high school chem class, but back to the point).  In practice, there are no socialist countries. There are plenty of social democracies though, such as: Norway, Belgium, Holland, Denmark, Sweden, Australia, Finland, Spain, Italy. All of these nations, by the way, routinely finish ahead of the US in quality of life ratings. Quality of life measures things like (lack of) crime, economic well-being, employment rate, national security, health, education, political stability. There’s a famous metric called the Popsicle Test. Which asks parents would they let their child(ren) walk, alone, however far they needed to go in order to buy a popsicle. And then walk back. Think of all the variables. We don’t do so well on that compared to the countries mentioned above. Maybe it’s because the total number of wars or armed conflicts the aforementioned countries have been involved in since World War II comes to zero. Nobody really wants to bomb Denmark. Now, that’s part of the price of living America. President Obama has made it abundantly clear that the US will continue its role as defender, promoter and champion of democracy. I would love nothing more than for Obama to stand in front of Congress and tell them we can’t get serious about paying for universal health care unless we cut the defense budget, which, depending on whom you listen to, makes up 50-67% of the budget. Imagine the howls of protest. So that won’t happen.

Health care reform is equal parts morality and finance. The thing about social democracies is that critics think they restrain growth. Things can’t bigger. And in America we love big. Big cars, big boobs, big guns, big houses, big boats. Big, big, big. And if things can’t get bigger then that limits the growth of banks, oil companies, security, companies, big box stores, utility companies, auto companies. They can’t get super-rich and if they can’t get super-rich that won’t let other people get rich through jobs and stock purchases. Because, of course, we know these super-rich companies will always, really, ALWAYS share their rewards with the common folk. Like maybe the execs will hire an extra housekeeper for the new house (number four) in Tahoe. Perhaps we haven’t learned our lessons yet from the failures of constant growth or paid enough of price? Look at your stock portfolio or the unemployment rate.

Obama should cite the even-keeled approach of some of those European countries. And reductively, the critics will tell Obama and his many supporters, to love or leave America, referring, again, to our exceptionalism. Let’s remember that the framers of the our 18th century constitution were heavily influenced by Western European thinkers. Jefferson, a name invoked only slightly less than Lincoln by Republicans, visited (heaven forbid!) France. So did Franklin. They liked what they saw. Now, it’s time to address 21st problems with 21st Century solutions. And it’s time to look to Europe again, and take steal some ideas from them and make them our own. Republicans will hate it, but too bad. You lost. We’ll combine our military prowess with healthcare for all. That would be exceptional.

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