Friday, February 26, 2010

This started out as a post about the health care summit

Democracy Now! has this fascinating analysis of yesterday's healthcare summit. Amy Goodman interviews Trudy Lieberman of the Columbia Journalism Review and pediatrician Dr. Margaret Flowers of Physicians for a National Health Program. PHNP advocates for a single-payer system. Despite PHNP's requests to be included in that discussion, no advocate for single-payer was included in the summit. (Rep. Dennis Kucinich would have been a logical choice.) Dr. Flowers talks about the role of powerful campaign contributors in keeping single-payer off the table. Trudy Lieberman says that since its founding, the United States has been deeply divided on the proper role of the federal government. (A link to video of the entire summit is here.)

Lieberman's comments on this topic were particularly interesting to me. My own reading in American history tell me that she's right. I've been pondering the irony that the forces that advocate "individual freedom" and "small government" have often been the same voices that advocate the freedom of rich white men to dominate everyone else. During the Civil War, for instance, the South broke away in order to preserve the property rights of slaveholders against the supposed tyranny of the federal government.

It seems to me that even in the 21st century, the US keeps re-fighting the Civil War, with the so-called red states representing a slightly reconfigured Confederacy. In the 19th century, we had slaveholders. Today we have giant corporations that battle to keep the federal government from interfering with their property rights. These corporations portray the federal government as a tyrant that would interfere with our individual freedom to choose our own healthcare options. They cover up  their own control over our lives. They manipulate us with rhetoric about "individual freedom."

I find myself terrifically ambivalent about the role of government. In the imperfect world we have now, it seems to me that the government has the potential to act as a countervailing power to large and oppressive private interests. My anarchist friends would remind me that the government is often the wholly owned subsidiary of corporate interests. This internal debate has been at the center of my political life -- how to work toward a radically transformed, egalitarian world, while not being frozen by some idea of revolutionary purity into opposing programs that help real people right now.

I don't know if I'll ever have a solution to this dilemma. We humans are such contradictory creatures. We can never be truly independent. We are born naked and helpless, and we rely on each other for survival throughout our entire lives. Yet we aren't sheep. We have these stubborn, creative individual selves. I think radical lesbian philosopher Sarah Hoagland has the best take on the topic, with a concept that she calls "autokeonony." But that is a topic for another time.

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