Not Robin Hood. Not Lionhearted. Just Wise.

“If you believe that it is absolutely moral to take my money and give it to someone else based on their supposed needs, then you come and take this $20 and use it as a down payment on this health care plan.” — Keli Carender.

I don’t think she could possibly mean this.  Keli Carender is lately acknowledged as an originator of the Tea Party movement.  I imagine her standing there with her $20 bill, and then I imagine a sick child who needs a $20 antibiotic prescription to live, and it seems clear to me that taking $20 from her to save someone’s life is exactly the right thing to do.  Not law-abiding, but moral.  As for the “supposed” needs of the American people for health care, I’m not sure if she is the only person alive who thinks our health care system is working fine, or she thinks people are giving themselves leukemia as a prank, or what.

In all seriousness, my argument for government intervention in health care is never about morality.  I think it is a moral issue.  But who cares what I think?  My real argument is that it directly and powerfully improves your life when your neighbors’ lives are improved.

If you have been to a developing country, let’s say Mexico because that’s the one I’ve been to, you see what happens when wealth is distributed unevenly.  People with money have to live behind barbed wire and hire bodyguards.  Whole sections of your city are built out of cardboard boxes.  Doesn’t that sound ugly and scary, all morality aside?  These are the kinds of problems that result from uneven distribution of wealth and people going without things they need, like health care.  This isn’t to say that Mexico hasn’t got other problems (God bless them they got some gorgeous stuff too), or that a lack of health care will turn us into a third-world country.  But it is holding us back, big time, keeping us from competing with countries that have populations healthier and more secure than ours.  If you want to live in a more prosperous, safe country, you gotta share.

Carender, and other people on the right, often seem to be implying that some Americans are leeches: taking her money when they’re not the ones who worked for it. I don’t think it’s those so-called “welfare moms” or these mythical poor and lazy folks who are the leeches.  I’ve known a lot more poor people who are busting their asses to keep their families together.

I think the leeches are the people who benefit from the military fighting in the Middle East to ensure your supply of oil, the NIH studying flu viruses and developing vaccines, OSHA keeping their workplace safe, and the Department of Labor limiting their work hours to a manageable level.  The people who drive over federally funded bridges and interstates and accept federal student grants, and then claim the federal government is unresponsive and worthless, and say they don’t want to contribute to it, in fact, say they want to take it apart and return us to some kind of backward Articles of Confederation when we agreed in 1789 that that was a dumb idea.

If you are a part of our society, what we do is take care of our own.  We don’t give people an ethics test before we allow them to get Medicaid.  We don’t sell cheap gasoline to people who have worked hard enough to earn it.  We share resources, we share the bounty, and we share expenses.  That’s what it means to live in a society, rather than on a desert island.

We try to equalize opportunity in the United States not to be nice, or moral.  We do it because we know that the world is capricious. The next great researcher or business genius or musician could be born anywhere, in any neighborhood.  Without offering everyone good schools and good health care, we might lose that kid before s/he grows up.  The cure for cancer gets shot in a drive-by.  The next Warren Buffett lets his cancer spread before he can really get going because he doesn’t have health insurance.  He’s an entrepreneur, after all.  This is why we give them your $20.  Just in case.  Just in case.  You don’t want to miss one of those people.  That’s what we can’t afford.

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