Sunday, August 2, 2009

A Short History Lesson

posted by Armadillo Joe

Hey, Blog-O-Maniacs, Broadway Carl is away for a stretch, once again leaving it to yours truly to mind the store in his absence.
Tapping into the zeitgeist, I want to talk about health care, but more in a big picture kind of way. Because I think health-care reform is dying not merely from pressure on its throat from monied special interests -- though that is the predominant cause -- but from a structural flaw in what and who we are as Americans.
That flaw? Americans have never been able to be honest about who we are and how we got here. Ever. Whether looked at from the point of origin of the persecuted religious kooks who came here from 'Yurp seeking the freedom to practice some religious persecution of their own or from the point of origin of those greedy wild-catters who saw a continent rich in resources, ready to be raped and plundered for a quick buck back in Amsterdam or Paris or London, the American soul's twin strands of violent, brittle piety and soul-destroying avarice have always lain just under the surface -- sometimes locked in battle, sometimes allied against threats to them both, sometimes reinforcing each other in a spiraling feedback loop of mayhem and reckless cruelty.
To be clear, I am not claiming that this is all there is to who we are. Not at all. But unless and until we can acknowledge, widely and without flinching, that white people from Europe came to the Americas, killed (or allowed to die or celebrated the genocidal passing of) all the red-skinned natives and stole their land then imported black people from Africa (to say nothing of the exploitation of yellow and brown skinned peoples) to drive our burgeoning country's wealth-creation, wealth and comparative developmental advantages we still enjoy to this very day BTW, then we can't have an honest conversation about who we are. Not for us is the fearless acknowledgement of the depth of our past wrongs we see in post-apartheid South Africa or post-Nazi Germany. Our crimes are too much in the pre-moving image past, too shrouded in the mists of popular mythology to be immediate enough to escape the jingoistic cry of "revisionist!" one hears from those too convinced of their own fealty to the designs of the angels and to that of Jesus himself to allow him or herself to believe that their country has or could ever do or be anything but wholly, fully and completely righteous.
Such people love their country as a three-year old loves his mommy and daddy -- which is to say unquestioningly and utterly -- and they defend it against all comers with the same level of ferocity and self-examination as when that three-year-old throws a tantrum on the floor of the grocery store. The problem with such tantrums on a social and national level is that at least one side has guns and the wherewithal to use them. Couple that with a well-deserved and completely justified cultural inferiority/persecution complex (I'm whistling at you, Dixie) and you have an entire cultural component of this nation with the metaphorical body of an adult and mind of a child. George W. Bush was their annointed patron saint for a reason. He is their apotheosis.
But that's not all there is to it, is it? That's not all we are, not by a long shot.
Because we have such words and phrases as "Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness" and "We Hold These Truths To Be Self-Evident" and "Of the People, By the People, For the People" and we've been the country that put a man on the moon, defeated the Nazis and gave the world television, powered flight, s'mores, baseball and Billie Holiday. We also got filthy, stinking rich doing it, so are the scales even? I don't know. What do you think?
Thus, I reduce American history to the following and arrive at our lack of healthcare:
Around 1492 or so, a bunch of white guys got lost on the way to China and told the folks back home of the untold riches to be found in a new magical land far over the horizon. Being greedy for the gold and other resources they needed to run their respective war machines, the extended family of unelected monarchs who ran the whole continent of Europe used the new-found place:
  1. to steal whatever wasn't bolted down and cart it back across the Atlantic -- to this day, that's why the much-admired splendor of London or Paris or Amsterdam is the way it is, they built all that with American gold -- and
  2. to siphon off the undesirable portions of their population and dump them in a far-away place where they couldn't rabble-rouse and otherwise stink up the place with their curious customs and odd dietary habits practiced under the guise of "religion" and
  3. to extend their kingdoms in a never-ending game of one-ups-manship played against their cousins and uncles and nieces on the other thrones of Europe.
This system worked pretty well (unless you were red-skinned or black) for several hundred years, until one group of wealthy white men -- who had no particular loyalty to those who purportedly ruled them -- got the idea in their heads that they could run a country on their own much better than some fuddy-duddy old monarch all the way across an ocean. So they cooked up some fancy language to make their cause seem noble -- Americans have been good at marketing since before there was such a thing as Americans -- and in 1783 finally won a guerilla war against the most powerful military machine on planet earth.
Problem was, truly repressed people both within that shiny new country and also all over the world read those words and took them to heart and began fighting guerilla wars of their own over the next couple hundred years (from the First Republic of France to modern day Iraq, by way of Vietnam and the Boer War). But the white guys and the descendants of those white guys who had benefitted so mightily from the land freed up by the genocide of native americans and the wealth-generation of free labor from the enslavement of Africans and the theft and exploitation of the labor and property of brown and yellow-skinned peoples were loath to surrender their historical advantages. Afterall, they had not been guilty of the crimes that built their mansions, so why should they be punished now? So, instead of facing up to the truth of their condition and perhaps summoning a little humility in the face of the enormous historical injustices which had served to enhance their relative and race-based status, they spun mythologies and fantastical stories about "hard work" and "bootstraps" and "rugged individualism" to explain their success and they began to believe their own bullshit, that they had earned their exalted place, and by logical extension those who weren't there with them had also earned theirs -- destitution and squalor are what those people deserve -- just as the monarchs of old Europe fully, truly and utterly believed that God himself had delivered them onto the throne.
But those powerful, awe-inspiring words remain. And some people, including this author, truly believe them. They inspire us. We even fought an actual shooting war amongst ourselves to enforce the ideas behind those words and, occasionally since then, we have found a way to live up their promise, to the universality of their promise, for one and all. In 1932 and 1936 we did. In 1964 we did, big time. And every time we do, the echoes of the old ways always push back at us, often violently. Sometimes we resist the push-back and our progress holds firm. Other times, we crumple under the pressure and the ugly, ancient undercurrents in our national character erupt in screeching, poo-flinging triumph against all we have built. It is a pendulum, sure, swinging left to right, but I fear the center of gravity is not halfway in-between, but firmly on the right, on the side of complacency and apathy and surrender to the darker forces of history. To keep that pendulum moving to the left ever at all, to overcome the gravity, inertia and entropy of historical forces, requires an almost infinite amount of energy.
After 8 years of Bush and 30 years of Saint Ronnie of the Ray-Gun and 40 years in Nixonland, do we have the national will and the moral clarity to keep up the fight?
Because the people who have everything have never wanted to give anything to those who don't have anything and no matter how they got all the stuff they have, they think anyone who wants the same stuff should go out get it the same way they did: be born rich.
And that's why we won't get health-care reform.


Matt Osborne said...

I don't feel defeatist about this issue. In fact, I think the rumors of health care reform's demise have been greatly exaggerated by the media.

NowhereMan said...

The problem is that republicans and the health care industry and their republican benefactors keep spreading lies and using scare tactics(its going to kill old people)that go completely unchallenged by the MSM.
When they go on these shows or hold press conferences,the press should challenge them(despite what David Gregory thinks what his job isn't suppose to do).You claim this bill kills old people,show me exactly where does it say that.
The MSM sees the whole thing as a ratings ploy. to them its better to tell you what both sides are saying instead of telling you the lies and fraudulent claims by the health care defenders.Don't you think if 72% of the country want health care reform you should be exposing those who are spreading lies about how wonderful the system is now?
It reminds me of last years democratic primary when with six weeks to go,no matter how you crunched the numbers,Obama was going to get the win.Instead they kept telling you the race is getting tighter.They aren't telling you anything honest about the debate.They are far more interested in creating false controversies to keep the ratings going.Thats all they care about.Much to the detriment, aloofness,disrespect and genuine benign neglect to all of us.They don't really give a shit to them its all a game.

vyccan said...

It may be ostrich-like behavoiur in the face of all the Republican fervour, but I REFUSE to believe that Pres Obama AND the people who believed in change will not bring in a meaningful healthcare plan.

I think this AUGUST grassroot Americans should be getting in touch with their senators and stating their wants over and over. It's sad that the media are not doing their job in relation to genuine healthcare reporting, but they did no better during the campaing IMO, and the people still triumphed.

NowhereMan said...

The only way to secure victory for the public option is to have a march on Washington in September with the numbers equaling the million man march with those of us who have been the the system's worst victims telling their story at the mall.
Thats the only way you will get the MSM to pay attention.