The President's image purveyors were quick to remind us yesterday that he spent a very long day bouncing between endless White House meetings. His Chief Executive concentration was constantly switched back and forth from the huge obstacles still confronting a final push for health care legislation and, of course, the unimaginable disaster in Haiti.
Surely, as he shuffled from one room to the other, he could not ignore the context, the relative magnitude of each. Maybe we should all take a moment to think about that.
It's worth comparing the miseries of health care and the other economic inequities in the United States to a catastrophe in a nearby country where thousands upon thousands have died, where maybe millions walk around desperately missing the miseries that are part of their everyday existence. At least their struggles were part of a routine that has literally been crushed and swallowed up by uncontrollable forces.
Decent health care? Few Haitians had it in normal circumstances. They died from diarrhea and other scourges we don't even think about here. Now, what little treatment and sanitation infrastructure there was, is obliterated. The injured, the weakened, can only be left to die in the streets by dazed passersby who are helpless.
As terrible as the lives of so many medically deprived are left by the unequally distributed system is here and as truly important as it is to make the first paltry improvements, none of that compares to the unspeakable desperation and deprivation in Port-Au-Prince.
Perhaps it occurred to others that Washington provided another context on Tuesday. How lucky the major bankers were. The first hearings, where they had the audacity to defend their gross compensation and minimize their colossal business mistakes, got little of the scornful attention they deserved.
The debate about their calculated greed and the millions of victims it caused in this country was almost completely overshadowed by those uncontrollable forces of nature that have laid waste to the impoverished victims in Haiti. Those who did notice could be forgiven for fantasizing about taking away the massive riches of the undeserving, and immediately transferring them to the relief efforts.
Still more context: it is entirely appropriate that the U.S. leads a worldwide rescue. We need go back less than a century to remember the brutal occupation of the country by American Marines, leaving a ravaged country that never recovered.
Actually many nations, most notably the French, have shared in the exploitation, beginning as far back as 1492. Even without that sad history, all nations owe our fellow human beings whatever resources it will take to help Haitians start to recover the tatters left after such a calamity.
Health care reform here? Absolutely. Better protection from economic grand larceny? You bet. But let us not forget, not how lucky we are, but how unlucky millions in Haiti and the immediate imperative to do whatever it takes there, where what there was of meager health care and the fundamental necessities and the hope for a better life have all been obliterated.
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