THE BLOG

Life, Liberty and the Right to Be Sick

07/11/2009 05:12 am 05:12:01 | Updated May 25, 2011

From Book Babe Margo Hammond:

Here's a fresh, new voice weighing in on the debate over health care reform:

At present the United States has the unenviable distinction of being the only great industrial nation without universal health insurance. For a generation, the enlightened nations of Europe have one after another discussed the idea and followed discussion by adoption. It has constituted an important part of the policy and career of some of Europe's greatest statesmen, including Bismarck and Lloyd George.

Bismarck? Lloyd George? Oh, no, wait, Irving Fisher, president of the American Association for Labor Legislation, wrote those words in .... 1917! I found Fisher's "blog" calling for universal health care in Democracy in Print: The Best of The Progressive Magazine, 1909-2009, just out from the University of Wisconsin Press.

It's pretty sad (and a bit chilling) that there is nothing in Fisher's lament about the state of health care in the U.S. that couldn't have been posted today -- particularly the part about the tactics used by those who would block universal health insurance. Opponents offer the "specious plea" that granting universal health care is "an un-American interference with liberty," writes Fisher. Or as Greg Scandlen, the director of Consumers for Health Care Choices at The Heartland Institute, put it 90 years later (i.e. last month) in an article posted at Mansfield News-Journal.com entitled Forced health insurance would be un-American: "Americans are not required to buy food, clothing or shelter. Why must they buy health insurance?"

Yes, and why should everyone be required to get an education or receive police and fire protection either?

Too bad Fisher isn't around to go on Hardball and remind us that there once were those who thought compulsory education was also "un-American." The words he wrote nine decades ago, alas, are ready for prime time today: "According to the logic of those now shedding crocodile tears over health insurance, we ought, in order to remain truly American and truly free, to retain the precious liberties of our people to be illiterate, to suffer accidents without indemnification, as well as to be sick without indemnification."

Democracy in Print, the anthology that includes Fisher's piece, was put together to celebrate the 100th anniversary of The Progressive, a magazine founded by Robert "Fighting Bob" LaFollette and his suffragist wife, Belle Case LaFollette. As a native of Wisconsin and a one-time contributor to that magazine (back in my university salad days), I have always been proud that my state produced someone as independent as LaFollette. Last month, a conference was held in Madison, Wisconsin, to discuss "The Progressive Movement, Then and Now," drawing Robert Redford, Sen. Russ Feingold, Rep. Tammy Baldwin, Howard Zinn, Cindy Sheehan, Jim Hightower, Barbara Ehrenreich, Sen. George McGovern and others, reminding me that there are people who still believe it's possible for this country to catch up with Bismarck and Lloyd George.

But I'm afraid it will be that other political renegade produced by my state who will have the last laugh in the health care reform debate as the specter of "un-American" activities is raised once again to scare people into giving up their right to be liberated, as Fisher put it, from "crime, vice, ignorance, accidents, unemployment, invalidity, and disease."

True Americans apparently must preserve their right to be sick and dumb.