Eunice Kennedy Shriver was buried yesterday. Not to be morbid, but she'll likely be followed in the not too distant future by her two surviving siblings. When Brother Teddy and Sister Jean go, a remarkable arc in American history will be have come to an end.
For the purposes of this blog, it begins with one symbol of America, John F. Kennedy. A man who famously declaimed, "And so, my fellow Americans: ask not what your country can do for you - ask what you can do for your country..." It was rhetoric to be sure, but moving nonetheless. In 2009, however, such sentiments would get you heckled. Americans are no longer interested in making any sacrifices; reform is treated not as a noble betterment to the collective good but as a threat to "our way of life."
Nothing symbolizes this better than the inevitable demise of Ted Kennedy. He has been a tireless champion of better healthcare for all, but his own failing health has robbed the Senate of a powerful organizing nucleus for orderly debate. He may not always have been a paragon of perfect virtue, but the Senator has spoken with a gravitas and conviction that Max Baucus cannot quite duplicate in his stead. The absence of such voices leaves us with the sort of anarchy that leads to frivolous and fallacious discussions of death panels and similar nonsense.
So with the de facto passing of the Kennedys, we have truly reached an end. What comes next, it seems, is an age in which the operative question has changed. Today, it is: what can America do for me? This, by the way, is not the "me" voice of the Generation X but rather the the "mine" of the Baby Boomers. That's why I don't think that this is really a debate about healthcare at all; its more like a desperate last stand in support of a a status quo that gave us big cars, big houses and big credit. Unfortunately, it's just not realistic to carry in this spirit.
Sacrifice may not be a popular sentiment, but opposing the necessity for change will not relieve the requirements for broad reforms in many aspects of our lives. We already spend twice as much on health care as healthier countries and the excess is killing our economy. So even those who don't support reform out of a sense of civic obligation should realize that one way or another change is coming. Better to do it now, in an orderly fashion, then in the midst of even bigger crisis later.