"About 80 percent of Americans are happy with their health insurance," I said to my Swedish wife over coffee, the baby squealing with glee as his sister danced around him. "So, you see, it can be a hard sell to actually create change."
I was proud. This was it, the reasonable explanation for Americans' completely unreasonable failure to fight for health care reform. People say they like the President. They say they want health care reform. They even say they support the public option. But they seem willing to let the wacko minority scare them with paranoid brooding and crazy talk.
Maybe this is a weakness of the internet passion that got Obama elected - it ran wide but not deep. Now no one will follow him into a tough spot.
But this explanation was better. Surely my wife would understand that such a great majority would have trouble sacrificing for a minority (20 percent of the US population is what, only 60 million people? Just the population of Italy ... no biggie.)
She stared at me.
"So that 20 percent includes all the people uninsured?"
"Probably. Who would be happy being uninsured?"
She turned back to cracking her hard-boiled egg. Not another word.
Here in Sweden, forsaking your neighbor is the unforgivable sin. Even if you let the state do the caring, even if you never smile at them, you do not forsake them. It is part of a wider northern European sense of consensus and community, one that leads to the world's leading welfare states, where no child would ever be left without medical care.
This is clearly not the case in the good old U S of A, according to The Gaggle over at Newsweek:
But, as pollster Bill McInturff, who along with Peter Hart conducted the most recent NBC/ Wall Street Journal poll, told reporters in a round table discussion last week, most Americans are convinced that covering the uninsured will require some sort of sacrifice on their behalf, and most people simply aren't prepared to give up anything to ensure that everyone has access.
A couple weeks ago, I read a Swedish newspaper story about a town hall meeting. It ended with a guy turning to a woman and asking, "Why should I pay taxes for your daughter?" Standard stuff at your local Little League field, I am sure. Taxes bad. We are becoming Russia. Blah, blah, blah.
I can't wait to see these people turn down socialized Medicaid when they hit 65. Somehow, I think they will swallow their pride and take my tax dollars.
But here is my answer to that tax question.
You pay taxes because communities, and on a larger level, societies, benefit when they care for their members basic needs. It is why we have socialized schools and socialized national defense and socialized pensions.
And America is as much about community as any think tank-produced creed of craven capitalist individualism. Pick an era, any era. You got the Pilgrims and the Continental Army huddled together to endure hard winters. You got settlers (or invaders, if you like) bound together on wagon trains through deserts and attacks.
The American tradition of community is about the government lending a helping hand in the Depression and the nation sacrificing almost everything in the depths of World War II. It is about the spirit of the 1960s, maybe America's greatest moment of communal expression, if not action. Just because the baby boomers lost their momentum and nerve does not taint that spirit.
We do better when we take care of our brother. It is both a practical and moral imperative, not to mention an economic one.
Obama is clearly not a street fighter, at least on this topic, or he is playing too subtle a game for me to understand. I hope he comes out with unexpected clarity and strength in his address to Congress.
He needs to fire up the crowd. For there are monied special interests spreading lies, and more people believe them every day, and the people who are supposed to fight for health care reform (yes, I mean you) are just standing by.
If you are an Obama supporter, you have to do more than agree that Obama is groovy and feel good about your vote. You need to step up and insist on this reform. You need to convince your neighbor, argue with the guy at the Little League field.
We cannot leave our fellow citizens behind. We can never forget that America is built on a community coming together to grant its members freedom, on a nation of immigrants coming together to provide a foundation for liberty.
But you cannot have the liberty without the foundation, and the foundation will not hold unless we reform our health care mess.