09/14/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Hey Wait, Socialism Is Here Already?

The country is currently immersed in a wide-ranging (let's call it healthy) discussion about health care. This overhaul of the for-profit system we use is alarmingly overdue so the debate is on in every city and town.

Without going into detail for days, some Democrats, including our leader, are trying to enact a plan that would revamp the entire industry. Part of it would mean Americans could essentially purchase low-cost insurance from the government. This is called the "public-insurance option." Whereas people can be turned down by private insurers for a myriad of preexisting conditions, a public option would be available as a service to all citizens, subject to the contours of the law Congress will one day pass.

Opponents of the White House plan are quick to break out the s-word: Ah, socialism. This is a funny label, considering that we use it almost exclusively as a pejorative term in the United States. Users trot out names like "Stalin" and "Chavez" in an effort to align their political opponents with these figures. You know -- "HUGO CHAVEZ IS ALSO FOR UNIVERSAL HEALTH CARE! BE SCARED!"

As usual, context is king. S-word users conveniently pay no attention to the fact (and are hoping we are to dumb to notice) that in America, all of the following things are provided by the government, yet for some reason are not decried as "socialist" initiatives:

  • Public schools. When our kids get to a certain age, we put them in schools. We have a choice -- free public schools or paid-for private schools. Government educates most of the children in this country. Public education is a right afforded to every citizen. If you want it, you can have it. Your taxes pay for it. Otherwise, you are free to enroll your children in any private school you wish to pay for.

  • Emergency services. When a fire or a robbery occurs or someone has a heart attack, who do we call? Our government. There isn't even a choice, unless there is some secret alternative to 911 for mega-rich people. (This brings to mind the scene in Marty Scorcese's strange, yet underrated, Gangs of New York, where competing private fire companies get into a fistfight with each other over which one will put out the fire, rather than simply putting out the fire.)
  • Mail service. Yes, the USPS is "socialist" too. You could, I guess, use FedEx or UPS but lots of businesses -- including all official government business -- gets transacted by the government's Postal Service. Waiting in line at the midtown Post Office is often a drag, but the civil servants behind the glass certainly aren't Stalinists.
  • Roads and medians and overpasses and all that stuff. Those interstate highways were put there by government money. Sure, you could probably find a way to get from coast to coast via private roads but it is much easier to hop on Interstate 10. Made by -- guess who? And finally:
  • The Military. Your protection from enemies foreign and domestic is provided by none other than United States of America.

Let's not debate the features and bugs of the public option. There are better (and plenty of) places for that, and such a robust discussion deserves more than an entry in a fabulous blog. It is worth noting, though, that public options available in foreign wildernesses like Canada and England and South Africa (just now) are at least passable, if not successful and efficient.

I want all parties on both sides of "the aisle" to take a deep breath and think: A public option is not socialist. It isn't rooted in evil. It isn't even anti-capitalist. It is public.

Yeah, I get the fight is too lucrative for the big insurance companies to lose so dirty tricks will abound. But for once in the new America could our politicians have an honest debate without fear-mongering to score political points? I know hyperbole is the order of the day every day in DC, but I beseech you, Men and Women of Congress, to give it a rest. Name calling isn't helping 50 million uninsured brothers and sisters.

One thought: Dial it down for the good of the public or expect the fight of your lives, Representatives.

[For more chatter on the good trends, see blog