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Stephen Gyllenhaal

Stephen Gyllenhaal

Posted: August 31, 2009 09:39 PM

Ted Kennedy and Health Care


I've gotten my wires crossed around the passing of Ted Kennedy and health care, and the dialogue between the parties and in the media hasn't helped me any. I'm going to try to unbundle my thinking here, if I can.

The first question I have to ask myself is do I really want to be healthy or would I rather just argue and have that delicious feeling of victimization. I mean why haven't I gone really ballistic about wanting what my leaders (mostly guys, mostly white) have in D.C. -- single payer health care provided to Congress, the White House, the judicial system, the state houses, the governors -- all the leaders.

Take Ted Kennedy, for example, as he struggled with cancer. He had single payer health care provided for by the government, while many (maybe a majority of) Americans have appeared to be angry at the prospect of their having it too, or of having it delivered to their elderly loved ones, suffering in much the same way as Kennedy. Do we feel that we don't deserve it? Are we giving it to our leaders (after all we're paying for it with our tax dollars) with some deep hope that in their gratitude they'll maybe treat us a little bit better? If so, then why doesn't it follow that we would want what they have?

Maybe it's because, for instance with Ted Kennedy, we feel inferior to them. I have to admit I felt more than a bit inferior hearing about all the friends he had, all the papers and books he wrote, all the bills he passed and then, of course, the fact that he was a Kennedy, his hair ruffled by the winds of Hyannis. In some deep sense, I have to admit it -- I just don't feel quite as good as him.

But then I can't help circling Mary Jo Kopechne's death, how he abandoned her, how he panicked as the car sank and then tried to lie, how the forces around him (who had seen their chance of once again returning to the White House under another Kennedy) struggled to spin the story, twist the mess that he'd made and keep him running for the Oval Office. It didn't work, of course, which was perhaps a blessing for Mister Kennedy because he seemed to become a far more serious politician after that, even as he slowly bloated himself -- perhaps, from the guilt and pain. Ironically, maybe those events so many years earlier finished him, since he died so shortly after the fortieth anniversary of Mary Jo's death. In short, despite all the spin, the myth, the money, the power and the glory, poor Ted Kennedy was just another one of us, a human being doing the best he could, like a plumber, or a carpenter or a secretary or Mary Jo's parents or all of us who are trying to survive, trying to live, blossom and grow as best we can.

Which again brings me back to why doesn't each and every one of us want (and feel we deserve) what he had: single payer health care? And it's not socialism or communism if we the people want it. That's the point of democracy. If enough of us want it, then we can get it and then we should call it Health Care for a Democracy, not socialism or communism or even liberalism, all of which seem more about what the leaders think the people want, not actually what the people do want.

So do I really want equality in my democracy? Do I want to have what my leaders have, or am I just too battered by the corporations and the parade of politicians, experts and shills to know what's good for me? Am I okay with remaining a victim? Am I okay with believing that my leaders are better than me, am I okay with remaining unhealthy along with my fellow citizens? Because if I am then, as is correct in a democracy, that's what I'll get.

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