Push for a government we can be proud of

There are some statements in Hugh Prestwood’s April 22 Guest Spot I wish to disagree with. The most serious of these is his implication that health care should be a privilege and not a right in our great country. The United States has become a beacon to the rest of the world in no small part because we hold life to be an inalienable right, along with liberty and the pursuit of happiness — at least according to our Declaration of Independence. How can life be an inalienable right if the health care needed to maintain it is denied? I don’t think a society can call itself civilized if it allows sick and injured citizens, even children, to die for lack of money.

Under our present system of health care, thousands of Americans die prematurely each year for lack of health insurance while thousands more hard-working families are bankrupted by medical costs. The Republicans ignored this situation while they were in power, offered little but talk about death panels to the current debate and now complain bitterly that the Democrats did not seek their input during passage of the bill. What took them so long to even recognize there was something that needed fixing? The Democrats’ bill may be far from perfect, but at least they saw the problem and tried to remedy it. And as for the bill lacking bipartisan support, Republican lawmakers are on record as stating that their party members should oppose all initiatives of the Obama administration. Some have even gone so far as to vote against a bill that they themselves had sponsored once it came out that the president supported that legislation. I am surprised they didn’t rage against the presidential pardoning of this past Thanksgiving’s White House turkey.

Mr. Prestwood implies that passage of the health care bill will lead to demands for free housing, free food and guaranteed jobs. This is an argument frequently used by the right. If those pesky liberals get their foot in the door there is no telling what they will be able to do next. But being against health-care reform because it might somehow lead to the adoption of unpopular, but unrelated, measures is like opposing the 55 mph speed limit because, who knows, they might make it 25 someday. I don’t know of any politicians or groups claiming a citizen’s right to free food or a guaranteed job, but even if there were, do you think such ridiculous ideas could ever become the law of the land?

Predictions of dire consequences resulting from the passage of progressive legislation is nothing new. In an ad for the American Medical Association in 1961, future president Ronald Reagan said, “One of these days, you and I are going to spend our sunset years telling our children, and our children’s children, what it once was like in America when men were free.” This was in opposition to the implementation of Medicare, a program that has turned out to be one of the most popular among our citizens and has, as far as I can see, not led to the loss of our freedoms as we know them.

As for “waste, fraud, and inefficiency” being “typical” in government-run programs, the truth is somewhat more nuanced. The Council for Affordable Health Care describes itself as “a research and advocacy association of insurers, small businesses, nonprofit associations, actuaries and individuals.” The council states on its website that “administrative costs are lower under Medicare than for private health insurers.” Perhaps this is because Medicare does not need to make a profit or pay executives exorbitant amounts of money. The independent American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI) has found that American veterans are happier than most Americans with the health care they receive from the Veterans Administration. I am sure almost everyone has heard that some workers at the Securities and Exchange Commission were found to be searching for porn on their office computers when they should have been trying to nail Bernie Madoff and a host of other villains. But many are unaware that this past weekend a number of banks in Illinois were quietly closed and dissolved by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation. Its “bureaucrats” have been handling such bank failures with such efficiency and professionalism that the banks’ customers are sometimes hardly aware of the takeovers. Failures that would have led to panic in the past hardly deserve mention on the evening news these days. And this is accomplished with little or no cost to the taxpayer.

While Mr. Prestwood may have a legitimate complaint about the portrayal of Tea Party loyalists in the cartoon he alludes to, is he not doing the same thing in regard to government workers? Yes, there are some bloated agencies out there and there is fraud at every level of government. But by portraying our federal government as the enemy of the people we do a disservice to the thousands of government workers who toil every day to maintain our health and safety. We do not necessarily need smaller government. The Katrina aftermath, the shameful condition of our interstate highway system and Wall Street’s unregulated excesses of recent years have given us a glimpse of what small government looks like. We do, however, need a more efficient, a more responsive government. One that is not beholden to special interests. One that protects our well-being while at the same time honoring our hard-won freedoms. One that, simply put, makes us proud. Such a government will not be attainable, however, if parties on all sides continue to demonize those with whom they disagree. We all need to take a break from the Keith Olbermanns and Glenn Becks of the world and start a civilized debate of the issues.

Who knows the words to “Kumbaya”?

John Neely is a retired Riverhead School District teacher and freelance photographer. He lives in Westhampton Beach.