Like many Asian-Americans, I have grown up with some curiosity about my ancestral culture, but I have primarily explored it academically: through the visual and literary arts and through history. I have no interest in ever returning to Asia for an extended stay: my parents struggled so hard and for so long to achieve political freedom here in the U.S., something most Americans take for granted, and it would unravel that great effort to naively return to a place lacking the freedom of thought, expression, and action afforded to U.S. citizens. Being an avid student of history as well as the sciences has given me a broader perspective on the political climate of the U.S.: having studied both the regrettable twentieth century political transformations in China and the development of police states in Nazi Germany and in the U.S.S.R. under Stalin, I find many of the policies introduced under the Bush regime, er, administration, alarming. I don’t see the U.S.’s political structure crumbling at any point soon, but I do find great error in the reasoning used by many conservatives, spurred on by Bush’s insolence and callousness. More specifically, I find it erroneous that many conservatives would argue against universal health care with claims that it is a violation of the freedoms we hold dear, such as the freedom to choose one’s actions.
First, we don’t have such an expansive freedom under the laws of this republic: we have many restrictions on our actions, despite the relative permissibility as compared to many other countries. It is against the law to do harm to ourselves (e.g. commit suicide) or others, and yet much harm can be done in neglecting one’s health or exposing others to health risks (e.g. smoking, drunk driving, etc.). I do not see it as overly paternalistic to ensure that all individuals in the U.S. are required to make an effort to improve or maintain an adequate level of health, at least to the level of making them employable and functional as members of society. The devil is in the details, though, and so one must find ways of doing this that are meaningful and as unobjectionable as possible, which unfortunately many politicians have failed to do thusfar.
Secondly, what I believe most conservatives are blind to is the notion of equality and its importance to the stability of our country. The U.S. thrives on the relatively distributed spectrum of economic wealth: there is actually a functioning middle class in the U.S. that ideally serves to moderate both the wealthy and poor classes. Although conservatives would love to paint liberals as wanting to turn the U.S. into a communist state, it is likely that conservative policies are more likely to send the U.S. down such a road, or at least a road toward a dictatorship: liberals tend to push for greater equality, while conservatives resist those measures in favor of freedom (and the retention of their own wealth and means). However, the more we drive a wedge between socioeconomic classes, the greater the risk of social unrest. Every communist revolution, and the Nazi revolution, were preceded by times of great socioeconomic disparity and discontent, not altogether unlike many of the sentiments expressed during this second term of the Bush administration. At this time, there is no “equal opportunity” guaranteed by our healthcare infrastructure, and so a push toward “equality” is necessary to bring more balance to the delivery of services.
In conclusion, America must protect both freedom and equality, not just freedom as conservatives would suggest. No state has achieved true equality, and the U.S. is far from achieving equality. Nonetheless, we have a strong history of changing ourselves without destroying ourselves completely in the fight for equality, and now is a good time to exercise that ability.