When intelligent discussions about politics ensue, the fundamental basis of the discussion is always a question of human nature: it all comes down to how we see the people we are not, “the others.” Conservatives bemoan the creation of a welfare state, and they worry about the old adage about the hungry man. If you keep giving the man a fish, he will never learn to care for himself independently and will forever be a beggar (of course, conservatives in this country don’t really care much about teaching the man how to fish either). Liberals tend to have a wider, more diffuse set of reasons for helping the hungry man, but for them, it is always a question of mercy: for whatever reason, whether self-serving or mutually beneficial or truly altruistic, that man needs the help we can provide.
At face value, the conservative argument seems more compelling and solid. It is simple and logical. Conservatives hate the idea of their tax dollars going to pay for the next box of cheap wine that the bum on the corner is hustling for. Unemployed. Homeless. Dependent. Worse still, perhaps, are the thousands of Americans who could work, but are instead “gaming” the system through “disability,” perpetual “self-inflicted” impoverishment, etc. (These words come straight from the mouths of 15-year-old, Polo-clad teenagers at my high school responding to the question “Would you pay more in taxes for this? Why or why not?” posed by a history teacher.)
However, this fundamental argument lacks an understanding of the impact of sickness, and it is weakly supported by the conveniently muddled “chicken and egg” structure of its argument. Which came first, the poverty or the welfare system? In other words, knowing that there are people who abuse the welfare system, would the same amount of poverty exist if there were no welfare system to perpetuate it? Would providing more welfare worsen the problem or help it? If the government pays for health care for poor people who get sick, would those poor people keep themselves suspended perpetually in poverty to keep reaping the system for benefits? The answer: it doesn’t matter if the chicken or the egg came first. The solution: eliminate one of them – in this case, eliminate the burden of disease on the impoverished, those who cannot afford private health insurance.
Unlike other burdens of poverty, sickness is pervasive: it affects the mind and its ability to concentrate on working hard and keeping things together, it affects the will to keep fighting for a better life it affects the body and its ability to handle the stresses of labor and discomfort, and more practically, it affects the number of days we work, the type of work we can do, and our performance each day and in trials for career advancement. If you don’t have your own home, you can still try staying with friends or relatives, share housing with roommates, or stay in public housing or shelters. If you don’t have a car, you can still ride public transportation (sometimes) or try to find work close to home. However, if you don’t have health – the basic ability for the body and mind to function normally in our society – then you are subject to the greatest disadvantage and means for disqualification from standard routes for financial stability, independence, and success.
If only our society can remove the inequity of health care disparities, then maybe we can finally come a great deal closer to achieving the equality of opportunity our forefathers sought to promote and protect (and take seriously the typical fallback conservative criticism that people aren’t working hard enough to help themselves).