Thursday, February 23, 2012

You’re On Your Own, Cratchit!

As it is for most children from families who celebrate the holiday, Christmas was a special time of year for me: the colored lights, the presents, the carols, time off from school… all the things that one remembers fondly when looking back on that magical time in a child’s life. But the thing that stands out for me the most is how I felt watching Scrooge wake up on Christmas morning realizing it’s not too late to make up for years of greed and selfishness. To this day, it doesn’t matter whether I’m remembering the sound of my mother’s voice as she read the story straight from the Dickens edition of the Harvard Classics, or I’m watching the masterful Barrymore performance, or George C. Scott’s, Patrick Stewart’s, or even Mr. McGoo’s, once Scrooge realizes what a jerk he has been, and vows to redeem himself, I well up.

Looking back on the 50 plus years of my life, I can honestly say that this one story had more to do with setting my moral compass than all the Sunday school classes and bible studies I was subjected to as a child. More than any other person aside from my parents, Dickens instilled in me the foundational ethos that would later accommodate the Liberal philosophy that informs my perspective today. He taught me that there is more to life than material gain. That for many, while the main dish at the Christmas feast might not be a prized turkey, the love of one’s family and the support it provides is a fine garnish, and also that all too often, it’s just not enough. And, it taught me that while there are men like Ebenezer Scrooge on the day before Christmas, there are others, equally successful who realize that, “there but for the grace of God go I,” and find it in their hearts to “make some slight provision for the Poor and destitute,” and to always remember that “[m]any thousands are in want of common necessaries; hundreds of thousands are in want of common comforts” (Dickens 5).

Reading any major American newspaper today would probably be an all-to-familiar experience for Charles Dickens. The disparity between the rich and poor, the unemployment rate, jobs being shipped overseas, numbers of families being forced out of their homes… while the names of the places, politicians and political parties have changes, the stories would surely have a familiar ring. What would he have thought had he turned on the news on March 17, 2010 and saw a crowd of Tea Partiers belittling a Parkinson’s patient who held a sign in support of the Obama Administration’s healthcare proposal?

I was repulsed. “If you’re looking for a hand out, you’re in the wrong end of town.” An overweight, middle-aged man in a ball cap and sunglasses shouted as he loomed over the silent protester who sat cross-legged on the ground in front of him. “Nothing for free over here; you have to work for everything you get.” Another, younger man in a white shirt, tie and Dockers joined in. “No, no. I’ll pay for this guy.” He shoved a bill at the protester. “Here you go, start a pot. I’ll pay for ya.” He threw the money in the protester’s face and stomped back into the crowd. Other’s chanted, “Kill the bill!” and held signs accusing President Obama and his supporters of being Communists (The Political Carnival).
Much to my disappointment and to the disappointment of other American leftists and socialists, the Affordable Care Act of 2010 falls way short of providing the sort of universal coverage associated with socialized medicine. Many of us felt like he sold us out by taking a single-payer option off the table before negotiations even started. And when the “public option,” a compromise that would have provided a publicly funded, government-managed alternative for those who could not afford a commercial plan met with fierce Republican resistance, it too was scrapped without much of a fight. Meanwhile, the right wing filled the 24-hour cable news outlets with hyperbolic claims of government overreach. They propagated a misinformation campaign complete with stories of fictitious death panels, the prediction of financial hardship for small business and thus a further loss in jobs, increases to the already ballooning national debt, and the threat of restricting a patient’s ability to choose his or her own doctor.

The irony of these false claims is that they can actually be applied to our current healthcare system, which under the direction of for-profit insurance companies forces doctors to ask permission before providing many proven life-saving treatments. In this scenario, employees of the insurance providers, who understand that it is more profitable to deny coverage make the decisions on who gets approved for treatment and who doesn’t. The Affordable Care Act in contrast, transfers that responsibility to an impartial “panel of experts [who] limit government reimbursement to only those treatments shown to be effective” (, rather than simply those that have a lesser impact on the company’s bottom line. And as for the Government restricting a patient’s choice of doctor, it happens in the current system, in which only participating doctors are reimbursed by the insurance company, and often, a referral from the primary care physician is required before a patient can seek the services of a specialist. Regarding the economic impact of the plan, the non-partisan government accounting office claims that the approximately $938 billion dollar investment over ten years will actually reduce the federal deficit by $138 billion over the same period of time (

What the Affordable Care Act actually does, according to is prohibit the insurance companies from dropping someone from a plan when they get sick; it stops discrimination against children with pre-existing conditions, allows young adults to stay on their parents’ plan until their 26th birthday, and as of September, 2010, mandates that insurance companies provide preventive care, including “mammograms, colonoscopies, immunizations, pre-natal and new baby care” to their customers with no deductible or co-pay. It guarantees “the right to appeal insurance company decisions to an independent third party,” and the choice of doctor “within the plan’s network of doctors, including OB-GYNs and pediatricians, without a referral, as well as out-of-network emergency care.” And in 2014, as part of the Affordable Care Act, “a new competitive insurance marketplace will be established. The new marketplace will include state-run health insurance exchanges where millions of Americans and small businesses will be able to purchase affordable coverage, and have the same choices of insurance as Members of Congress.”

What is interesting is that nowhere in this legislation does it state that anyone will be getting anything for free. Even in 2014 when the new marketplace is established, everyone will be expected to pay something for coverage. In the case of those below the poverty line, tax credits will compensate for their contributions. So with respect to that concern, the Tea Partier who told the Parkinson’s patient “there is nothing free over here” can rest assured there is no “hand out”.

What makes this possible is a federal mandate that requires all US citizens to have health insurance. As with any insurance model, the larger the pool, the less expensive the premiums can be for all those participating, and the less impact the payouts will have on the pool of funds. It is this caveat that seems to be the major sticking point for the Tea Party and its Republican sponsors. These people are apparently willing to potentially pay more for their own plan through their employer, and run the risk of losing their coverage altogether if they become unemployed, or to choose not to participate at all, rather than to contribute to the commonwealth, which might mean that some stranger may benefit.

I have observed over the past 30 years or so a growing aversion in the US to the concept of the commonwealth. In his Second Treatise on Government, Locke observes, “civil government is the proper remedy for the inconveniencies of the state of nature” (Sect. 13). Certainly, universal healthcare, as enabled by civil government is part of that remedy. But for years, the Right Wing has created a caricature of the federal government as a bloated, wasteful fool, driving home the message that it can’t be trusted with our money. In response to bringing the federal deficit under control, which forces the government to pay billions annually on interest alone ( instead of spending money on vital services, this faction maintains it can be accomplished by cutting waste, and further reducing taxes, which theoretically will, they say increase revenues.

History, however shows this just isn’t the case. Kevin Willianson, a National Review Online columnist (hardly a Leftist publication) writes that this claim by the Republican leadership “is not true…that income-tax rate cuts [don’t] pay $1.30 on the dollar, and that revenue has [not] risen mostly because of (rather than despite) tax cuts — and Republicans should stop claiming otherwise.” Being able to blame one’s aversion to paying their share in taxes on waste is one thing, but in the case of the Tea Partiers who harassed the Parkinson’s patient, I think it is pretty clear that they were not worried that their tax dollars wouldn’t find their way to this unfortunate citizen at their feet. It was a simple matter of greed and a lack of compassion.

To the Tea Party, the Parkinson’s patient was the “Other,” and these “Others,” can easily be dehumanized and reduced to stereotypes and caricatures. Bell hooks writes, “stereotypes abound where there is distance. They are an invention, a pretense that one knows when the steps that would make real knowing possible cannot be taken— are not allowed” (341) or simply will not be taken. The Tea Partiers feel that the welfare of this person or anyone else outside of their small circle is simply not their business.  But as Jacob Marley so eloquently stated, “Mankind was my business. The common welfare was my business; charity, mercy, forbearance, and benevolence, were, all, my business” (Dickens 14).

The national infant mortality rate may be one of the better indicators of the effectiveness of the concept of commonwealth. For while other factors of Locke’s “state of nature” can influence the collective health of a nation, how its civil government responds to those factors directly impacts that rate. The CIA estimates, according to its World Fact Book, that the United States ranks 174 out of 222 countries in 2012 — 8 behind Canada, and Cuba, and 16 behind the European Union, all of which have some form of universal coverage supported by their respective commonwealths. But perhaps in the United States, infant mortality is of no concern. Here, maybe it is acceptable that approximately 6 out of every thousand infants die each year “and decrease the surplus population"
(Dickens 42).

I have a hard time believing that anyone who grew up reading or watching Dicken’s Christmas Carol each year as the holiday season came upon them could align themselves with the sort of insensitivity and callousness that the Tea Party exhibits. The hundreds and thousands of modern day Bob Cratchits and their families aren’t idol, and they aren’t looking for a hand out. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, “in 2009, 5.2 million families were living below the poverty level, despite having at least one member in the labor force for half the year or more” ("Profile of the Working Poor, 2009" 3).
Over the four years ago, the United States found itself in an economic downturn of Dickensian proportion, the effects of which have had the greatest impact on those least able to survive it. The gap between the wealthiest and poorest is greater than it has been at any time since the 1920s (Leonhardt), and many who would prefer otherwise, have no other option than to rely on the social safety net to get by.
From the foldings of its robe, it brought two children; wretched, abject, frightful, hideous, miserable. They knelt down at its feet, and clung upon the outside of its garment… ‘Spirit! are they yours?’ Scrooge could say no more. ‘They are Man’s,’ said the Spirit, looking down upon them. ‘And they cling to me, appealing from their fathers. This boy is Ignorance. This girl is Want. Beware them both, and all of their degree, but most of all beware this boy, for on his brow I see that written which is Doom, unless the writing be erased. Deny it!’ cried the Spirit, stretching out its hand towards the city. ‘Slander those who tell it ye! Admit it for your factious purposes, and make it worse. And bide the end!’
(Dickens 50).
This is not the time when Americans should abandon the social contract and return to Locke’s “state of nature.” The spirit (or specter) of Tiny Tim is all around us in the form of thousands of human beings in need. We can argue about optimal strategies to hasten recovery and ensure long-term stability, but in the meantime, the Cratchits of the world suffer. We cannot fulfill the assumption of American Exceptionalism unless we can treat the least among us with dignity and respect and allow them to share in the abundance and opportunity that is still the United States of America.

Works Cited

"Country Comparrison: Infant Mortality Rate." The World Fact Book. Central Intellegence Agency, n.d. Web. 20 Feb 2012. <>.

Chenoweth, Doral, narr. "Healthcare Battle." Columbus Dispatch, 16 MAR 2010. web. 20 Feb 2012. < Link&utm_campaign=Political Carnival&utm_term=Blog&utm_content=Politics, Humor>.

Dickens, Charles (2004-08-11). A Christmas Carol (p. 5). Public Domain Books. Kindle Edition.

Greenblat, Alan. "The Federal Debt: How to Lose a Trillion Dollars." NPR. National Public Radio, 30 APR 2010. Web. 20 Feb 2012. <>.

"Health Care Reform." New York Times. 08 Feb 2012: n. page. Web. 20 Feb. 2012. <>.

"Health Reform in Action." N.p., n.d. Web. 20 Feb 2012. <>.

Hooks, bell. “Representing Whiteness in the Black Imagination”. In Grossberg, Nelson & Treichler (Eds.), Cultural Studies (1992):  338-346.

Leonhardt, David. "Income Inequality." New York Times. 18 JAN 2011: n. page. Web. 23 Feb. 2012. <>.

Locke, John. Second Treatise of Government (Kindle Location 171).

United States. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Profile of the Working Poor, 2009. Washington, DC:
Department of Labor, 2009. Web. <>.

Willianson, Kevin. "A Credibility Deficit." National Review Online. 21 APR 2011: n. page. Web. 20 Feb. 2012.

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