Sunday, March 21, 2010

Watching US Politics and the Health Care Vote from Canada

This afternoon, our American neighbours to the south have the final vote in  the House of Representatives for the Health Care legislation that President Obama and the Democratic majority have been working so hard to enact.  I hope it passes.  At the time of writing, this blog, it looked like it might but the bill is far from in the bag and of course anything could happen before the vote is taken.

I think I can speak for most Canadians, when I say we have a hard time understanding the great fuss being made in the States about the Health Care Bill.  I must admit that I am shaking my head when I read news originating from the States relating to the bill, and particularly regarding the animosity  between the Republicans and the Democrats on this issue.  My read of this mornings news of House of Representatives law makers being spat upon and called names which I was ashamed to use in the 1960s has me shaking my head.

I was surprised to read that California, the most liberal state (in my mind) is not a shoe-in with its support of the bill.   Apparently,  55% of Californians support the President's health care bill.  45% do not. Given that they are the acknowledged leader in safety standards and the like and are thought of as quite liberal in thinking I find it odd that there isn't greater support even in that state. Isn't health care the epitome of a safety standard?

In Canada, we have been hearing the vehement rhetoric regarding this legislation (and other things which were central to Obama's election platform) for more than a year. This bill would extend health care coverage to approximately 32 million Americans who have none. It would also prohibit insurers from denying coverage because of pre-existing medical conditions and cut federal deficits by an estimated $138 billion over 10 years.  As a health care framework it isn't even half of the health care safety net we enjoy in Canada.  It is a baby step toward the universal health care we take for granted here. Excuse my lack of understanding, but it seems to me, as a Canadian, this seems to be a no brainer.  I hope it passes.  We send aid to other continents to provide health care in developing nations - aid that the developed nation's poor cannot afford to pay for either. This makes no sense to me.

What I have found to be even more curious is the nasty politics going on.  My son, who recently returned from living in Arizona for several years has commented to us that he saw that politicas play a larger role in folks lives in the States than they do generally, here in Canada.  People there are more defined by the party that they belong to and a person's politics over ride sensibilities which might otherwise apply.   He and I have had more than a couple discussions on the topic as he has tried to explain the attitude that prevails in the States regarding politics.  Particularly since my parents spend nearly 6 months of every year in Florida and have adopted much of the American Republican viewpoint as their own.

Here in Canada we could argue that for us, our choice really is only which side of centre we would prefer - unless you live in Quebec, and I will stay away from that topic in this blog.  We might argue and discuss the adequacy of the party leaders, but rarely do we ask anyone we might be associating with what party they might belong to because for the most part we don't care and unless we are approaching an election, there seems little point to the discussion. It might be related to our "I'm sorry" culture and the need to be most polite and not to make waves.  More likely it is that we don't care any more than we care what religion an acquaintance might practice.

I try to keep up with what is going on in the States, but admit I cannot (for long) stay tuned to some of the more Republican news sources such as Fox News.  I do read a middle Democrat (liberal) daily eZine called Salon which covers not only politics but entertainment and humour with an American perspective.  I find it facinating and sometimes - as today - disturbing.

I have to close this blog by re-tweeting part of the article written by Joan Walsh in The Salon eZine, regarding the goings on in Washington this morning in advance of this afternoon's vote.  Go here to read her perspective on the altercations which went on and were reported in the New York Times.  I entirely agree with her observation that the Republicans, by not denouncing some of the more nasty parts of this business, is traversing a very sad path (my interpretation).

I thought it appropriate to re-tweet from the article the statements issued by the offices of the House Leader upon whom some of the nastiness was aimed,  as included in the Joan Walsh article.  I found hope in the part of the statement I italicized and highlighted in red ink.

From the article written by Joan Walsh:

I'm going to close with statements issued by the offices of Emanuel Cleaver and House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (no firebrand lefty, by the way), which I found on the New York Times: Cleaver (who didn't press charges against the loser who spit at him) is first:

For many of the members of the CBC, like John Lewis and Emanuel Cleaver who worked in the civil rights movement, and for Mr. Frank who has struggled in the cause of equality, this is not the first time they have been spit on during turbulent times.

This afternoon, the Congressman was walking into the Capitol to vote, when one protester spat on him. The Congressman would like to thank the US Capitol Police officer who quickly escorted the other Members and him into the Capitol, and defused the tense situation with professionalism and care. After all the Members were safe, a full report was taken and the matter was handled by the US Capitol Police. The man who spat on the Congressman was arrested, but the Congressman has chosen not to press charges. He has left the matter with the Capitol Police.

This is not the first time the Congressman has been called the “n” word and certainly not the worst assault he has endured in his years fighting for equal rights for all Americans. That being said, he is disappointed that in the 21st century our national discourse has devolved to the point of name calling and spitting. He looks forward to taking a historic vote on health care reform legislation tomorrow, for the residents of the Fifth District of Missouri and for all Americans. He believes deeply that tomorrow’s vote is, in fact, a vote for equality and to secure health care as a right for all. Our nation has a history of struggling each time we expand rights. Today’s protests are no different, but the Congressman believes this is worth fighting for.

The Democratic majority leader, Representative Steny H. Hoyer of Maryland, issued a statement condemning the remarks:

Today’s protests against health insurance reform saw a rash of despicable, inflammatory behavior, much of it directed at minority Members of Congress. According to reports, anti-reform protestors spat on Rep. Emmanuel Cleaver, yelled a sexual slur at Rep. Barney Frank, and addressed my dear friend, Rep. John Lewis, with a racial slur that he has sadly heard far too many times. On the one hand, I am saddened that America’s debate on health care — which could have been a national conversation of substance and respect — has degenerated to the point of such anger and incivility. But on the other, I know that every step toward a more just America has aroused similar hate in its own time; and I know that John Lewis, a hero of the civil rights movement, has learned to wear the worst slurs as a badge of honor. (My italics)

America always has room for open and spirited debate, and the hateful actions of some should not cast doubt on the good motives of the majority, on both sides of this argument. But Members of Congress and opinion leaders ought to come to terms with their responsibility for inciting the tone and actions we saw today. A debate that began with false fears of forced euthanasia has ended in a truly ugly scene. It is incumbent on all of us to do better next time.

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