Staggering along the arc of a moral universe

An arc that can be extremely long, as Martin Luther King, Jr. reminded us, but one which will, if we but have the fortitude to keep our way upon it, inevitably bend towards justice.

I am seriously disappointed in this health insurance reform. In my desired world, we would have a system that amalgamated the best of British NHS and Canadian Medicare, with single payer federal collection and disbursement but with state input and management of localized needs. We already have the institutions and bureaucracy in place; a conversion to single-payer from our present Medicare, Medicaid and SCHIP would not be all that much of a challenge. But rapacious capitalist money-backed political power in the US is deeply entrenched, and no such outcome could be had.

I’d have settled for an open-enrollment not-for-profit public option in an exchange, but that doesn’t look like it can be attained either. I’m still getting over my anger at that disappointment; I’d been assured just weeks ago that the votes were likely there and it would be shoe-horned in during reconciliation. I think it is foolish of the Democrats to go ahead with these bills absent a public option, but it seems the choice was to forgo it or scrap reform altogether.

The same people who reassured me before now say that the vote totals shifted, what was at best a narrow margin in the Senate shrunk to a losing cause, and Pelosi was not about to go through a knock-down battle in the House to include it only to have the Senate reject it once more and hang the failure of reform around her neck. Can’t say that I blame her for that. What I’m hearing now is that a public insurance option, through a Medicare enrollment, will be brought up again as part of further Medicare reform. I think they had better get that done, and sooner than later.

It shouldn’t have come as a shock to me or anyone that this reform effort would turn out as it has. Barack Obama, like Bill Clinton, is a Conservative who only appears Leftish because he is being compared to the Radical Reactionary Bush Administration, as Clinton was to Reagan/Bush. His policy agenda will likely reflect that centrist Conservatism. This Congress, thanks to Democratic gains in 2006 and 2008, has also reached a balance solidly in the Conservative arena, a huge improvement over the Radical Reactionary majority that began taking over the nation in 1968 but it is nothing near the Liberal majority that some on the Left had fantasized.

This reform has often been characterized as essentially a Republican program, and in many of its elements that is so. But the Republicanism that spawned it was a Conservative one, not the Radical Reactionary philosophy that controls the Party today. Much of this legislation is very reminiscent of a program Richard Nixon, another centrist Conservative in spite of his sociopathic racism and paranoia, offered in 1974. Those who decry the passage of this legislation now would do well to consider that we could have had this package then, while the Radical Reactionaries were only incipiently ascendant, but the Left under Ted Kennedy’s leadership could not bring itself to embrace the overture and thereafter one Radical Reactionary-controlled Congress after another blocked any attempts at reform.

Kennedy in recent years offered regret that he did not vigorously pursue the deal, and indeed he should have. If the Nixon package had been set into law four decades ago, we would probably have been in a position now to make the move to single-payer health care delivery. As it is, thanks to obstinance on the Left that helped block health care universality efforts proposed by Truman and Clinton as well as Nixon’s, we are in the present day reduced to getting done what should have been accomplished long ago. The intransigent “purist” Left has no one to blame for that delay but them selves.

The clearest lesson-learned statement for the Purist Left comes from Jane Hamsher:

The thing I have learned above all else in this campaign is that the corporate control of government is much more extensive than I ever imagined, and the tools we have to fight its influence are ineffective.

Good to see the light come on for Jane, if only in part. America’s government is not just controlled but owned by capitalist interests (capitalist, not “corporate”; the ACLU is a corporation, but they have precious little control over government) and has been since the Founding. Our Constitution was written to protect the interests of the moneyed class, and it still does so in spite of many modifications.

The tools we have I would term not so much ineffective as insufficiently effective, an important distinction. Having realized one or the other, though, a person interested in becoming effective might look into acquiring additional tools. Instead, right after Jane admits she and her supporters tried to bribe a sitting Member of Congress to influence his vote – a federal felony – she goes on to castigate Dennis Kucinich and every other progressive who voted for the bill as nothing more than tentacles of the Establishment. This bashing and driving away of a useful tool is the same divisive tactic she and her ilk used throughout this debate, and indeed in the end it yielded them nothing but an Epic Fail.

She also said this:

Perhaps that is the best that can be achieved within our current system. If so, that is a sobering reality.

Long past time to sober up, and take a look around with a clear head. This is, indeed, the best that can be done right now, and “our current system” is the only one we have or are likely to have for the foreseeable future. Stop getting juiced on your own adrenalin, Jane, and get to work with tools that are more effective.

To my friends on the Left who raise the same arguments that stalled health care reform in the 50’s, the 70s and the 90s, claiming that it isn’t good enough and should therefore be rejected, I say you are wrong. We must take what we can get and move forward, and we must do it now. Continued intransigence is nothing but a recipe for failing even to maintain the status quo, and I have had a belly full of backsliding. Some generation must have the courage to step forward on this matter, however uncertainly, and stagger though we may I say if not us then who? If not now, then when?

What this bill does fundamentally, the reason why the Republicans and their Teabag supporters are all worked up, is reject Reaganism. For the first time in a long time, the government is stepping into a troubled societal area in an attempt to make things right. The measure is flawed, to be sure, but the principle established is that government can and should insert itself in matters of health care across the entire population. Reagan and his followers asserted that “government is the problem” and attacked Medicare and Medicaid with the same false claims we hear from the Far Right today. This bill asserts that government can provide a solution, and by its very existence reverses 30 years of Radical Reactionism. For that alone, it is cause for celebration.

On August 16, 1967, Dr. King had this to say:

Let this affirmation be our ringing cry.

It will give us courage to face the uncertainties of the future.

It will give our tired feet new strength as we continue our forward stride toward the city of freedom.

When our days become dreary with low hovering clouds of despair, and when our nights become darker than a thousand midnights, let us remember that there is a creative force in the universe working to pull down the gigantic mountains of evil, a power that is able to make a way out of no way and transform dark yesterdays into bright tomorrows.

Let us realize that the arc of the moral universe is long but it tends toward justice.

King borrowed his phrasing from another minister, The Unitarian Theodore Parker, an ardent abolitionist whose grandfather commanded the Minutemen at the Battle of Lexington. In an 1853 sermon entitled “Justice and the Conscience,” Parker declaimed:

I do not pretend to understand the moral universe; the arc is a long one, my eye reaches but little ways; I cannot calculate the curve and complete the figure by the experience of sight; I can divine it by conscience. And from what I see I am sure it bends towards justice.

The “creative force” referred to by King that exists in Parker’s “moral universe” is not something external, handed down from a god or a human leader. It comes from within us, each of us individually and all of us collectively. It is we who are responsible for seeing to it that the arc bends as it should, and we must apply pressure not just on others but also on ourselves, through our thoughts and words and deeds, to make it be so.

From the Minutemen who bought our independence with their blood to the abolitionists whose courage freed the slaves, from the civil rights marchers who similarly bled and died for our greater freedom to the trials of the present day, the arc has indeed been bent towards justice. We, for our part now, can do no less than keep it bending.

I refuse to be dissuaded by temporary setbacks, or by my frustration at the slow pace of others. While I am unhappy in the moment, I will not allow my misery to be displayed in destructive ways. I reject the call from some to denigrate and castigate my allies, and I also refuse to join those who condemn decent people with whom I may have differences but with whom I wish to form and maintain beneficial alliances. Rather, I will marry the energy of my anger to my faith in the inevitability of progress, and use it to redouble my effort towards ensuring that a more just and equitable future is achieved.

Now is not a time for remonstration, for backbiting or the placing of blame. There is work to be done, brothers and sisters, hard work, and if we are to succeed then everyone must lend a hand. Stop now, please, the bickering. Put aside your disappointment, and find a way to pull together. If we fail to unite as one, we will surely be crushed by the many.

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2 responses to “Staggering along the arc of a moral universe

  1. a rejection of reaganism? i’ve seen this around the blogosphere a lot today, is this the new david axelrod talking point?

    reagan would have loved the continues privatization of social services, the mis-direction of taxpayer dollars from the working and middle class to the capitalists, and the keeping prices high so that only the elite can afford real care.

    the expansion of medicaid looks like an expansion of a public program on paper [and it’s constantly being played this way in the blogs] but it’s likely going to result in an expansion of the privatization of medicaid. reagan would have loved this.

    reagan hated unions, he’d have loved the cadillac tax that will be more likely to hit union-negotiated plans than any other kind of employer-sponsored insurance.

    also, i’m pretty sure he would have approved of the diminution of abortion availability and the rolling back of women’s rights in general that the odious executive order implies.

    the one thing that would have made his head explode, if it survives the process of passing the bill[s] would be the medicare tax on rich people/investment income.

    i don’t mind our vehemently disagreeing on how to get to the goal that we both want, and you can even blame me the purist for the reason we’re not there yet [sweetie!] but if you can’t recognize or are willing to obfuscate the presence of zombie reaganism, then we’re doomed to fail.

    one quibble on that purist thingy: jane is not a lefty purist, she is an opportunist and has found a superb opportunity to position herself as a high-profile activist, from which she will garner some measure of fame and fortune. her activities might even help get us closer to single payer, but those activities will benefit jane for sure and the rest of us maybe.

    • grahamfirchlis

      Good to be read. I think. Now just a moment, while I wipe off some of the blood….

      “David Axlerod talking point”? Izzat all ya got? Sure, David drops by with a stuffed envelope and I bury the message twelve paragraphs down, so it looks y’know all casual and such. Next thing, everybody’s on it; behold the awesome power of my messaging.

      Or, maybe it is true, which would also explain why a lot of people are saying it but without the conspiracy/character-vilification aspects. I offered that analysis early on, as did a number of other people, and you can hear it echoed all along in the Republican talking points. Are they on Axlerod’s payroll too? How about Robert Reich, who I see put up a similar analysis yesterday? I won’t even ask you about Krugman.

      Channeling the opinions of the dead is a dicy enterprise, at best, and I try to stay away from it myself; just not in my skill set. If you can find an example of a non-war-related large-scale government-mandated government-controlled social benefit program that Reagan favored, please put up the quote in support of your contentions.

      Contrary to popular mythology, Reagan never did much of anything about privatization and what little he did accomplish, like the chump-change Conrail deal, was focused on selling off government-owned assets whole. He was a cheerleader for Thatcherism, but the US government doesn’t hold entire industries as the Brits did so that sort of privatization wasn’t possible here on any large scale. Reagan did nothing towards, nor did he advocate for, the sort of public-private partnerships embodied in this bill. That was a Clinton innovation, and IMHO one that Reagan would have rejected – based on the fact that he repeatedly rejected those sorts of proposals while he was in office and, while certainly zombie-like, still very much alive.

      From a philosophical standpoint this approach is no different than automobile insurance, also mandated and also largely through private providers. I’d rather have a true government not-for-profit single payer, but I see the universal participation mandate as a true step along the path and a neccessary one at that.

      Blame you for the reason we’re not farther along? No such thing! I’m quite certain you had nothing to do with the failure to grasp Nixon’s initiative, you were a mere slip of a girl at that time. But it is historical fact that intransigence on the part of some in the Left has played a major role in delaying or defeating Conservative proposals, when embracing them as incremental beneficial change would have been the better strategy.

      The development of Social Security, for instance, would have been stronger if it had been built as the Conservative FDR wanted, the way Europeans do, where the contributions are all specifically from the wage-earner, but the Left – especially unions – fought that and here we are with a bastardized system that only gives business control over workers.

      Do you disagree with me and Ted Kennedy that the Left should have taken Nixon’s deal? Or is it the notion that the Left bears any responsibilty for that failure that bothers you?

      As to Jane, well. I was trying to be kind, ’cause that’s just the sort of sweetie I am.

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