Thomas Hobbes, a 16th century English philosopher, famously said that life is “poor, nasty, brutish, and short.”
For much of the human existence, Hobbes’s observation hit the nail on the head; human life, as wonderful as it is, was, and remains today, overshadowed by cruelty.
The history of humanity, especially over the past century, has centered on the struggle to mitigate man’s inhumanity to man—to preserve dignity. Our nation in particular has championed this cause. he Declaration of Independence and the United States Constitution defend passionately man’s “self-evident“ and “inalienable” rights, vested in us not by virtue of rank, wealth or creed, rather by our Creator in whose image we are born.
Whether the defeat of Nazi Germany in World War II, our perseverance to victory in the Cold War, Eleanor Roosevelt’s drafting of the United Nations Covenant on Human Rights, or F.D.R.’s impassioned crusade to help Americans in the dark days of the Depression, the quintessence of the American story—indeed, that of which we are the proudest and brag about the loudest—has been to secure for our people and people around the globe that to which all men have a “natural” right—dignity.
Franklin Roosevelt understood this when he declared that all Americans possess four basic freedoms, among these freedom from fear. The fear of sickness is the greatest dread known to man. Disease horrifies men and casts their hearts and minds adrift in a sea of cold fright. Affixing exorbitant fees to recover from a malady that he cannot control and for which he bears no responsibility adds, quite literally, insult to injury. To put a price on health and life is repugnant to the very values that make us Americans; to do so puts cruelty before dignity.
If Sunday, December 7, 1941 is lodged in the annals of American history as the day that will live in infamy, Sunday, March 21, 2010 will live forever as one of those milestone moments when Americans decided yet again to place dignity before cruelty. The passage of President Obama’s health care agenda, watered-down and much tortured as it is, is a dignified snapshot comparable to many others in our nation’s proud history. The souls of American presidents past, Republican and Democrat, can now rest in peace—men as diverse as Theodore Roosevelt, Harry Truman, Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon, leaders who understood that the lifeblood of American democracy is dignity.
President Obama said before the historic vote that passage of the health care bill is not about money, rather the character of our nation. He was right. For decades on end America has been the laughing stock of the Western world on this issue. People in nations as close as Canada or as distant as India wonder how America, a culture that so often fights for human dignity, readily finds the money to wage war around the planet, sends food and medical care to every nation in need, and, paradoxically, stands idly by as its own downtrodden are subjected to the whims of a medical system hell-bent on maximizing shareholder profit.
And for us in Tennessee, how could some of our representatives in Washington, millionaires who claim to represent the people of our state, vote against—yes, in fact lead the charge to block—passage of health care reform, when day-for-day Tennesseans are bankrupted by medical expenses?
Representative Marsha Blackburn, preaching against health care reform, shouted that it will erode our freedom. I am pained to ask here, whose freedom? Freedom from fear is precisely what this struggle has been about for nearly a century. The estimated 35 million or more Americans without health care are anything but free—they live under a cloud of fear accentuated by mailboxes teeming with medical bills that threaten to break them for years to come, if not forever.
Historians and scholars will ponder this phase of American history well beyond our years. But they will also celebrate March 21, 2010 as a day when America made the long overdue decision to uphold the dignity of our citizens over the cruelty of the previous health care system that made a mockery of their dignity.
The conservatives now say that they’ll fight to repeal the bill.
But before you cast a vote for a conservative in the fall, remember this- they also tried to repeal the Social Security Act in 1936.
Think about it.