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Friday, March 30, 2012

The Supremes, 43 million Americans, and Karl Marx

In the partisan frenzy over the Affordable Care Act and what the Supreme Court might do to it, the underlying reasons behind the bill have been  buried in the blizzard of propaganda and lost sight of.  The first issue the bill addressed was that 43 million citizens wer can't afford it.  Medical bills are the leading cause of bankruptcies bye not covered by health care insurance.  About a third of the nation go without recommended medical treatment because they families.  And the cost of healthcare keeps climbing.   Despite the insistence by those who oppose government-sponsored health care that the U.S. has the best health care system in the world, the fact is that the U.S. lags behind the systems of most developed countries.  

Congress is the focal point of the contentions about health care.  That fact is a serious misdirection of public attention, largely motivated by an audience-desperate media and the Internet.  The real issue is not the partisan deadlock in Congress.  Congress is merely a reflection of the American people, and politicians and media-types do not dare attribute the healthcare debacle to the citizens.  They want their votes, their attention, and their dollars, and they live in fear of offending the people out there by an honest reporting of their attitudes and actions and what their actual political stances reveal about them.

Politicians keep saying that the political divide in America is merely the difference of opinions among a people who love their country.  The fact is that the partisan camps have become camps of enemies.  The nation has reached a point that James Madison warned about in the Tenth Federalist Paper:  "So strong is this propensity of mankind to fall into mutual animosities, that where no substantial occasion presents itself, the most frivolous and fanciful distinctions have been sufficient to kindle their unfriendly passions and excite their most violent conflicts."

 Madison amplifies the reasons for those "unfriendly passions":

But the most common and durable source of factions has been the various and unequal distribution of property. Those who hold and those who are without property have ever formed distinct interests in society. Those who are creditors, and those who are debtors, fall under a like discrimination. A landed interest, a manufacturing interest, a mercantile interest, a moneyed interest, with many lesser interests, grow up of necessity in civilized nations, and divide them into different classes, actuated by different sentiments and views. The regulation of these various and interfering interests forms the principal task of modern legislation, and involves the spirit of party and faction in the necessary and ordinary operations of the government.

Madison saw that the effects of animosity could be moderated by a republic with a separation of powers and the attending checks and balances among the executive, legislative, and judicial branches, and among the states.   The scheme he outlined has worked fairly well over a couple of centuries as the history of the U.S. demonstrates a steady diminishing of the "schemes of  oppression" through which one faction holds another in an unequal and degraded state of thralldom.  But that separation of powers is rendered ineffective and useless when the final arbiter of factional disputes, the judiciary, acts in the interest of one of the factions.  

That is the point where the angry animosities about health care bring us.  In recent decades the contending forces in American politics have abandoned the goals of workable compromise for the raging hostilities of class warfare.  The political propaganda that circulates through the national nervous system is the propaganda of hate and war.  It is not the propaganda of peace and mutual problem-solving.  The media feed on conflict to garner public attention and create audience by inflaming passions, not inciting a reasoned discussion of facts and circumstances.   As a nation, we have reached the point where the problems of contending interests are insoluble, and the moderating processes of government are ineffective.  Those who study the nature of  national discourse in its precedents and its effects upon the people have noted for some time that we have, once again, reached a stage where rebellion and insurrection appear to be the only option.  The people are divided into camps that hate each other, and some actively propose schemes of oppression on their perceived enemies.  So far, the class warfare is on the level of legislation against minorities, labor, women, certain creeds, and political affiliations.  The people have become mobs waiting for a pretext to vent their rage against each other. 

This is what makes any decision by the Supreme Court so crucial at this juncture.  The advocates of affordable and accessible health care have received a very clear message from their opponents that the opposition does not care if health care is not available to them.  Government sponsored health care is socialism or communism, the opposition contends, and must be prevented at all costs.  The opposition dismisses those for whom health care is out-of-reach as expendable, that amounts to 43 million Americans.  The stage for insurrection is, thus, set.  It puts the Supreme Court in the position of deciding whether the issue can be resolved by reasoned compromise or raging violence.  As Madison says, "It is in vain to say that enlightened statesmen will be able to adjust these clashing interests, and render them all subservient to the public good. Enlightened statesmen will not always be at the helm.'

The Supreme Court is being tested for its state of enlightenment and whether it can rise to the level of statesmanship to moderate the contending passions.  

An informing aspect of this has been raised by the Pope.  He recently commented on the failures of Marxism to fulfill the expectations of people in the places where it has ruled.  He made those comments prior to his visit to Cuba.  The larger context for his remarks are that factions within the Roman Catholic Church, particularly in Latin America, are aligning themselves with Marxist principles as a way to free people from the schemes of oppression under which they live.  The failures of Marxism are apparent and thoroughly analyzed for why Marxism, as it has been formulated, has been simply another form of oppression.  However, for many it is the only hope to be freed from the oppression of inequalities that is in circulation.  And that fact  underscores the paucity of enlightenment and statesmanship operating in the world at this time.

Marxism has a horrible record for relieving the world of oppression.  But Marx had a very shrewd understanding of what brings humanity to the point of rebellion and insurrection.  However, his observations are shared by political philosophers of many beliefs.  And America has reached the point where the viability of the republic is under a crucial test.

That is the burden of the Supreme Court in addressing the issue of health care:  43 million people versus a scheme of oppression. 

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Aberdeen, South Dakota, United States