Don’t Get Hooked by the Obamacare Debate
So, Congress is locked up again around health care. Large portions of the Affordable Health Care for America Act are set to go into effect in the next few months, and many Republicans aren’t standing for it. Threats of a government shutdown are being made. Texas Republican Senator Ted Cruz is currently speaking on the Senate floor in a quasi-filibuster attempt to derail the legislation. And all of this is going on in the wake of proposed, drastic cuts to the SNAP, or federal food stamps, program.
What we are seeing is some serious old hat. A manufactured budget crisis, followed by a strong dose of poor people hatred, along with efforts to slash through whatever social programs might be benefiting folks. The same “leaders” pushing food stamps cuts, for example, had no trouble providing in the same legislation nearly $200 billion in agriculture subsidies, which primarily go to large, corporate farms. This is normal behavior in Washington: making the rich richer, while demanding the poor make do with even less than they had before. And while the current discussion focuses on Republican actions, don’t be fooled. Both major parties have been doing these kinds of things for decades now. Yes, the two parties aren’t exactly the same, but on the whole, the Democrats and Republicans are owned by capitalism. Furthermore, they’re both driven by the narratives of colonialism and “American exceptionalism” that have brought so much oppression and suffering into the world.
As such, while it’s easy for many of us concerned about the lives of the financially poor and marginalized to get whipped up into a frenzy about Republican attempts to cut social programs, I think it might be wiser to pause and take a look at the bigger picture.
For example, lost in the battle around “Obamacare,” as the health care bill is popularly known, is the fact that it is mostly a giveaway to the insurance industry. And that all attempts to even get a public mention, let alone a fair debate, about a single payer alternative was thoroughly scuttled by both major parties. I get it that many folks on the left feel that Republican threats to block Obamacare are an assault on the poor and working class. However, as more of the bill is rolled out, and more complications directly impacting poor and lower middle class folks come to the forefront, I have to question the idea that this is legislation worth fighting for.
The health care system is riddled with abuses and injustices. Patterns of systemic racism frequently lead to poorer quality care for people of color. Gender and sexual minorities face not only access barriers, but also everything from “confused” treatment efforts to outright discrimination. The pharmaceutical industry’s stranglehold on mainstream medicine has made difficult, if not impossible, efforts to elevate and promote numerous alternative therapies, including herbalism, energy work, and indigenous forms of medicine. And the list goes on and on.
Odds are that Obamacare will do little to address these larger issues in the health care industry. The fact that we call it “an industry” points to two of the main problems – the commodification of human health for profit and the belief that there’s a single, most worthy approach to addressing our health issues. Both of which will be maintained under this legislation.
Given that the main audience here are folks interested in addressing social issues from a spiritual practice perspective, I’d like ask some questions about how we might be approaching big social issues like health care.
To those who support and feel compelled to fiercely defend Obamacare, how much of that effort is coming from a generalized fear of increased oppression and suffering, as opposed to genuinely supporting the legislation?
To those who oppose the legislation, is your opposition mostly driven by a genuine desire for a better approach, or are you operating – at least in part – out of something like reflexive political party affiliation or total rejection of the mainstream political system?
To everyone, regardless of your interest in the health care debate, how much of your political activity and positioning is coming out of reactions to the “social and emotional upheaval” of the day, and how much of it is based upon more reflective, longer views of social transformation?
I bring all this up because even amongst Buddhist folks who are socially active in the world, I see a fair amount of reactionary thought and action. I’m working on this myself, watching for when the impulse to say something, or do something about social issue X is coming from a place of rapid fire rejection of what’s present, and/or in an attempt to defend what’s present.
Not only is doing this kind of paying attention, and learning to abstain from reactionary talk/action helpful for your sanity, but I’m convinced that it’s necessary for truly overturning systems of oppression and injustice. Because the elite are damned good at manufacturing crises, and tripping our triggers on all sorts of issues, all in an attempt to keep us plucking at the leaves of their invasive trees, instead of coming together with our spades and clippers to expose and remove the roots.
Sometimes is necessary to defend certain leaves or branches on what ultimately is a rotten tree over the long haul. I tend to think that keeping the food stamps program intact for now is worthy effort, for example. Just as in our practice lives, we learn it’s sometimes helpful to keep around minor “negative” patterns until we’re ready to confront and uproot the major issues below.
But if too much energy and emotional entanglement goes into that kind of work, we never get at the major efforts towards liberation. So, in these days of continued and renewed attacks on the poor, I urge you all to maintain watch over what you’re giving your energy to any why.
Whatever our disagreements over the leaves and branches, let’s keep our eyes on the roots, and our hearts on the prize.
*Photograph by author, Madeline Island, Wisconsin.