What’s Left – Putting Mind Over Body

The 2008 Presidential Election cycle has made me very curious as to just how people decide what is and is not important when casting their ballot. A few weeks ago, a conservative friend of mine suggested that he could never support Obama’s health care plan because he does “not believe that health care is an entitlement,” nor does he believe that “we should be giving someone healthcare who is too lazy to get a job.”

Is health care an entitlement? I am really not sure. However, I would argue that it is a right that all Americans are entitled to. That is to say, a healthcare system that is affordable to all people is imperative; the right to healthcare means nothing if people cannot afford to access it.

Compulsory public education is arguably the United States government’s greatest contribution to the American dream. In every community across America there are public schools that open their doors to every child. As a society we recognize the intrinsic values of education, and pride ourselves on the ability to provide access to free and public education. While acknowledging the strengths of our education system is important, we have also taken time to understand the inequities; we rely on politicians and philanthropic organizations alike to address these issues. No matter how we feel about public education, one thing remains true: every child has the right and access to education in our country.

Why is it, then, that when the idea of health care for every American is proposed, conservative voters are quick to accuse such a plan of being socialist? While our public education system is nurturing the health of our minds, 45 million uninsured Americans are lacking adequate access to nurturing care for their bodies.

During the Clinton administration, First Lady Hillary Clinton worked en tandem with Senator Orrin Hatch (R-UT) and Senator Ted Kennedy (D-MA) to introduce legislation for the State Children’s Health Insurance Program (S-CHIP). S-CHIP was the first program that ever provided healthcare to children whose families did not qualify for Medicaid but could not afford other insurance programs.

Then Senate majority leader, Trent Lott (R-MS) joined a group of conservative Senators and Congressmen who accused the legislation of being an open-ended entitlement program, despite the fact it was structured as a bloc grant. Notwithstanding serious opposition, the legislation finally passed in 1997 and continues to function today with the support of taxpayer dollars.

When a child is born, we do not take the time to evaluate whether or not their parent’s will be able to afford the actual cost of a public education without taxpayer support; instead we recognize their access to education as a fundamental right. Conservative opposition to S-CHIP suggests the opposite; instead, we assume that every family can afford the cost of health care for their child, regardless of circumstance.

Our society has chosen mind over body; we admit our responsibility to provide educational opportunities for every person but cannot seem to grasp the idea that we have the same responsibility to people’s health. As I have pondered this issue time and again, I always start to wonder whether or not I am missing something. Is there a moral controversy hidden somewhere deep within health care of comparable magnitude to abortion or gay marriage? Will providing for the basic health needs of all Americans intrude upon their rights of their fellow citizens? After all this time, I have deduced that there is not a hidden moral crisis or a threat to individual rights, just a greedy electorate unwilling to put society’s needs before their own.

When we vote, I believe that we have a unique responsibility to put aside our own interests and to vote with the interests of society in mind. Every student on this campus carries an identity of privilege. Whether it’s our social class, educational attainment, family background or otherwise, we are carrying that privilege because somebody else is not. While a stratified social class system is a frustrating component of our society, it is also the product of the privileged few ignoring the interests of those who are not lucky enough to have the same privilege.

Recognizing privilege and understanding the duty that comes with it should not escape us as we cast our ballots next Tuesday. It is fate, and fate alone, that has allowed me to grow up in a family where access to health care was never a question. If we know that fate is really the only determinant, then who are we to suggest that putting mind over body is right?