I’m just afraid that history will repeat itself. On October 15th, 1965, the first person to be arrested for burning his draft card was taken in, tried, and sentenced to two years in prison. I just worry about the young, idealistic, political conservatives. What will happen to them?
On October first, just a few weeks away, open enrollment required under the Affordable Care Act, will begin. When the bill passed during President Obama’s first term and again when it was upheld by the Supreme Court, we were reminded that while this was a heathcare bill, it was not a panacea for our country’s health industry woes. We were told that premiums would rise, but that that there were triggers in place to curb that. We’ll see about that. In the meantime, early reports in states such as Maryland, Massachusetts, New York, and California suggest savings on premiums.
A cornerstone of the so-called Obamacare is that even young and healthy people, with little need of coverage will be required to purchase health insurance or pay a fine. It is their participation that helps control the cost, averaged out through the expanded pool of covered individuals. As a last ditch effort to have the Affordable Care Act fail, FreedomWorks, a conservative advocacy group, is asking young people to “burn their Obamacare card” as an act of resistance against what they see as a misguided and dangerous law. Why they would oppose healthcare for the uninsured and encourage playing with fire is worth asking, but in any case the stunt won’t work.
One small reason why this gimmick will quickly fizz out is because there is no such thing as an Obamacare card. FreedomWorks knows full well that young people could not possibly burn their Obamacare Card as they might romanticize their parents and grandparents burning their draft cards. No matter, FreedomWorks will print and send you one. Such is the existence of being funded in large part by brothers Charles and David Koch, famous for being active as right wing power brokers and parodied in last year’s comedy movie The Campaign with Will Ferrell and Zack Galifianakis. They can afford making things and quickly burning them.
We should be shocked by the hatred being advocated – a concretized violent act of setting something you don’t agree with literally on fire – this adds to a culture of violence rather than civilized debate. But, we aren’t shocked, because we’ve habituated to baseless hatred and violent acting out.
So the non-existence of Obamacare cards is not a major impediment for the Koch brothers, but the nature of young people will be. More so than the rest of us the rest, young people hate phonies. What they crave is authenticity. They eschew the pandering nature of politics. As a high school teacher, I have come to admire and respect my students’ craving for the authentic in the world around them, especially from their leaders. In large part, the apathy of young voters comes from their disdain for politicians who they regard as two-faced, not saying what they mean and not meaning what they say. What they saw in President Obama in both his first and second campaigns was not just a younger ‘hipper’ candidate, but one who spoke as a statesman, willing to risk stirring the pot on issues of race, of war, of terror, and of course healthcare. Regardless of any particular disappointments, President Obama is still viewed positively by young people because they connect with his optimism and the candor of his speaking style. When the President spoke about his experience of racism after the Zimmerman trial, they identified with the vulnerability he shared. They credited the perspective as authentic, as valid, and true.
The creation of fake insurance cards to then turn around and burn in a protest as an echo of resistance of the Vietnam war will not hold the same validity and authenticity. On a philosophical level, how can we ask them to take seriously our calls for meaningful discussion about policy when we have raised them in a culture of us vs. them, and violence against ‘the other side’, albeit in this case symbolic? More specific to FreedomWorks, young people hate the contrived, and they hate it all the more when they can tell that it was suggested by their parents’ think tank.
A few posts ago, while the Supreme Court was still hearing arguments on the legality of the Healthcare Act, I said, “If the Supreme Court strikes-down the Health Care Act, and we have to start health care reform all over again, instead of fixing the imperfect beginnings that are already underway, I’m just going to freak out.” So, it has passed, as a tax and not under the Inter-State Commerce Clause, but in any case, now we’ll have it- Obamacare (properly referred to as The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act).
What does this mean to congress? Not much. And that’s the nature of sinat hinam, baseless hatred. The rabbis of the Talmud said that it was for baseless hatred that the Second Temple in Jerusalem was destroyed in 70 C.E. If the Democrats like something than you can be sure the Republicans will hate it, and vice versa.
This type of tit-for-tat bickering is not just exhausting for the country to watch, but it’s downright destructive for our society, which, before politics became so partisan and divisive, prided itself on the strength of our diversity.
Consider the classic cautionary tale about why Jerusalem was destroyed. There was a mix up on the invitations to a party. Two men whose names sounded awfully similar each thought that they were the rightful guest at a party. The problem is that that hated each other, couldn’t stand each other, and nobody set them straight. Even the sages that were present at the affair said nothing. You can read the whole story here, but to get to the juicy part, one of the men incited the Romans against the Jews. He told Caesar to send the Jews a goat to sacrifice at the Temple, a goat that would seem perfectly fine by Roman standards, but that the Jews would find blemished, unfit as a holy offering at the ancient Temple:
The Rabbis wanted to offer it, despite its disqualifying blemish, to preserve good relations with the authorities.
Rabbi Zekharya ben Avkolus said to them: “People will then think that blemished animals may be offered upon the altar.”
They wanted to kill the person who brought the animal, so he could not go and inform on them. Rabbi Zekharya ben Avkolus said: “People will say that anyone who places a blemish in a sacrifice should be killed.”
RabbiYochanan said: “The humility of Rabbi Zekharya ben Avkolus destroyed our temple, burned our sanctuary and exiled us from our land.” (Gittin 55b-56a)
By analogy, the debate regarding Obamacare , even after Chief Justice Robert’s tie-breaking vote to affirm the legality of the law, is likewise so toxic that it feels like we’ve been boxed in. In truth, nobody loves the law as it stands, Democrats wanted more, and Republicans in the House have already set a date to repeal it (July 11th).
What we know will happen with this admittedly (by everyone) imperfect law, is that when the cracks start to show, Conservatives will say, “we told you so.” You can set your clocks to it. And, they’ll be right.
But here is where we should learn the lesson of baseless hatred: When the costs rise instead of fall, or coverages shift in ways we did not predict and do not want, let us not throw out the baby with the bathwater. Let’s just make more calculated adjustments.
The truth is, the middle is messy. The law that was passed was built on the Centrist idea that a few steps forward are better than waiting for the perfectly crafted bill to be born, which would never have happened in the polarized system we currently have. When we become intrenched, clinging to one good ideal over any other (“I will never raise taxes”, “Everyone should have healthcare coverage”) we freeze up; we fail to act in the best interest of those we care for, and when that happens, society’s moral compass falters.
Republicans should not waste time trying to repeal Obamacare (a repeal will never pass the Senate even if it passes the House), they should be trying to improve it, and Democrats would be wise to listen to them.