Tuesday, April 17, 2012

How great is the United States?

As an American citizen, I feel very fortunate to have been born in this country.  In virtually all the conversations I have with friends and family, this same sentiment is expressed.  On most talk shows, regardless of political persuasion, we count America as a great country.  In fact, one might even say that some of our most deepest disagreements revolve around how to continue our greatness.  Patriotism does not seem to be an issue in our country today, even when waving the flag is done in an attempt to prove one's politics or perspective is more patriotic than another's.

If we all love our country then, what exactly do we love about it? 

First and foremost, freedom.  Certainly our form of government allows for freedoms that are non-existent for those living in the various authoritarian and dictator lead countries in the world.  We can express our contempt for our government without fear of "disappearing" in the middle of the night.  We can demonstrate openly to have our grievances addressed.  We can choose to worship, or not worship, within the framework of any religion of our choosing.  We can even burn the very symbol of our country, the flag, if our passion against a particular injustice compels us to do so.

We are also proud of America and its accomplishments, both within our borders and as a global neighbor.  We believe, despite some occasional setbacks, that we represent good in the world.  We remind the world of the pivotal part we played in defeating evil during World War II, and our struggles since to bring our treasured form of government to the oppressed throughout the world.

One might even say that some of our problems are the result of our greatness.  Jealousy on the part of some can lead to a blind hatred resulting in terrorism, unprovoked attacks, and even the killing of Americas who are trying to help those who do the killing.  Desperate families seek freedom so deeply that they cross our borders illegally so they can give their children a life not possible in their home country. 

While it may not be our national slogan, it could be said that we have a storied history based on the presumption that anything is possible in America, both individually and collectively.

But greatness is a difficult trait to maintain for long periods of time.  And, despite my pride in my country, I wonder if we will be the first generation to fall short of that description.

It is always easier to rally the citizens to a common goal when the perceived threat is external.  World War II and most recently, the horrible events of 9/11 prove this point.  But how do we come to a solution for a problem that is internal.  When the problem is you and me?

The current debate over the health care reform legislation seems very curious to me from this perspective.  Perhaps I am wrong, but I believe that most Americans believe that all of us should have access to health care, regardless of our ability to pay.  We know in our hearts that truly debilitating diseases, unforeseen disabling accidents, birth defects, and the difficulties of old age can bring any one of us to our knees, medically and financially.  We know that if we are serious about our perception that we do what is right, we cannot continue to have a system that allows our sick to become bankrupt at best, or to die through lack of means at worst.

Yet, our current debate is more about money than doing what is right.  We have concluded that we cannot allow the government to go bankrupt by providing health care so we must divert the burden to the citizens who are unfortunate enough to be struck with a serious health issue.  We have decided that rather than all of us take a hand in paying the price for an aging population and an inefficient health care system, we will let the chronically sick face their problems alone, and hope that our own family is spared their fate. Strangely, of course, we also know that if a huge number of Americans continue to go bankrupt, their unpaid medical bills will push providers, insurance companies, and eventually the government to the same fate.

Perhaps then, solving our health care crisis is our chance to prove we are as great as we imagine.  We should not be debating who will go bankrupt, the government or the citizens, but rather how we can pay for the health care that we all know we will require sometime in our lives or loved ones' lives.  We need this to be the challenge that marks our generation as great just as the victory in WWII marks that generation.  

The good news is that we are not threatened by some outside force, nation or idea.  In this case, we have met the enemy, and he is us.


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