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Doing the right thing

The Supreme Court has done us all a kindness. Obamacare shows the human community working at its best. For me, that's what it finally comes down to. If all of us, even the least fortunate, have access to competent medical attention, isn't that a wonderful thing? The poor, the old, the unemployed, those with pre-existing conditions?

It is useful to keep the focus on the good that Obamacare will bring about. If you read the papers or watch TV, you can get caught up in a blizzard of confusing claims and statistics and political ideology. You might somehow get the idea this is all about raising taxes, or taking away your freedom, or that it's an assault by the federal government on states' rights. Those complaints are not about Health Care. They lead directly back to the controlling beliefs of the Obamacare opponents--that government is not to be trusted, that taxes are bad, that we must oppose "federal bureaucracy." These are short-term political talking points, used from the first in the fight against this legislation. They were outlined by those who make billions from our overpriced health care system, and parroted by the beneficiaries of their shadowy PACs.

In the long term, Obamacare will work itself out and be perfected through countless tweaks and improvements. It is like that with all major new legislation. Remember that those groups who are most fierce in opposing Obamacare also fought against Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, the Federal Food and Drug Administration, and other attempts to improve the quality of life at the cost of corporate profits. Today they are lined up against measures that would regulate pesticides and work to slow Global Warming. Follow the money. Obamacare would help sick people. Opposing it would protect the income of corporations that feed off them--in part, by allowing them to abandon those whose "pre-existing conditions" might curtail profits.

I think more people are wising up. They see all those TV ads for "clean coal," and ask themselves, if coal is so clean, why doth it protest so much? We are entering a six month period in which the airwaves will be flooded with political advertising, much of it funded by invisible billionaires who are allowed to work anonymously. This kind of financing has traditionally been anathema to American values. It's now permitted as a "right" for corporations and Political Action Committees. The rich and powerful grow fearless and blatant.

Chief Justice Roberts, in casting his deciding vote, cited the right of Congress to impose a tax. By throwing that word into play, he gave Obamacare opponents their political opening. Of course the government can impose taxes. That's one of its biggest responsibilities. Obamacare opponents dine cafeteria-style, putting only those taxes on their trays that they have a taste for today. There was little mainstream opposition to the trillion dollars in taxes that paid for the war in Iraq, despite the fact that it was never declared by Congress in a Constitutional manner. Obamacare was passed by Congress in the full light of day. The Court has found its provisions legal. No US court or lawmaker ever had the opportunity to vote on the Iraqi War before it was already underway. How did it win tacit approval from those who are now infuriated by health care?

My reasoning brings me back again and again to these truths: Health care is good. There comes a time in most lives when we will need it. Apart from the very richest sliver of people at the top, no one can afford to have a really major illness. Even with an excellent insurance plan, they'll find there is a limit to the costs that can be paid. If they are so sick they lose their jobs, chances are their job-connected insurance will be lost, too. If they are lucky and recover, they'll have a Pre-Existing Condition that makes them uninsurable. They can't risk getting sick again.

Every Western democracy except ours offers Universal Health Care. It is not always perfect, and we are told horror stories about this or that case in Canada or France. In America our horror stories are worse, because they're caused not by imperfections in a health care system, but by the complete absence of one. Many people know of at least one family that has been destroyed as a unit by the unavailability of affordable health care.

Of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, we begin with life, which is free. Our political principles can, if are lucky to live in a democracy like the US, give us liberty. The problem with the pursuit of happiness is that without adequate health care it can be a very difficult pursuit indeed, and its cost could be our lives.

Some of the reasons the Supreme Court might have cited in upholding Obamacare will strike you as hopelessly idealistic. It could have been upheld because it addresses a need most citizens will experience. It expresses kindness and generosity. It is the right thing to do. No one has a hidden financial interest in UHC. It is the function--even the duty--of a government to try to improve the lives and happiness of its citizens. That seems so clear to me.

   1:40 p.m. 6/29: I changed "insurance and drug companies" to "corporations," and specified that no court or lawmaker was able to vote on the Iraqi war before it was already underway.4:18: I changed "Universal Health Care" to the more specific and accurate "Obamacare,"

Roger Ebert

Roger Ebert was the film critic of the Chicago Sun-Times from 1967 until his death in 2013. In 1975, he won the Pulitzer Prize for distinguished criticism.

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