Monday, March 29, 2010
Millions of Monkeys...
...are, as we speak, whompin' away randomly at millions of surplus, "Front Page"-era Remington typewriters (two or three per simian, typewriters are cheap! free, even) in a warehouse not far from the dark, 70's chintz of Herb's Hideout on Larimer, where Jack Kerouac once roamed looking for meaning in Denver's tenderloin, poetry to match the mountains. They are hard at work on the long-promised Squishtoid Manifesto. I may as well let the monkeys do it, since I have no clue. Like a lot of people, I’ve been busy trying to survive.
It has been nearly a year since I stumbled out of the machine-like florescent hum of my day job, into the harsh light of possibility. A vague plan for creative entrepreneurship was tapping away in my head. Art and self- realization awaited. But the manifesto (and the business plan) didn't... manifest. There was quite a bit of day-to-day grind to leaving the day-to-day grind behind. And naturally, finding and affording health care is a big worry. Nowadays, many find their work choices defined not by their vision for their careers, but by the need for health care.
It's not really my intention to inject huge amounts of political opinion into this blog, but the framing narrative here is the struggle to have an independent creative/working life, and there can be no doubt that the ongoing culture wars, as well as the health care reform controversy that stems from them, affect that directly, so it's kind of hard to avoid. And America, in putting off resolution of this issue for 60 years, has made it harder to solve it.
Nixon proposed a health care plan very similar to the one we've just passed, and Betty Ford advocated choice and the era. But that was the old GOP. The right wing, as they gutted the old GOP, also ratcheted the scope of American democracy further and further right. As resources dwindled, priorities changed. We have to make good choices. But the right wing shouters and haters have consistently downsized the definition not just of the American dream, but of American. And how did Wal Mart become the model for what employment should offer us? There is something appalling about allowing corporations (not to mention rich politicians) to decide who does, and who does not, receive health care in a free society.
The old saw that Europeans work to live, while Americans live to work has never been more apropos. America, as a country, has never figured out why we work, and it has turned the notion of time well spent into a zero-sum game. We measure ourselves in material wealth rather than health and happiness, so we shouldn't be surprised when the system demands that we devote our ever shrinking free time to securing the basics that much of the rest of the world has long ago figured out how to make, well, basic. Dreams get postponed. education suffers, kids suffer, retirement suffers. The middle class is a vanishing oasis, the electronics store our stress relief, with VISA the ticket to entry. It's not a healthy way to live, physically or as a culture, and bingo! here come the number crunchers to tell us why we as a nation, can't have health care. Though ironically, as a society, we devote tremendous resources to convincing ourselves why something can't be done. We need a few dreamers.
I figured I fit the bill. My timing wasn’t great, in the middle of a recession, but it was an old story- the corporation was eying the pension to maintain profits, in the current political climate, it was sort of use it or lose it. In taking the plunge I stepped into the middle of a debate that was no less about dreams than it was about reality.
The far right doesn’t seem to believe in the American dream. The existing system, in which workers receive health care only at the sufferance of their employer or corporate health insurance concerns, presents workers with little flexibility in terms of striking out on their own, long a wellspring of entrepreneurial creativity that has fueled the American economy. The American dream has always encompassed everything from real estate licenses to hot dog carts, but now is expected to show a profit. If your dream- or your health- doesn’t conform to the business plan, you must not be an American. Is it work for its own sake that forms the dream, or independence? The desire to see the society and its dreams move forward is obviously great as evidenced in the current political mantra “Yes, we can”.
Isn’t independence why people leave their jobs; why they work for peanuts in the first place? Do people work at Walmart because they are just opposed to decent wages and health care? Society benefits when people apply their talents to produce. It is not properly society’s aim to put everyone to work in a dead end job. Yet when the fundamental question of providing the basics of a productive work force- education and health care- arise, we get the the party of “No we can't”. When government lacks imagination, and representatives go to Washington simply to be reelected, the American dream withers.
Health care reform is a simple commonsense idea that strictly by the numbers will more efficiently channel resources while simultaneously ensuring freedom to venture out into our dreams. It nearly got talked to death. Because there are always reasons to be found not to do something. I know. I could have stayed in the safety of corporate retail hoping the Corporation felt like funding health care. But like a lot of people in middle age these days, I was far too young to be coasting into old age, and what could it possibly profit a society to keep me or anyone in such a state of inertia? According to filmy sentimentalism of the brokerage house commercials, our generation is redefining retirement, yet the mechanisms of our own society haven't kept pace. It is a contradiction of the American Dream- in order to guarantee ourselves quality health care, we have to do the thing that the capitalist heroes like Steve Forbes have always advised us not to do: postpone, downsize, sublimate our dreams. How unhealthy! As we shrank the American dream, we made it more likely that we, as a culture, will do nothing special. And by the law of diminishing returns, we risked decline.
The health care crisis, as most have realized by now wasn't about efficiency, but about the Reaganite desire to shrink government arbitrarily. Like those monkeys, the right banged purposelessly away at one key “tax, tax, tax”, hoping no one would notice that there was no vision, and no faith in America. But our government is, by definition, a vision, and tax just a tool. In trying to shrink government, they sought to shrink the definition of "American”. Health care reform, far from the radical takeover the extremists have cast it as, is simply a return to the freedom to shape our own dreams. Far from a government takeover, it is a populist takeover. In an America that is still struggling to move forward from the wars, recession and huge deficits of the Bush years, can we really afford to spend far too much money on a system that limits our ability to have independent innovation?
There are still tough choices to be made. In this case the right choice was made. I’m feeling better about my personal choices too, now the economy is showing signs of recovery, though I may still need to get a job to make them work. Our health care system is somewhat more rational and user friendly, though premiums will undoubtedly be a stretch, and fixes will be needed. But it’s far more adaptable to changing needs. The road to creative entrepreneurship will always be tough, but at least the road is a bit clearer of obstacles. I have a clearer vision of what is possible.
Is it possible to get those monkeys going on that manifesto? I might have to give it time. But anything’s possible- after 60 years, we got Washington to believe in the American Dream.