The Breakfast Table

Whatever Happened to Health Care?

Dear Tony,

Try this quick quiz: There’s a mountainous region in which some 90 percent of the population is of a different ethnicity, religious tradition, culture, history, and language than the ruling government. They desperately desire autonomy and fear that their own culture is being deliberately and systematically obliterated by the majority rulers. Repression is pervasive. Resistance means imprisonment and torture. Thousands have died. Is this a) the place Clinton last night so eloquently exhorted us to assist by bombing the crap out of? Or b) Tibet–which Clinton won’t touch with a barge pole lest the Chinese oppressors get snitty? Here’s my token, paltry, rather unheartfelt defense of the Serbs: They aren’t stupid or blind–they can see the double standards in Western foreign policy. They didn’t want Yugoslavia to disintegrate, and when Germany jumped in and recognized Croatia, what they perceived was Germans trying to assert the hegemony in the region that they’d lost in World War II. Now they see Westerners all too ready to carve off another piece of their country.

So, can you hold together a nation in which various ethnicities feel themselves so bitterly at odds? The United States is committed to doing that in China and in Iraq and in most of Africa. The Timorese never got much of a hearing after their invasion and violent repression by Indonesia. The Eritreans had to fight a lonely war for 30-plus years to undo their coupling with Ethiopia and no one sent cruise missiles. It seems to me we’re all for self-determination so long as it doesn’t miff the Chinese, or offend the Saudis, or otherwise inconvenience corporations trying to make a buck in the global marketplace. Having said all that, I think Clinton’s speech last night was good: one of the best he’s ever done. It would be good if he could harness some of that persuasive ability to do some real leadership on domestic issues, instead of always taking a poll to see what’s a safe sell and ending up with these teeny weeny little initiatives.

I had a vision of him making a speech to the nation about why the United States needs universal health insurance–single-payer and yes, damn it, government-run. I dream of him really getting out there and sticking it to the insurance companies the way he stuck it to the Serbs. Surely we’ve all had time now to see what a crock those companies were peddling with their ‘93 offensive. We should be so lucky as to suffer the big-brotherly, nanny-state oppressions of the Canadians and the Aussies. Last time my mother visited us from Sydney, she got ill and needed antibiotics. They cost $72. She gasped at the price and said she was going to keep the receipt to give her friends back home a shock. (In Australia, the health system is paid for by a tax levy of about 1 or 2 percent.) Having been here a while, I haughtily responded, “Someone has to pay for it, even in Australia.” My mother replied calmly: “Yes, in Australia we all do. And those who’ve got more, pay more.”

Thanks, Mum, for reminding me.