By: Dwight Owen Schweitzer February 11th 2010
We are a people who has reached into our pockets in recent days to send tens of millions of dollars to aid the grief-stricken, maimed, hungry and impoverished people of Haiti. It is as clear an example of the best that is within us as one can imagine, and yet we allow 44 million of our own citizens to be destroyed by their lack of access to affordable health care. Like many I watched the process of disinformation, out right lies, callous and often inflammatory statements of not only politicians but stooges sent to so-called ‘town hall meetings’ to shout down and even ridicule those whose stories are no less heart rendering than the those who are experiencing them on a seemingly larger scale in a country a few miles off our shores. It is not on a larger scale at all however, if we took all those whose lives are being ruined by their lack of access to adequate and affordable medical care were put in an area the size of Haiti those numbers would dwarf that crisis by millions.
What has all this to do with a television show that only exists in reruns, and not easily found if at all, one might ask. The answer lies in the what I can only describe as an ocean of ignorance about not simply how our government works, but of the complexity of the issues that face us and the mechanisms we have in place to deal with them. The setting for the West Wing is based upon issues that occurrred during the Clinton years where there was a Democrat in the White House and a Republican congress. It is a visual text-book illustrating the conflicts created by the seperation of powers, the checks and balances of our system and most importantly, in my view at least, how things do or do not get done in Washington. What we also see in the committment to reality portrayed in that series, is that while we proclaim ourselves that we are a nation of laws and not of men and women, when all is said and done we are indeed a nation ruled by men and women, and I am sad to say, not too many to be proud of, to want to grow up to be like, or to emulate or even admire.
What we have witnessed over the past months is just how flawed our system has become. The political party that is responsible for every progressive initiative in our nations’ history since Theodor Roosevelt, and having achieved a historic grant of power not seen since the congress that gave us FDR’s ‘New Deal’, has made me ashamed of being a Democrat, and to a degree unthinkable before, ashamed of being an American as well. I do not know how each member of the Senate committees who had to approve the bill that went to the floor were ‘persuaded’ to do the unthinkable, to purposely eviscerate the most important piece of legislation in my lifetime, and in that process brought shame upon the Democratic party. A party that had risen to unimagined heights only months before by electing an African-American to the highest office in the world when not so many years ago his legacy would have been dogs and fire hoses.
Watching the ‘West Wing’ is being taught how idealism vies with pragmatism both politically and personally in that mystical world of national politics and governance. My hope of course is that watching it will rekindle that spirit of idealism that died in a hotel kitchen in Los Angeles one July day in 1968 only to flicker momentarily in the euphoria of November 2009.
I find it impossible to describe the extent to which the course of our history as a nation changed that July day so many years ago, although a day will come when I will try to put it into words. At the risk of hyperbole I would suggest that it was the day that democracy died in America. For those of you who scoff at tragedy misconstrued as melodrama, think of the presidency of Richard Nixon, of Watergate, and of a vice president who was a crook preaching morality to a nation. Look also to the beginning of the decline of the Supreme Court as our last best hope of illuminating the definition of Justice to be weaved into the fabric of the American way of life. A Supreme Court whose Republican nominated majority, made up of political hacks or worse, closet ideologues, so intellectually corrupt as to interfere with the results of a Presidential election on behalf of the party that sponsored them, all the while knowing that they had sown the wind. So they added for the first time in a decision of the Supreme Court of the United States, the proviso that their decision had no precedential effect so it could not be used as a guide to what the constitution means in any other future case. Not a surprising caveat when you consider that the Constitution specifically forbids the Supreme Court from interfering in purely political matters.
We ignore history at our peril, and nowhere is that message clearer than watching our attempts to bring our health care delivery system up to the standards that already exist in almost every other developed country in the world. How far I wonder do we have to fall behind in so many areas of our national life before we will never be able to catch up to countries we, in our xenophobia, think of as our inferiors.