Yesterday, I was able to watch President Obama’s complete health care speech before Congress. Overall, I think that he hit a home run with this address. He laid out the reasons for why health care reform is needed, how we have so few private options in many states, how unjust it is that people with pre-existing conditions are barred from being able to purchase insurance, and how the current system with its escalating costs is simply unsustainable.
I was even impressed with how the President referred to the cause of Senator Kennedy’s life in describing the letter he received from the late legislator a few days ago where Kennedy reminded him that health care has become the moral issue that will define the principles of social justice and the character of our country. That Senator Kennedy had the foresight to help frame the health care debate in a moral and social justice paradigm in his last days speaks to his command of the issue and desire that no American should be denied care in a country as resourceful as ours.
Like most people, I was dismayed by the outburst of Congressman Joe Wilson (R-SC) who shouted, “You lie” to President Obama when he explained that the health care effort would not extend coverage to illegal immigrants. This incident reveals to me how low some members of our society and so called leadership are willing to go at the mere mention of illegal immigrants, even when the point they claim to refute is moot. The larger debate about health care isn’t even about undocumented immigrants, but the reaction that they produce is symptomatic of how many in the Latino community have come to view the GOP.
I believe that the level of dialogue and debate in the US about issues like health care, illegal immigration, and even education has diminished to the point of shouting matches, screaming and lie proliferation. And now, Rep. Wilson has become the poster boy for that kind of behavior.
Earlier this week, we heard the protests and efforts of some who did not want school children to listen to President Obama’s address about personal responsibility and education for fears that he was “indoctrinating” young people with a socialist agenda. I actually wonder how many of the people who were protesting this “boot straps” pep talk have actually been to a socialist country or read anything in depth about it to really understand the terms that they fling around. And even for those who disagree with the President’s policy agenda, how can you refine your arguments and refute your points if you are unwilling to even listen?
I recently finished a book by Mark Bauerlein, The Dumbest Generation, which describes how digital distractions have dumbed our society down. Reading for leisure has declined, and with the younger generations, the proliferation of myspace, facebook, texting, and other social media have made some people look more inward instead of outward. As this dumbing down has occurred even in light of technological advances that could bring access to educational materials to a larger audience, the public’s ability to process information and engage thoughtfully has diminished. My thought is that the screams of those like Rep. Wilson do not set an example or the tone for a more intelligent conversation and instead play into the fears and anger of those who chose to look inward instead of viewing themselves as members of an increasingly complex, global society. Unfortunately, the mere mention of terms like “illegal immigrants,” “socialism,” or dare we even say “responsibility” produce the kind of reactions in some that are so ugly that more thoughtful dialogue is discouraged.
In terms of the Latino community and how it can affect change and influence the debate, I think that we need to start processing information more through reading and engaging with each other about current events like health care and immigration so that we can distinguish ourselves from the likes of Wilson. We have an opportunity to do better and to elevate our own message during these times.
Photo Credit: Rep. Joe Wilson (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)