Dignity deficit

Kevin Drum points us toward David Ignatius’ piece in the WaPo today in which Ignatius argues that the the US needs a “dignity agenda”, not just a “democracy agenda”. Ignatius’ point is that dignity is a more basic need than democracy and that’s why Iraqi’s don’t like being occupied and told what to do, and why the Turks don’t like being pressured to admit to genocide against the Armenians 92 years ago, as they were by the US House of Representatives recently —and so forth. His list goes on.

Kevin says these observations qualify for the Department of the Obvious. But its apparently not obvious to vast swaths of Americans these days because, for example, they joyfully invaded Iraq without apparently giving the concept of “dignity” a thought.

The “Dignity Agenda” should be a hot topic in domestic policy as well, in my opinion. The latest issue there has been the SCHIP program where Democrats with a lot bipartisan support passed an extension of a program that helps poor children get health insurance. Bush vetoed the bill because, he said, it helped too many families above the poverty level.

There are two things going on with that veto that are very telling about modern politics.

One, the radical-right in America KNOWS it has no chance with universal anything. Once a social insurance program becomes universal (e.g., Social Security, Medicare) the program becomes too popular and too associated with its sponsor—liberals. But here’s the interesting thing. These programs aren’t popular simply because of the economic impact; they are popular because they impart dignity to both payor and payee. The recipient benefits from a program that everyone participates in (and therefore isn’t stigmatized by a hand-out). The payor can also proudly say “no elderly person in our society goes without health insurance or a basic pension”.

From a political point of view Bush is right to be terrified that Democrats might make children’s health insurance universal. He wants it to be a poverty program. Much easier to attack liberals for defending poverty programs than universal ones.

Ironically, Democrats are terrified to make this argument. Health insurance for children should be a right. Universal. Period. Every conceivable moral fiber in our civilization says it is just plain wrong to deny health care to children, not just poor ones. But I go back to Ignatius’ argument. What value are we defending here? Human dignity? Freedom? If freedom, freedom to do what? Deny healthcare to children? Realistically we don’t need to choose, because its the belief in the dignity of every human life that leads us to value things like freedom and democracy.

If Dems are going to pass national healthcare, they will have to make an argument something like this.


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Filed under healthcare finance, radical right, social insurance

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