China Syndrome


A new Washington Post-ABC poll shows that the number of people supporting a “public option” for universal health care has rebounded to 57% (up from 52% in August amidst the tow- hall hoopla). While this is still down 5% (from 62% pre-death-panel hysteria), it is the strongest indication to date that, Senate political wishy-washiness not withstanding, the majority  of the public is—and has consistently been—on the side of joining the overwhelming majority of the world’s industrial societies in developing some form of universal, publicly guaranteed healthcare.

I gave a presentation to a local seniors group last week evaluating Obama’s tenure in office to date. If I had to give him a letter grade, I’d  give him a B- to date—better than Clinton (C-) and both Bush I (C) or Bush  II (D, pre 9-11), but lower than Reagan (B/B+). One of the topics, of course, was healthcare reform. I used the map above to look at just which nations do/don’t have the kind of universal healthcare being debated in America. Imagine my surprise to discover that Iraq and Afghanistan both have universal healthcare systems—paid for by us! Now, American domestic and foreign policies have often been schizophrenic.  At the same time the Republican Congress was arguing to open up ANWAR to private companies for drilling, the Republican Bush administration was setting up a state-run (read: socialist) oil industry in Iraq. In Afghanistan, the Bush (and now Obama) administration tried to win the hearts and minds of 16th-century rural tribesmen by funding an Afghani welfare state more ambitious, in context, than the New Deal or Great Society. So the U.S. providing a national healthcare system to two countries we occupied and liberated while dithering and dallying on providing the same guarantees to its own people is par the public-policy course.

But when you look at the company of other nations America’s absence of  a national health system puts us in, its more than just a statement of national political dysfunction: It’s just downright embarrassing.  The most impoverished nations of Central and Latin America, the Caribbean, Africa and Central Asia?  Please. The most advanced industrializing society to lack universal healthcare is Turkey. The largest economy to lack it is China. Hey, team USA! Congrats—you’re playing Turkish- and Chinese-level ball!

Except even the Chinese are moving toward a universal healthcare system by 2011.

Oh well, at least we are still as good as the Turks.

Absence of universal healthcare in a world where all other advanced nations have it? Check.

Failure to celebrate our national achievements in science as much as we do former stars dancing, even as the rest of the world treats their scientists like rock stars? Check.

If the sun doesn’t set on the American Dream this century, it will be for no lack of trying on the part of an American political class—and public—so myopically self-absorbed in their own ideologies and peccadilloes as to note notice it’s getting dark out.


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