The new movie “The Box” is out in theaters and is doing decent business. Though watching Frank Langella play yet another spooky character—but I’ve already consigned it to my DVD rental list for the future. I read the classic story the film is based on decades ago so the film does not promise to offer much surprise. And besides, I’ve been watching Congress and the American public live “The Box” for years now. It really is an overused story line (kinda like Jennifer Aniston playing plain girls who just can’t find love). It’s one of our favorite national plot lines.
Take healthcare reform. (Please. Ba-dump-bump.) Numerous studies tell us that lack of universal health coverage in America costs thousands of lives a year. But does the debate focus on the fact that more mothers and infants die in America from preventable causes that weren’t prevented due to lack of affordable health care than in any other country in the developed world? (And I just LOVE that canard that everyone in America has healthcare—they just have to go to an emergency room. Emergency rooms are where you go when your problem has developed into an emergency—the kind of thing that can kill you. That’s why lots of people die in emergency rooms, including lots of eclampsic mothers with metabolic toxemia who couldn’t afford routine prenatal care. And why very few people—like mothers—die in the waiting rooms of their primary doctor while leafing through three year old Time magazines. ) Does the healthcare debate in America focus on the fact that our “best healthcare system in the world” places Americans 42nd in global life expectancy lottery? That’s right, all you jokers of jingoism, put on those big ‘ol foam fingers and repeat after me: USA 42! USA 42! Which puts us not only behind all those Europeans with their (say the word! Say it dripping with venom!) SOCIALIST medical systems, not to mention (but let’s) Jordan, South Korea and the Cayman Islands too! Does the national debate focus on any of these legitimate, rational, life and death concerns?
Of course not.
Our healthcare debate focuses not on the people who ARE dying but on the people who won’t die—at least for lack of government-provided healthcare. Meanwhile, while we obsessed about granny’s being hauled before death panels their grandchildren and great grandchildren were left to face the highest risk of dying in childbirth or in childhood in the developed world.
And why? Because we’ve put healthcare, like much of our public policy these past decades, in The Box. The same Box as in a movie. You know, the Box where, if you push the button, thousands of strangers will die, but you get to keep your own current affordable healthcare? The Box where, if you chose, you can keep your taxes from going up even if it means somebody’s wife or baby will die? A Somebody who exists only to you as a statistic, whose pain, suffering and anguish at their mortal extinguishment has been rendered a moral abstraction. So you can gather all the perceived benefits of pushing the button—even if these benefits prove as illusory as the victims of your actions prove real.
That is, basically, the box we’ve place the healthcare debate in. So the large majority of us can keep our healthcare as is and pay no additional monies we’re going to push a button in Washington and thereby consign thousands to death. Simple as that. And we’ll do it even though, under most of the discussed plans, the large majority of us will keep our healthcare as is and pay no additional monies. In the context of the Box, this is like pushing a button to kill someone and then getting nothing in return.
In other words, it’s freakin’ nuts. Not to mention incredibly immoral but, hey, why be picky.
The Box is nothing new in American politics. We’ve done the Box on the environment, for example, endless times. The Bush Administration allowed increased arsenic into water supplies; mining companies profit, children drinking contaminated water die. The Bush Administration watered down the recommendation of government scientists and allowed coal-burning power plants to emit millions of additional tons of fine particulate pollution into the air. Power plants—and ratepayers—profit; thousands will die from lung-diseases caused or exacerbated by the decision. Buttons pushed. When we have had the chance to push the costs of our own benefits onto other people—particularly weaker minorities—we Americans just love to push the button.
As the brouhaha over breast examinations prove, however, one we identify ourselves as the potential victim at the other end of our own button pushing and abstractions become personal realities, we don’t like pushing the button. We push the Other Button in the Other Box, the one where someone out there—a bunch of statiscal abstractis–pays the money to give us the things we want.
While we’re playing yet another round of The Box game in Washington over the next few months it might, however, behoove us to remember how the story—and, spoiler alert, the movie (though if you can’t guess the end from the trailer you just ain’t trying)–concludes. The moral of the Box is that we are all connected to the button. Push it and someone else may suffer but you, by your own moral failings, shall suffer, too. Ask not for whom the bell, etc. etc. It’s simple as that.
Kill healthcare reform this year and the blood of that slaying—the thousands of Americans–mostly poor, mostly young, a lot of pregnant women and even more precocious little babies—will die. And that blood is on all of our hands. But, as healthcare costs continue to skyrocket, as employers shed providing healthcare benefits even faster than shedding workers, watch out. You push the Kill Healthcare Bill button this year, America, and next year—or the year after or year after that—you may wake up to find Frank Langella and his all too normal revenge-seeking zombies on your doorstep. You may find yourself with a cancellation notice from your insurance provider or a pink slip from your boss. You may find yourself with a condition that could have been oh so easily treated six weeks or six months before but, for lack of primary care you are forced to queue up in an overcrowded emergency room.
You may find yourself dead. Our your child. Or your grandchild. That Frank Langella–he doesn’t like to be messed with.
As we enter into the season of gift-giving full bore this week, let’s remember the true price tag of some of the boxes we’re trying to give out right now. Like the healthcare box. Sometimes nice little presents for baby and me come in a box. Sometimes it’s death.
So which are we giving this year, America?