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Wednesday, December 26, 2007

The Philosophy of Scrooge

George W. Bush as ScroogeIt's the day after Christmas and a lot of us are in the same situation. We've eaten way too much and we're wearing new clothes. I sit here in a new flannel shirt, looking like a lazy lumberjack.

Another thing many of us have in common is that we watched some version of A Christmas Carol in the near past. And, watching this, the same thought crossed many of our minds -- what the hell is wrong with Tiny Tim?

Is it polio, explaining the crutch? Is it TB, explaining his weakness? Dickens never really gets around to saying. Tiny Tim is just really, really sick with some undefined wasting disease.

Dickens' Britain was a lot like Mexico -- there was no middle class. You were either very rich or very poor. There were almost zero social programs and those that existed only existed to punish the poor for their poverty -- debtors' prisons and work houses. Health insurance, as far as I know, didn't exist. You could either afford health care or you couldn't. And most couldn't. There was child labor and children who's parents couldn't afford to feed them were put into orphanages (an idea that Newt Gingrich once suggested we bring back). There were no labor laws, no worker safety protections, and no environmental protections. There was very little regulation and social and economic darwinism ruled. There was no public education.

In short, Dickensian England was the modern conservative's wet dream. It just goes to prove something I've said more than once -- when a conservative talks about change, it means they want to change things back. It's never about progress, it's about undoing progress. Conservatives are defined by what they oppose, not what they stand for. This is because opposing things is pretty much all they stand for.

And, of course, Ebenezer Scrooge was a symbol of this system. The philosophy of the times was the philosophy of Scrooge. The poor chose their poverty, the sick were at fault for being unprepared, and the uneducated chose to remain ignorant. The lower classes were lower for a reason. They weren't people, they were resources, like cattle. And their problems were their own.

Whenever I watch A Christmas Carol, I'm struck by how similar Scrooge is to the people hyping their "War on Christmas." It's ironic that if Bill O'Reilly met Bob Crachet and Tiny Tim, he'd probably tell them the same sort of things the unreformed Scrooge would. Their problems are their problems, not his. Why should he care? Bob and Tim should pull themselves up by their bootstraps.

Which brings us to President Bush's comments about health care in Virginia last tuesday:

Part of the problem in health care is that there is no consumerism -- I shouldn't say "no consumerism," obviously there is some consumerism. But when a third party pays your bill, you tend not to worry about price. If somebody else pays your bill, you're not really an active consumer. And therefore the question is -- part of the issue with price is, how do you encourage consumerism? And here's one way: Change the tax code. The tax code now says if you work for corporate America -- big company -- you get a tax benefit. But if you're a small business owner or you're out on your own, you have to buy health care with after-tax dollars.


In other words, Bush's "ownership society" mean your problems are your own. Bush proposes a $15,000 tax deduction for families and $7,500 for individuals. With most Americans having trouble putting money aside, this is supposed to go to health savings accounts. Like that's going to happen. Give someone with a boatload of debt $15,000 and it's going to go toward paying bills.

Then, when you or someone in your family does get sick, you don't have the money to pay for it. This will be your fault. Like his Dickensian counterparts, Bush will argue that your health care problems are your fault for being unprepared. This plan washes its hands of you before you even get into trouble.

And you're supposed to shop around. Having a heart attack? Hey, check out all the pricing at the hospitals before you go to the ER. If you get screwed because you were in a hurry, that's your fault. You're supposed to risk death in order to find the best deal.

Besides, let's take a look at how concern about cost affects health care:

L.A. Daily News:

A protest is planned for today at the offices of CIGNA, as a teenage girl's parents call on the insurance company to pay for a liver transplant for their daughter.

Nataline Sarkisyan, 17, of Northridge is in the intensive care unit at UCLA Medical Center in Westwood, and her mother says she has been in a vegetative state for three weeks.

Nataline will die without the transplant, said her mother, Hilda Sarkisyan.


You know how this turned out -- Nataline died.

She'd been admitted with leukemia and got a bone marrow transplant from her brother. She developed a lung condition as a complication related to her transplant. Her liver was failing and doctors recommended a liver transplant.

The course of treatment was refused by her insurer. CIGNA decided that this was "experimental services." This is where cost comes into the equation and this is why Bush's proposal is insane. Insurers don't cover "experimental services" because there's no guarantee they'll work. If you spend the money on a patient and the patient dies, you've just thrown your money out the window. Bush is saying this would make you a "bad consumer." He's asking you to think this way about yourself or your family. "Is it worth the cost?" you're supposed to ask. And some of those asking that are expected to say, "No." That'll keep health care costs down for all of us.

There's a term for someone who won't spend every last dime they have and go into debt to save their child's life -- a psychopath. Is that the philosophy of America or the philosophy of Scrooge? Your problems are your own, which means you have no one to turn to. Welcome to the "ownership society." If you're screwed, you stay screwed, because you own the problem that's screwing you.

"Business?" Marley's ghost asked Scrooge. "Mankind was my business! Their common welfare was my business!" That's the kind of thinking that's discouraged in the modern conservative movement. Mankind is most definitely not their business. Their business ends at their fingertips. Their business is themselves.

Those who posture as the most Christian, the most righteous among us, are those who embrace the philosophy of Scrooge. If there was a war on Christmas this year, they were the ones fighting it.

--Wisco

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