If the public debate around health care was not so tremendously absurd it would be laughable. True there are many questions that one can rationally ask about national health care. The key word here is rationally. Yet, what we have witnessed in America is anything but rational. It is staged, played, acted and has detracted from the real issues of a national health care program for all Americans. Let me take you back for a moment.
Have we forgotten which nation was first to design and implement a public education system for all its citizens? Let me remind you. It was America! The nation’s most noble and celebrated moments must also include the design and implementation of a public education system for all its citizens. Thomas Jefferson was among the first American leaders to suggest creating such an institution. Many of his ideas formed the basis of education systems developed in the 19th century. After the Declaration of Independence, 14 states had their own constitutions by 1791. Out of the 14 states, seven had direct provisions for education. Jefferson believed that education should be under the control of the government. It should be free from religious biases and available to all people regardless of their status in society. Others who advocated for public education at that same time were Benjamin Rush, Noah Webster, Robert Coram and George Washington. No, they were not socialists, communists or betrayers of the constitution.
Prior to the 1840s, the educational system was very limited and available only to the rich and powerful. Many reformers opposed this and desired all children to gain the benefits of a public education. A system of opportunity based on taxing landowners to help pay for the poor and the landless was initiated. Leaders like Horace Mann in Massachusetts, Henry Barnard in Connecticut, and later Booker T. Washington in Alabama and W.E.B. DuBois in Atlanta took the issue of public education for all people to a higher level. Mann took the educational issues to the public. He and his supporters argued that common schooling could create good citizens, unite society and eventually prevent criminal activity and reduce poverty.
Booker T. Washington lifted up the African-American tradition emphasizing a sound education and hard work; along with DuBois who said, “That what African-Americans needed was real education that would teach them to know, to think and to aspire.” They did it without guns and swastikas or questioning the birthright of the president of the United States. They never yelled, “I want my country back,” as if the country has somehow disappeared. No, it did not eliminate private education! Many organizations, churches and others still maintained a private education for students in their community. As a matter of fact it stimulated improvement and even greater options for education.
Today there are nearly 50 million Americans without health care. Jobs are scarce, industry is down and retirees are suffering. Is this movement about lifting up health care or is it about bringing down the president? Is this about national health care or is it really about a national health scare? After all, the defeat of a national health care program in the eyes of some could become the president’s ultimate Waterloo.
How can we allow the “just say no crowd” to take away from all Americans the most significant issue of public aid for every American since public education was first created? The president of the United States is gonna be alright. Congress and the Senate are gonna be alright. They all have more than adequate health care. What about my momma and daddy? What about your grandfather and your uncles and aunties? What about your children? How can the most powerful nation on earth, with the most talented and gifted people (so we claim), allow Canada, France, Cuba, Sweden, Netherlands, Germany and a host of other nations to take greater care of their citizens than the leader of the free world does for her own? Let’s stop the madness. No there are not death panels, no government funded abortions, no elimination of your private health care, no elimination of your personal physician, no Nazi takeover but it can be a very positive makeover for a healthy life.
We need a national health care program. America drags behind 30 other nations with a life expectancy of its citizens of 78 years. Meanwhile, Japan as the No. 1 nation has a life expectancy of 83 years for its citizens. In case you have forgotten we already have government sponsored health care. It is called Medicaid-Medicare. The president must stand strong along with reasonable people who know better. This is not about the people of America. It is about special interests who cannot accept the political reality in America. We have a new president. He is the first African-American, a new commander-in-chief who seems to want to do something for all the people. This includes people of every race regardless of station or vocation. So let’s stop scaring the people and let us begin to care for the people. Let’s have a national health care program Now!
(Reverend Dr. Wendell Anthony is president, Detroit Branch NAACP.)