Five years ago, I developed a sudden ventricular tachycardia that nearly killed me. The doctors said this condition is caused by a virus that can affect anyone. After a few days in the hospital, I had a new pacemaker/defibrillator in my chest — and more than $150,000 in medical bills. Fortunately, my medical insurance covered nearly all of the expenses.
I was born into a privileged family. My white, middle class parents could afford to buy a home in the best school district and pay for my college education. So it was easy for me to get a job with great benefits for myself and my family.
Without that medical insurance five years ago, I would have had two options — impoverishment or death. That was the choice faced by tens of millions of people in America, the richest nation in the history of the world. That was the choice faced by tens of millions of people until the passage of the Affordable Care Act.
The events of this past week in Washington, D.C., however, leave me pessimistic about our future as a nation. We have watched legislators gleefully extol the shutdown of our government, showing not the slightest concern for those affected by their singular preoccupation with denying people access to affordable health care. Even if you oppose the Affordable Care Act; even if you disagree with everything President Obama does, how do you justify this act of political terrorism? How do you justify what amounts to a street mugging — a thug saying “do what I say or I will hurt you. “
This shutdown results in:
- Millions of people directly or indirectly furloughed from their jobs;
- More millions of people getting no financial assistance for food, medical treatment and child care;
- Veterans facing even longer delays than usual for their benefits; and
- Workplace and food safety inspections stopping, as well as many programs providing assistance to consumers and small businesses.
And for what? This action is specifically directed at denying people access to affordable medical insurance. Even if the ACA is flawed, can it possibly be worse than people dying because they cannot afford medical treatment that will bankrupt them and their families? What is wrong with us?
If you want to effect changes in law, you debate the law before it is passed; you offer alternatives to the law; you elect politicians who will enact the laws you want passed. The Affordable Care Act is law. The opposition has offered no alternative aside from outright rejection. And they lost the last major election. This government shutdown is nothing short of a childish tantrum with devastating effects on countless innocent people. Any delight expressed in support of this effort is un-American and in violation of our most basic principles of democracy.
And as a nation that prides itself on its religious foundations, people of all faiths agree that the current course of action is reckless and counterproductive. I will go further. I believe that the suffering inflicted by this shutdown is unconscionable and evil. I listen to the words of those who caused this shutdown and hear in them a meanness of spirit and cruelty I could not ever have imagined possible.
I could not agree more with Thomas L. Friedman, whose New York Times column Our Democracy Is At Stake published on Wednesday, Oct. 2, summarized the trends leading to this tipping point of American democracy — gerrymandering, the corruption of campaign financing and the decline of an objective media holding politicians accountable for their actions. If we don’t start standing up to this bullying, to this political fear mongering, then any semblance of our democracy will evaporate in the days and weeks to come.