Tuesday, December 15, 2009

(US) health care dies in the dark

In The Strange Death of Liberal England, a lot of ink is spilled over a constitutional matter -- then of much importance, now largely forgotten -- involving the privileges of the House of Lords, and whether the Aristocracy had the right to indefinitely suppress the will of the elected government. The Conservative Peers had violated all precedent and traditions to put a halt to a Liberal government's policies, and the Liberals responded by threatening to create, en bloc, several hundred new Liberal peers in order to force their agenda through.

The Conservative peers, when told that the King would eventually accede to the elected government's wishes, were despondent. They could either give in to the Liberal government's demands, or irretrievably alter the Chamber they loved so much -- and the Liberals would still get their way. The choice, they said, was whether to be killed in daylight or die in the dark of their own hand. The Tories decided to die in the dark -- they eventually passed the Liberal budget and the government got its way.

The political crises of 1910-1913 were swept away in 1914, so you don't spend a lot of time learning about the People's Budget, or Home Rule, or Suffragism's impact on British politics. (Unless you're a giant nerd. Ahem.) But to put it briefly, any number of things threatened to spiral out of control in British politics in the immediate pre-war period, and in a lot of cases you found elected politicians deliberately throwing fuel on the fire -- up to and including encouraging Army units to mutiny -- in order to do anything to cripple the Liberal government of the time. Attention to these events was closely paid in places like Berlin and Vienna, and grasping powers looking for their place in the sun began to believe they saw daylight through the fissures in British power. Strange Death tiptoes up to, but never quite says, that the opportunists of 1910-1913 as good as brought on the war by making Britain look weak in the years leading up to the war.

Instead, of course, everybody basically shook hands and threw their petty concerns out the window when the war came, and a United Kingdom became a terrible enemy indeed.

As bleak as I may be sometimes, I don't actually think a world-straddling conflagration is actually going to erupt in the next 18 months, so if I were a member of the US political class, I'd be really concerned right about now about not pushing the system to a crisis. I'd be really concerned that people already question the basic legitimacy of this political system after the clear abuses of the Bush era and their all-too-sad continuation in the Obama era. I'd be really concerned that in a well-armed country of 300 million, statistics alone argue in favour of trying to comfort the afflicted, even if it means afflicting the comfortable.

But then, I'm not a member of the US political class. Joe Lieberman is.

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