So, if there’s any good news, let it be this: the histrionics of today’s government are so bombastic, so dramatically played out, so akin to a circus, or meta “Saturday Night Live” skit, or face-slapping celebrity feud, that perhaps more Americans will tune in and pay attention to who the political players are and what’s going on in our country. One can only hope. I mean, our culture is super celeb-obsessed. Could we now become pol-obsessed?
It’s day 10 of the government shutdown. Earlier, I was aboard a JetBlue plane that hit cruising altitude just as Senator Ted Cruz was speaking to a group of men and women at the 2013 Value Voters Summit, which was airing on MSNBC.
I keenly watched and listened. I wanted to hear and try to understand where this fearless, if oblivious, crusader and his ever-shrinking flock were coming from — what exactly they were “fighting” for (on my fingers, I started counting the number of times the senator said the word “fight”).
Talking Anything But Straight
I tuned in just as the senator, at once frustrated for being interrupted yet again by audience protestors and hecklers, yet desperately trying to remain cool, took moments away from his planned talk to address the detractors by mic, saying, “Thank you for your passion, but you should respect the rights of the men and women here.”
Oh, gosh. Respect. Family Values. God. The American people. Freedom. Liberty. I love words. What I don’t love is mangling and dishonoring them. Such words, once with actual meanings and definitions, get overused by today’s politicians (of all parties); they’re soaked, put through the dryer and wrung out until they are dry of any meaning whatsoever, in order to be used as catch phrases to hammer home an agenda or win votes.
Even the name of the conference, the Value Voters Summit, struck a chord. Just the other day, I was talking with a friend about those now conservative-branded words: family values. Two words that most Americans want, or have, that were taken hostage by conservative political slogans and marketing, as if one group has them and others don’t. “I have family values,” my liberal friend said, to which I replied, “I do, too, but now the words just equate to a political slogan when I hear them.”
I’d argue that respect would be presenting your comrades with actual information. Actually stating facts, or numbers, or statistics, or the issue, which is heath care, not freedom or liberty or God.
I’d even take anecdotes, some other reason than freedom and liberty and God when encouraging Americans not to support healthcare reform. What struck me during this talk was this strong banding together, this comradeship, against Obamacare. I get it, strength in solidarity … but why? What, point by point, are the reasons that you politicians would like to point out to people to have them support you in this futile, too-long-going attempt to kill the Affordable Care Act. Remember, freedom and liberty and God are off the table.
What Are They Cheering For?
And yet, no one in these audiences, no one cheering and applauding and standing, and elbowing and nudging and nodding, seems to be demanding the same respect, the same information. It seems to be enough just to be part of this small minority, clinging together against this very, very bad thing that they hate.
“This summer, Mike Lee and I took a very different strategy,” said Senator Cruz. “We’ll go over their heads … to the American people.”
Now, I don’t know about you, but going “over heads” sounds a tad bit like anarchy. And, come to think of it, this actually sounds disrespectful, to the leaders voted into office to lead the country, not to mention the processes and chain of command by which the government is supposed to run (that is, if you actually want it to function and not shut it down).
Senator Cruz spoke about “speaking at town halls across the country” about how “scared” the president is, what “a statement of fear” he was making. “Oh, they didn’t want the truth to be heard, they definitely didn’t want that,” he said.
It sounded like another abstract word. Fear about what? What truth? Why is everyone nodding, and no one asking these very basic questions? I wondered.
Were these the words and concepts and comradeship that governed said town hall meetings?
One Bad Apple, One Soured Brand
Well, all it takes are a few bad, or simply very out-of-touch associates, and you’re donesky. And that is the lesson that the Republican party has to chew on as it eyes the latest WSJ poll, published today, in which, out of 800 Americans polled, 53 percent blamed the Republican Party for the government shutdown, and 31 percent President Obama.
Now, that’s the whole Republican Party, not just the 30 or 40 who were pushing for a government shutdown as a tactic to defund Obamacare. Indeed, the Republicans have lost a lot of face, having the lowest marks in the history of Journal polling, which dates back to 1989. So there, some numbers.
“The left will always, always, always tell you who they fear: they fear you, the American people,” said Senator Cruz.
Wait a second. I am American. The person next to me on the plane, regardless of party, of God, was an American. Many people outside that room, American. Why do politicians attempt to pull us apart when we are one people. United. Or so it was supposed to be.
Here again, these ambiguous but should-be-clear terms.
To be fair, Senator Cruz did cite a few numbers today, such as “two million people” who signed up at dontfundit.com, to “fight Obamacare” within two weeks’ time of the site launch.
Sounds big, standing alone.
But it’s a different story when compared to the day that the Affordable Care Act exchanges went live, when, in New York, the state-run site received 2.5 million visits within the first 30 minutes; and in California, which on day one had up to 16,000 hits per minute. The Health and Human Services Department reported at least 4.7 million hits to the federal-government-run Healthcare.gov on day one, while the department also logged 190,000 calls to enrollment support hotlines and more than 100,000 requests for live online chats, reported TheHill.
Senator Cruz lastly cited the “enormous harms Obamacare is causing, people pushed to part-time work, and losing jobs,” and urged the House of Representatives to “stand strong,” calling this the “model for every fight.”
But who exactly is he, and this room full of people — all cheering God, freedom and liberty — fighting? Those other Americans, who waited persistently, going back again and again, tirelessly, to URLs where they were told to wait, in an attempt to get through tech-bugged sites to try to find healthcare coverage for themselves and their families?
Senator Cruz, in closing, cited his remaining faith in these two things: first, faith in one benevolent God who loves each and everyone, and two, the American people “who love liberty and opportunity unlike any other nation.”
It is still not clear to me what God, mine or anybody else’s, has to do with healthcare reform. I went to an all-girls Catholic high school. I lived in a Muslim African village for two years as a Peace Corps volunteer. In my tolerant, melting-pot city of New York, I have friends from a whole host of religious backgrounds, beliefs and creeds. What is clear to me is that my higher power would not allow healthcare, for those who want it, for any American, to be unattainable, or refuse coverage to someone based on a prior condition, or promote a political tactic that would prevent a terminally ill person, with one potential lifeline left, from being able to enroll in a clinical trial.
What’s That You Say?
Now that it’s on the table, let’s talk about that freedom.
My family and friends would be the first to tell you I am a fiercely independent, freedom-loving American. Most entrepreneurs who start their own business, or freelancers who carve out their own path and way in order to achieve their dream, reach their potential, lead a purposeful life, and achieve happiness are.
Despite what anyone else may say, from where I sit it is having health insurance within affordable reach that will prevent many of us from having to hear this pathetic and sad phrase again (which became common from 2009 onward, when the economy was drooping and employers sucked workers dry): “I hate my job … but I really need the health insurance.”
Health insurance availability should not be the one thing that keeps unhappy workers stuck in unfulfilling jobs where they are overworked and underpaid and have become sparkless zombies. Having an affordable healthcare option is precisely what will put the enterprise back in America. It is going to make launching your own business more possible, and encourage many more Americans to find their dreams again and go after them, to pursue their passions, interests, visions and goals. From this, innovation will flourish. To me, that is freedom.
So, while Senator Cruz urged people to “rise up and defend,” and to “repeal,” and to “win this fight,” what I see is not a fight or struggle at all. Indeed, the struggle is over. This is a liberation, a returning of the boundless possibility, entrepreneurship, visions of the American dream. There is no reason now not to make your mark, to go for it and be who you were meant to be. I expect inspired, rewarding things from you.