Published on June 28th, 2012 | by Michael Hansen1
America Is Not The Greatest Nation, But It Can Be
For those of you who have not watched the pilot episode of the new HBO series “The Newsroom,” the title of this post is a reference to its opening scene. Whether or not you liked the episode, that scene is striking in that it explains something so many of us have felt but never really explained: American Exceptionalism is not justified, but not because we who feel that way are unpatriotic, but rather we have higher standards for ourselves.
It is with that frame through which I have viewed most political discussions in the U.S. for the past several years. Today’s SCOTUS ruling on the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act is no exception. Immediately my news feeds on Facebook and Twitter became case studies in divergent world views and ideological spin. My friends and followers on the right decried ACA as socialism while those on the left celebrated the health care expansion’s survival.
In summary, news outlets went berserk, politicians tweeted the wrong thing, people got offensive and downright rude. All of this excitement, misinformation and spin — from reporters to average Joes, from politicians to legal scholars — is a huge part of the American problem. Let’s talk about the culprits.
[quote]I don’t know when rugged individualism kidnapped the American Dream, but that’s not the America I remember admiring in history classes and during Independence Day celebrations. ‘Every man for him/herself’ is a decidedly un-American mantra in my book.[/quote]
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Even the news media got the SCOTUS ruling terribly wrong. Fox News and CNN both reported initially that the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the individual mandate. Of course, it’s much more nuanced than that. Meaning yhe law was largely upheld, inuding the so-called mandate. But that message sent social media into a frenzy of conservative celebration.
One local news station, Fox 6-WBRC, reported it as follows: “SCOTUS: Congress can make people by [sic] insurance.” Really? That’s how you choose to report on a critically important policy decision? Health affects people’s lives more than just about any other issue in the political realm and our news stations are going to report a ruling like that? At best, lots of media today engaged in Yellow Journalism, in demauery. At worst, they showed their partisan stripes, turning important news into an Ideological Communion wherein they fed red meat — rather than bread and wine — to frothing congregations gathered in virtual pews awaiting cues from their chosen pastors of ideology.
I’ll circle back around to this later on, but I wanted to set the stage to explain who all the actors in this tragicomedy are.
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“I’m Kind of a Big Deal”
Just as guilty in hindering American Exceptionalism are the educated ideologues who claim credibility on such issues. These are the law students and practicing attorneys who denounce any opinion on a legal matter from someone in an outside field. The problem with this, of course, is that laws are made to govern all of society and we all have something at stake. There are also medical professionals — scientists, researchers, doctors, public health officials — who call foul when someone without a health background announces their opinion on a matter of health policy. The obvious problem with this is parallel with the previous one: Health affects every single person, more so than law, even. Is it not imperative that we all seek out fresh perspectives and diverse conversation?
What’s even more irritating about both of the preceding examples of arrogant elitism is the cost associated with advanced degrees in medicine and law. Open your eyes and realize that the Land of Opportunity is primarily that only for people born into money or with fantastic luck. Most of us cannot afford law school or medical school or simply refuse to put ourselves into that big of a financial hole from the starting gun of the race that is our adult lives. Until we, the educated, can get ourselves out of the myopic bubble of viewing everyone who chose another profession — whatever the reason — as unqualified to debate, we will never learn to better hear one another and accept possible solutions from outside sources. It’s true that those in any given situation often cannot see the forest for the trees. In this case, we cannot see others’ innate intelligence for our own ignorant arrogance.
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Excite the Base
Another atrocious meme I saw crop up today was this reinforcement of the notion that middle and wealthy classes — it’s 2012, why are we still divided by class? — are now somehow on the hook to pay for health insurance for the poor. The first problem with this is that it ignores the fact that insurance is based on a pooling of resources and averaging them out. The healthier you are and fewer times you go to the doctor, the less your care actually costs the system. The poorer your health — or if you’re just a hypochondriac — the more your care costs the system. It is simple math and all insurance works this way. Sixth grade algebra-type math.
In other words, that’s already the way it works and nothing about ACA changes that. One might hypothesize that it could worsen the situation, but that’s speculative at best. As I just discussed above, I think we do a disservice to ourselves when we don’t invite everyone, regardless of their qualifications, to the table for a conversation. But try to be accurate and factual, not antagonistic. ;Our health care system has long been dependent upon this structure because it’s the one that won. Other countries have tried other things and that is their prerogative. Some countries just factor health care into their tax structure, figuring that a safe, secure and *well* nation is the best version of that nation. (We can’t have overweight, diabetic, asthmatic troops, now, can we? The same with mental health, an often ignored piece of the health care puzzle. That’s one theory, at least.)
Further, I don’t know when rugged individualism kidnapped the American Dream, but that’s not the America I remember admiring in history classes and during Independence Day celebrations. “Every man for him/herself” is a decidedly un-American mantra in my book. Throughout our history we have come together to solve problems. Collective problem solving is not communism. You’ve been misinformed if that’s what you learned in grade school.
Interstate highways, transcontinental railroads, national parks, social security, FDIC insurance, Medicare and war bonds — even conscription at times — are all examples of choices we made together to solve problems to create a better America. On a local level, consider roads; public schools; sidewalks; and fire, police and health departments; each is a solution to a problem that affects a broad and diverse majority of that community’s residents. Examples such as these do not signal communism, socialism, tyranny or any other form of government, but instead are lessons in problem solving. And the fact remains that this particular problem — what to do about health care and its costs — remains largely unsolved; it has only divided us further, making any legitimate solution even less likely than before.
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The thing most lacking in America today — indeed the thing holding back our exceptional selves — is our blatant disregard for cooperation in problem solving. I, being the media addict and student of life that I am, believe that this is a result of expanded access to information. Bad information. We get our news for divergent and opinionated ideologues cloaked in the garb of news media. We have become paranoid and distrustful because of this.
Related reading material: ;“What you know depends on what you watch: Current events knowledge across popular news sources”
A hardcore Fox News viewer and a hardcore MSNBC viewer have little to say to one another on any issue other than to shout conspiracy theories. Readers of Reason.com and ThinkProgress.com are likely to come to incredibly different conclusions on one matter given the same relative set of facts. Why? Because the reporting in biased media is not done by reporters who are loyal to the Fourth Estate as a critical part of a free and informed society. Instead, the punditry are a collection of ;special interests’ spokespeople. ;News Flash: Sean Hannity is not qualified to report on news. Nor Ed Schultz. Nor Rush Limbaugh. Nor Matt Drudge. Nor Markos Moulitsas.
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I am not going to tell anyone to not watch or read or listen to those programs. I am, however, insisting that people educate themselves on matters via credible publications and broadcasts. The first step is admitting there is a problem. And the problem with biased news media is that it results in a wrong-headed, delusional world view. It’s time for you to get out of your bubble and become informed without a preconceived notion in mind or an agenda in doing so.
This is not the part of this blog entry where I ;offer a list of credible outlets from which everyone should source their information. I’m not that pompous. I will tell you that I am an avid reader of The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The New Yorker, The Atlantic, Forbes, Harvard Business Review, Reason (despite its ideology — and yes, Libertarianism is one), and a handful of foreign periodicals. I love the Diane Rehm show more than any show on the airwaves and listen to just about all NPR programs when I’m in my car. I watch Morning Joe, Rachel Maddow, Meet the Press, Face the Nation, Bill Maher and, most importantly, The Daily Show. (Note: I don’t care for TV political news shows. I’d rather laugh if I’m watching TV.)
In summary, WE are the problem. YOU are the problem We get what we vote for and pay for. Special interest-owned politicians are making bad decisions for us and corporate-owned media are telling us what to think about it. That’s not a good system at all. Information is available, we just have to get off our ass and learn. Seek out information that challenges your prejudices instead of confirming them. Stop inflaming those who already agree with you and invite those who don’t to converse with you. Also, it’s called Google. Use it. We can’t have a debate if we don’t both agree that the sky is in fact blue. ;We are not entitled to our own facts.
Conversation is the solution. So let’s converge and not diverge. Let’s discuss rather than yell. Let’s admit that we’re wrong rather than whine about the other guy. Let’s fix things again. We can be great if we let ourselves.
It’s time for me to stop typing and ask you some questions. Where do you get your information, Mrs. Palin? What do you think of the way issues such as health care are framed? Does it matter? How can we stop all the yelling and start the solving?