Wednesday, September 14, 2011

A Little Dickensian Perspective

Don't lie: You didn't watch the Tea Party Republican debate on Monday. Hardly anybody did. I didn't. Common sense dictates that if someone is going to spend 14 months running for President, he or she is going to fill the first 10 or 12 months with inconsequential crap that can be readily forgotten without jeopardizing his or her message. I'm going to vote on November 6, 2012. Come back next year, sometime after the 4th of July, and I'll be ready to listen.

Still, everyone has seen the clip of Ron Paul condemning uninsured people to death and the audience erupting in cheers. At least that's what a lot of people say they saw. Myself, I saw this clip - maybe it's the same one you saw, or maybe I was intercepting a clip from the Bizarro universe:

I heard moderator Wolf Blitzer - in an atypical moment of tastelessness - boil down the complex, emotionally charged issue of health care for the uninsured to a gotcha question: "Are you saying that society should just let [them] die?" I heard a small number of yahoos clap and shout in assent - probably the same upright citizens who cheer at a football game when a member of the opposing team suffers an injury. And I heard Ron Paul offer some very wise words:

"We've given up on this whole concept that we might take care of ourselves and assume responsibility for ourselves, our neighbours, our friends, our churches would do it.... The cost is so high because we dump it on the government. It becomes a bureaucracy. It becomes special interests. It kowtows to the insurance companies, then the drug companies."

I don't know from what debate the London Daily Mail got this headline:

'Let them die!'
Tea Party fanatics in debate audience shout at GOP candidates to leave uninsured ill people to fight for themselves

That didn't happen. Really, it didn't.

I'm not sure what more I can add to this debate. On one hand, this trumped-up "scandal" isn't deserving of debate, although the issue it trivializes surely is. I don't believe the value of a human life should be taken by dragging it through the mud of politics and seeing if it still shines. On the other hand, I think we need to look at this issue seriously and thoughtfully - fat chance in an election campaign, I know - because the issue of what a civilized nation does about its citizens without means is not going to go away.

It hasn't gone away since 1843, anyway.

"At this festive season of the year, Mr. Scrooge," said the gentleman, taking up a pen, "it is more than usually desirable that we should make some slight provision for the Poor and destitute, who suffer greatly at the present time. Many thousands are in want of common necessaries; hundreds of thousands are in want of common comforts, sir."

"Are there no prisons?" asked Scrooge.

"Plenty of prisons," said the gentleman, laying down the pen again.

"And the Union workhouses?" demanded Scrooge. "Are they still in operation?"

"They are. Still," returned the gentleman, "I wish I could say they were not."

"The Treadmill and the Poor Law are in full vigour, then?" said Scrooge.

"Both very busy, sir."

"Oh! I was afraid, from what you said at first, that something had occurred to stop them in their useful course," said Scrooge. "I'm very glad to hear it."

"Under the impression that they scarcely furnish Christian cheer of mind or body to the multitude," returned the gentleman, "a few of us are endeavouring to raise a fund to buy the Poor some meat and drink, and means of warmth. We choose this time, because it is a time, of all others, when Want is keenly felt, and Abundance rejoices. What shall I put you down for?"

"Nothing!" Scrooge replied.

"You wish to be anonymous?"

"I wish to be left alone," said Scrooge. "Since you ask me what I wish, gentlemen, that is my answer. I don't make merry myself at Christmas, and I can't afford to make idle people merry. I help to support the establishments I have mentioned: they cost enough: and those who are badly off must go there."

"Many can't go there; and many would rather die."

"If they would rather die," said Scrooge, "they had better do it, and decrease the surplus population. Besides—excuse me—I don't know that."

"But you might know it," observed the gentleman.

"It's not my business," Scrooge returned. "It's enough for a man to understand his own business, and not to interfere with other people's. Mine occupies me constantly. Good afternoon, gentlemen!"

Seeing clearly that it would be useless to pursue their point, the gentlemen withdrew. Scrooge resumed his labours with an improved opinion of himself, and in a more facetious temper than was usual with him.

- Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol (of course)

Thanks, Mr. Dickens. You said it pretty. Of course, we know what happened to Ebenezer Scrooge. I don't know what's going to happen to the Republican candidates. But maybe they - and their Tea Party supporters - should take a closer look next time they come across a door knocker.

"Jacob Marley? What a relief.
For a minute I thought you were Rick Perry."
God bless us, everyone.

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