Senator Tom Coburn has an illuminating profile in yesterday’s New York Times. I say illuminating because it makes plain his disdain for Congress, his colleagues, and basically anything he doesn’t like. Indeed, the reporter does not address and Sen. Coburn does not provide an explanation for seemingly chronic obstructionism except to imply that someone has to do it.
Beyond stifling the democratic process and abusing the privilege of his position he also makes at least one ridiculous statement. Towards the end of the article, in explanation for his opposition to healthcare reform, he says, “If you look historically, every great republic has died over fiscal issue. That is the biggest moral issue of our time.” If he expounds on this statement the reporter declined to include it. I dare say the reporter couldn’t include any exposition on the statement because it’s patently false as Coburn has framed it.
To my knowledge no republic has gone broke and suddenly died. There have been crises, massive loans, and rescues but not sudden death. Much to the contrary republics have “died” because of the income polarization of the haves and have-nots. Two prime examples include the French Revolution and even, to a lesser degree, the American Revolution. When the wealth of a nation is to consolidated in the upper rungs of the income ladder. When the poor get poorer, and when the government refuses to address this inequity you get revolution. Anyone would be hard pressed to say that one’s level of income has no connection to the level of healthcare they receive. Sen. Coburn would have you think that providing healthcare to the have-nots would lead to the end of our republic, when history teaches us that the exact opposite is true.
Sen. Coburn also calls this the “biggest moral issue of our time.” Now it’s unclear if he means the fiscal issue is the greatest moral issue or if he means the survival of the republic, a survival he falsely sees threatened by healthcare reform, is a great moral issue. What is clear is that for him there is not morality involved as it relates to ensuring basic healthcare to all US citizens. This seems entirely backward to me.
I balk at anyone suggesting the survival of our republic is a moral imperative. It implies a level of hubris regarding out own form of democracy that is dangerous and untethered from the reality of the imperfections in our system. It also assigns a kind of spiritual superiority to our system of government which complicates compromise. Of course, it’s not as if Sen. Coburn spends much time worrying about compromise anyway.
Instead, if one were to bring morality into the healthcare debate, it is the morality spoken of so eloquently by the late Robert F. Kennedy. Our moral imperative is to our fellow man, our fellow citizen. We are obligated by our interconnection as people to do what we can to provide for our neighbor when he or she can not provide for themselves. Why is this a moral imperative? Why in our hyper-capitalist society, built on ferocious individualism should we care for our neighbor? Because there could come a day where any one of us falls on hard times and needs a helping hand. I’m not a tremendously religious person. I don’t attend Bible study every Sunday as Sen. Coburn does, but I remember the golden rule. Treat others as you, yourself would like to be treated. Perhaps if Sen. Coburn heard "no" as much as he said "no" he would be a more humble public servant and more compassionate elected representative of this republic.