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A Disappointing Debate

                                                                                                                                                      I’ve been disappointed in the tone of the public debate on health care reform. Rather than have a reasoned discussion about different approaches to this complicated and difficult issue, we seem to be bombing each other with slogans and sound bites.

Sunday’s Washington Post has a front-page story that says, “The nation’s political discourse seems sour, angry, even dangerous,” and that “‘uglier than it’s ever been’ is a phrase often volunteered” in this debate. The article reminds us that we’ve always had cycles of unruly political discourse, starting from the founding of our nation. What may be different today is that the Internet and cable television can much more easily spread over-the-top rhetoric (which, as the article points out, is often financially lucrative.)

George Will, the frequently grouchy conservative columnist, takes well-off liberals to task in his Sunday column, suggesting that “our vocabulary is composed exclusively of references to rights, a.k.a. entitlements.” In the health care debate, Will observes, “Each proposal must be invested with the dignity of a right. And since not all proposals are compatible, you have not merely differences of opinion but apocalyptic clashes of rights.” I think his observation holds equally true for conservatives and liberals in the health
care debate.

A recent column by Roger Cohen in the New York Times brought this all into focus for me. “Whatever may be right, something is rotten in American medicine. It should be fixed. But fixing it requires the acknowledgment that, when it comes to health, we’re all in this together. Pooling the risk between everybody is the most efficient way to forge a healthier society.” But Americans hear “pooled risk” and think, “Hey, somebody’s freeloading on my hard work.”

Concludes Cohen, “Americans, born in revolt against Europe and so ever defining themselves against the old Continent’s models, mythologize their rugged (always rugged) individualism as the bulwark against initiative-sapping entitlements. We’re not talking about health here. We’re talking about national narratives and mythologies—as well as money. These are things not much susceptible to logic. But in matters of life and death, mythology must cede to reality, profit to wellbeing.”

One of the things I like about working in the nonprofit sector is that there is an explicit commitment to thinking of others, not just our own well-being. We donate because we want to share our resources with others, often those less fortunate than us. We volunteer because we have skills and energy that can help others. We work for nonprofit organizations because it is an opportunity to serve others and make this a better world. The health care debate could use a little less complaining about me and mine and a lot more talk about you and us.

Bob.jpgThe preceding is a guest post Bob Ottenhoff,  Chief Executive of the Center for Disaster Philanthropy. With an entrepreneurial spirit, strong technology focus, and a quest to make an impact in the world, Bob has the ability to take an organization and lead it into strong performance, sustainability, and industry leadership.

Topics: Policy Health Care Reform