Monday, June 18, 2007

The Fear of Losing Anything

Several weeks ago on C-SPAN, I watched a sort of debate/forum for the Democratic Candidates on the issue of health care in the United States.

Other than making me frustrated at the fact that I was watching with rapt attention close to a year before the primary seasons will even begin, I do enjoy the fact that certain issues are being debated and talked about in semi-sane ways, one of them being health care.

The forum was fairly predictable and didn’t interest me that much. Most candidates seemed to take the position of evoking the language of health care equality and universal care and concern, or the debatable “American trait” of wanting to take care of all and make sure that they are okay, and taking cheap, weak, abstract and eventually meaningless shots at the health care industry, while pulling softly back from any real universal heath care system.

Dennis Kucinich, stood out amongst a few candidates who is actively and openly pushing for universal health care. Not posing to be realistic by saying that we need to be patient or that this process is a slow one, but rather realistic in the sense that its chances of happening are directly related to how we use the power of the government on behalf of those needing health care as opposed to lining the pockets of CEOs.

During his time in the forum he was asked an interesting question. One of the chief arguments against his notions of universal health care, according to the moderator, was the people might have to start rationing medication or services in order to meet the new needs if health care truly belonged to everyone.

Kucinich responded that a little rationing is vastly better than 40 million people not having health care, and more than twice that not having sufficient health care to cover their needs.

Naturally, a stupid question, given the context that Kucinich reminded the moderator of, but one which made perfect sense if we think about who the subject of campaigns and elections of the United States usually is. Its not the majority subject, or the universal subject, or the lowest among us, rather it is the middle class subject. It is this subject that politicians, in particular on the national level attempt to cater to, by recounting the ways that they are being threatened by economic, education and social problems and the machinations of the current or previous administration. The middle class is beginning to disintegrate, the country needs a new direction! The middle class is getting screwed by taxes! Can we ever have a country where that sort of energy or even rhetorical attention is directed to those who really need it? Such as the poor, or the working poor?

I was immediately reminded after hearing this exchange about a line from sociologist Avery Gordon’s powerful book, Ghostly Matters: Haunting and the Sociological Imagination. In her discussion about middle class acquiescence during the period of military rule and the mass “disappearances” in Argentina, she illustrates very provocatively (and productively) and problems with the sort of middle class consciousness that we find in the United States, and pandered to in electoral politics:

This is a class consciousness that has an authorizing tendency to personal and privatize social problems, saving most of its public political energy for natural disasters and various campaigns for order, hygiene, and proper personal behavior. This is a class consciousness that always has something else on its mind: the bills, the errands, the car, the house, the petty tyrannies of administrators, colleagues, relatives – its seemingly absolute advantages and disadvantages. This is a class consciousness that escapes real public civic life because its tired or busy or what can you do about it anyway? Go fill the car with gas. You aunt called and did you send her a thank you note? Answer the phone and by the way I’m going to the wedding this week, what should I wear? I’ve got to go to work, I’ll talk later. It’s none of your business. Did you see that woman buying ice creams with her good stamps? The middle class always wants things taken care of, done right, and is always complaining about what it is about to lose, as if the whole world would end if the middle collapses. It fears falling down where the others live and it craves success stories of whatever kind. But it is cowed by the lure of achievement, internalizing an aggressive inferiority it projects remarkably consistently, as it often sites waiting, distracted, while others act in its name. It hates authority and loves authority at the same time, rattling its fists at the invisible fathers who parade in a martial manner and reproducing their sons and daughters again and again.

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