A VIEW FROM SCOTLAND
A Victim of Health Care. (Victim? Really?)
If This is Victimhood I’m Suffering, Don’t Set Me Free
Written by Scott Johnston. Last updated Wednesday March 24th, 2010
Our greatest pretenses are built up not to hide the evil and the ugly in us, but our emptiness. The hardest thing to hide is something that is not there. -Eric Hoffer, philosopher and author (1902-1983) -A Word A Day
By SCOTT JOHNSTON
Well here I am at 77, a British citizen, trained in his youth to fight in Korea, but sent instead to do his stint as a NATO soldier in Germany to face off the Red Army that stood there, at no great distance, menacing the West for nearly half a century. No empty threat either. People died opposing it, East Germans in the uprising of 1953, and later Czechs and Hungarians, thousands of Hungarians in 1956 - to say nothing of the routine brutalities imposed on their peoples by the puppet regimes of the Warsaw Pact, behind the Iron Curtain.
I know something about that, too, from close friends in the Balkans and East Germany.
Through all these troubled times I paid my taxes, brought up my family, stayed in work, and on retirement got involved, a bit, in European Union projects designed to re-establish democratic institutions in Eastern Europe after the Communists fell from power.
Anyway, it pleases me to think I generally did my bit - nothing special, nothing distinguished, but not too much, I hope, to be ashamed of either
But it takes the debate in Washington on Obama’s health care bill to open my eyes to how I’ve been taken for a sucker all these years.
I read, according to Republican dogma, that I am the victim of a tyrannical socialist system with the government dominating my life, the slave of a “European Nanny State”.
Gosh. I’d never have thought it.
Here was me thinking I lived in a decent sort of country - capable of evil and stupidity - of course, but on the whole with good and reasonably civilised values. For sure, it is a country that refused to let my first son die of acute asthma in his teens, a country that picked my wife up after tripping last year in the streets of Edinburgh, and gave her a new hip within twenty four hours with full after-care back up - and never asked for a credit card or enquired about her bank balance, a country that will give health care to all its citizens, as of right.
Free? Of course not. You can’t get this for nothing, and I’ve been paying for it all my life through my taxes. I wouldn’t have it any other way.
I can’t be alone in this either. It would be suicide for any political party in Britain to advocate any weakening of the National Health Service - to want to interfere with the principle of a state funded service free at the point of delivery for those in need.
Plenty of debate - of course -about the organisation and efficiency of the NHS. Plenty of horror stories of human error and neglect. That makes news. But plenty of praise for it too. My experience has been wholly good. Perhaps I’ve just been lucky.
But no one I have ever met would want to contemplate any interference with the principle fought for and established in 1948 with the Utopian but reasonable vision of creating after World War 2 a better society than it had been the lot of most people in the twenties and thirties to experience - when governments and the way the economy had been organised manifestly failed to meet their reasonable expectations.
Socialism - or the sort of Christian Socialist thinking that dominated Western European politics in the early post war years - seemed eminently preferable to the shambles that the unrestricted play of market forces in the interwar years had made of so many people’s lives, denying them the means to provide themselves with the basic things needed to lead the good life.
So, socialism? Really? Depends on what you imagine socialism is. I don’t back away from it. But it’s just a simple term of abuse, it seems, in the USA, needing no explanation
But hang on! Margaret Thatcher must have been a socialist too. Maybe her good buddy Reagan just never noticed. Certainly the Iron Lady smashed down many of the works of previous Labour governments. Some of these needed to be dismantled too. And the two of them let the financial services markets rip, both sides of the Atlantic, perhaps in retrospect not exactly the good idea it seemed to so many at the time.
But she would never, ever, have dared to dismantle the NHS.
Odd that the ideological debates - socialism against capitalism (though the choices in main stream British politics were never presented quite so starkly) have given way in the UK to a broad measure of consensus about the role of the state in the economy, in particular with regard to health. Politics in Britain is about management and personalities. And to some extent about whether the UK (not all that much older than the USA) can hang together for all that much longer.
But opposite trends seem to be emerging in America. Ideological divisions have emerged between Democrats and Republicans where, to the foreign observer, they were scarcely visible before. And the tone of political discourse in the States seems to have grown ugly, and threatening, and (to this observer anyway), troubling to those who care about the future of democratic institutions.
OK, I am by conviction a woolly sort of liberal, but a hard line, ideological woolly liberal.
I want a “nice” society, but I know too that that’s the hardest to create and to sustain. To do so you need to be just as tough minded as the tough guys on the Right who would transpose the supposed simple virtues of the frontiersman to apply in an infinitely more complex world which man, unwittingly, has in these last hundred years or so made infinitely more fragile, and more dangerous.
I kind of think that a lot of people died to defend the tolerant, easy going but orderly sort of society that liberals like to believe in, where enterprise is rewarded, but the excesses of those who would be economic robber barons are held in check, and health, like defence, is seen as a national responsibility. Anyway, that’s the only kind of society I think I’d be prepared to die for, and consider that the sacrifice might just be worthwhile.
So, back to health, where all this chain of thought began.
To us - victims of socialist tyranny - it is beyond all comprehension why there is any debate, at all, in the richest country in the world, about organising matters to ensure that health care is available to all, as of right.
It is something that seems as self evident as the other sacred truths which Americans are taught to hold so dear.
But the USA is not my country, and my understanding of it is very partial indeed. I just wanted to say, though, that if this is victimhood that I’m suffering where I am right now, then just don’t feel you need to set me free.
And by the way, nothing to stop me buying health in Britain too, if I want it. I’ve done that too.
(Scott Johnston is a native of Dundee, Scotland, and a graduate of Durham University in England where he earned honors in philosophy, politics and economics. From 1979 until he retired in 1995, he was the chief executive of the National Farmers Union of Scotland. In retirement, he has been a consultant to the European Union in Romania and Bulgaria. He lives in Edinburgh where his hobbies are constantly reconfiguring his homemade alpine garden and climbing Scotland’s mountains, if at a more sedate pace than in the past.)