More Dialogue with Melkaba
In “Bend It Like Obama” I replied to reader Melkaba on the subject of why he/she should be against “Obamacare.” Melkaba wrote back as follows:
Thank you for considering my question. But I am still not convinced. You talk about impacts on current health care systems, none of which I can participate in. I don’t trust HMOs OR the government, but some access to health care would be better than my current circumstance – which is none.
The thing is, that’s not true. Everyone without health insurance is a participant in Medicaid, one of the health care systems I referred to. Everyone in America has access to health care. It is simply not true to say otherwise. Is it the same access that a privately-insured patient has, in every detail? No. There are things Medicaid doesn’t pay for – although it does pay for more preventive care than many people think. But there is a very meaningful difference between the situation of anyone in the USA, and literally having no access to health care. The latter is not the condition of anyone in America.
What I would like to know from Melkaba is this: what do you not have that you think a public insurance option is going to do for you? Changing the label from “Medicaid” to “public insurance” will not improve the service, or any of your access to health care. It will raise your taxes, and very possibly cause your job to disappear because your employer can’t afford to keep paying you. He or she will have to start paying a fine of 8% of income (not profits) for not providing his employees with insurance. In low-margin industries that will end up wiping out his profits, and possibly make it impossible for him to pay even himself. Everything he has to buy to stay in business will also increase in price, as other businesses build their cost increases into their prices. Think tanks have concluded that Obamacare will drive small companies totaling billions in sales and hundreds of thousands of jobs out of business. Small businesses can’t bear the cost of the plan. If you work for one (and you must, since you don’t have health insurance), are you really sure you’d rather have your public health care assistance labeled “insurance,” than keep your job?
Your life will not get better if Medicaid is just called something else (“public option insurance”). You will have no greater guarantee than you have now of receiving health care when you need it. Why is this change of labels so important to you?
Does everything associated with Obama have to be creepy? I had just gotten home from the road trip when I was flipping through the channels on Tuesday evening and saw the exact same program on at least three in a row (it seemed to be showing on six or seven channels): “Get Schooled,” an hour-long look at how young people are putting their educations to work in three different walks of life. Kelly Clarkson’s band and professional entourage was one. Another was speechwriting for Obama. Didn’t fully catch the third.
The premise here doesn’t seem objectionable, but really, what’s with running this thing on so many channels at once? It really came off as a major propaganda push, a takeover of the airwaves. There was something weirdly Orwellian about it. Viacom and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation are behind the “Get Schooled” production, and there’s no shortage of information about it on the web. It’s not something anyone seems to be trying to keep secrets about. But it adds disquieting context to Obama’s speech to the schoolkids, made Tuesday morning: there’s a lot of Obama in “Get Schooled,” as we see one of his speechwriters interact with him. Mentally replace Obama with George W. Bush, and imagine how the media would have reacted to this juxtaposition of communication efforts – directed toward children – if it had been orchestrated on behalf of the latter.
(Rush Limbaugh has got to be one of the most useful people on the planet. Fox News had reiterated the information that Bush 41 and Reagan both addressed school students, in the days leading up to Obama’s address. But no one other than Rush, as far as I am aware, took the trouble to report that when Bush 41 did it, in 1991, the Washington Post called it inappropriate, and very possibly a misuse of the funds for the Executive Office of the President, and Democrats in Congress threatened to investigate the use of funds, calling the address a campaign event and saying that it should not have been banked by the taxpayer. Of course, it’s utterly absurd to suggest, from that perspective, that there is any moral, political, or ethical difference in what’s going on when Obama does it, as opposed to George H.W. Bush. Either it was an appropriate use of taxpayer money when Bush 41 did it, or an inappropriate use of taxpayer money when Obama did it on Tuesday.)
Visit the Get Schooled website and see what vibe you get. It’s not clear why the style has to be that of a Most Wanted poster. The “I WANT, I WANT, I WANT” message, presented to look like the demands of labor union organizers from the 1930s, is awfully pointed. The kulturkampf in which Obama’s crowd lives and breathes sure does seem stuck in that Stalinist phase, right down to the Warholized “New Soviet Man” representation of Obama himself every way you turn.
Keep in mind, this “Get Schooled” multimedia effort is directed at schoolkids. Looking over the site, I don’t see anything about students taking responsibility, finishing what they start, and holding themselves to a high standard. There’s a lot, however, about how to contact governors to demand your “rights” – as if the hundreds of billions spent in America on public education every year were somehow mistargeted, or being siphoned off, and not going to the service of exactly the “rights” enumerated at the Get Schooled website. (And gosh, they may be, those hundreds of billions, but where that’s being done, it’s being done by those who support the agenda of the radical left: the NEA leadership and left-wing state politicians who rely heavily on union contributions. It’s not the taxpayer, big business, white men, or any other bogeyman of the left who is preventing our wildly overfunded public schools from turning out educated citizens.)
America: Worth Keeping
I just got home from driving between Oklahoma and California, having been as always struck afresh by the breadth and depth of our country. That so much of it is accessible to so many of us is remarkable. One is never out of sight of civilization on I-40, as one sometimes is on other interstates (and even more on state highways). The colors and landscape of western Oklahoma, the Texas panhandle, New Mexico, Arizona, and southern California are a kaleidoscope of nature, oddly seeming to shift just about at the borders as a driver passes them: from the intense red earth and live oaks and spring greens of Oklahoma to the ochres and pastels and brushy arroyos around Amarillo, to the pale rose hardscape and dark green clumps and distant mesas of New Mexico, the sandstone and craggy pink peaks of Arizona, ushering in mountainous, piney Flagstaff and descending through the varicolored sedimentary rock of Kingman and Bullhead City, until I-40 crosses the Colorado River and plunges into the Mojave Desert of California, pale and glittering and empty – except for the creosote and the smoke trees and the ocotillo – as it perpetually threatens to swallow up the tiny, hardy settlements between Needles and Barstow.
I’ve driven across the US on a number of occasions, on interstates from I-94 to I-4 and I-8 and from I-95 to I-5. It’s always amazing to see America opening before you, whether it’s the miles and miles of tall, dark eastern pines in Virginia and North Carolina, the black bears ambling across I-70 in Pennsylvania, the crossing of Lake Ponchartrain on I-10, laughing at all the “Disney” exits from I-4 in Orlando, following a flight of cranes through Houston, soaring over the Mississippi River at Memphis, climbing to Denver on I-25, wondering at the Bonneville Salt Flats in the dead of winter on I-80 in Utah, or (one of my favorites) being passed, while going about 95 mph down the side of a mountain on I-90 in Idaho, by an F-350 towing a flatbed, to which was strapped a concert grand piano.
The people and their hand on the earth are often as memorable as the scenery. As I put gas in the tank and air in the tires before leaving Oklahoma City, at about 6:00 AM, the night clerk at the 7-11 came out to chat. We watched heat lightning split the sky to the north, swatted moths and gnats, and agreed that it wasn’t going to rain. California, where I was from? Well, I live there now. But I’m an Okie born. A stop at Starbucks before maneuvering onto the freeway: the dairy delivery guy arrived, and the baristas called out “Venti caramel macchiato!”, followed by grins all around. The one other customer, at 6:15 AM on Labor Day, wore a white T-shirt and jeans, with well-worn boots and a Stetson hat, and seemed to belong to the laptop set up on a table in the corner. The boats were out being towed down I-40 to the lakes that morning.
In Texas the highway patrol was out in force. I saw more patrol cars on the short stretch in Texas than in all the other states combined. This didn’t stop the (black) family in the sparkling dark blue Excursion with the Virginia plates from whizzing past me doing a good 90. Never did see them stopped, with any flashing lights behind them. (I did see their SUV again, pulling into Cline’s Corners in New Mexico.) The usual I-40 sightseers were gathered at the Biggest Cross in the Western Hemisphere in Groom, Texas, as well as at the line of old cars arranged vertically in the earth – and painted in psychedelic style – just past Amarillo. The cattle stockyard smelled to high heaven, as it always does. Just get upwind of it as soon as you can.
New Mexico (state motto: “Land of Perpetual Construction on I-40”) was mellower than usual, as there was no construction actually in progress on Labor Day. I love the homely “attractions” that run across I-40 in New Mexico and Arizona. I’m less fond of the 40-year-old rigs people get out on the interstate in: the ones that generate the build-ups of six or eight or ten 18-wheelers, plus the RVs the size of the Empire State building and the inexperienced U-Haulers, that have to pass the little slowpoke and each other, in a process that can make getting past the tiny old van and its precariously towed load take 20 or even 30 minutes, and put everyone’s life in jeopardy. But for this price you do get to enjoy the huge LCD signs for the Route 66 Casino and the Acoma Sky City Casino, along with the unearthly natural scenery. Indian “trading posts” abound, where gas and convenience store sundries are sold, along with rugs, moccasins, beadwork, pottery, jewelry, $2 T-shirts, and $5 blankets. Don’t miss the fudge at Cline’s Corners.
Passing into Arizona, this trip, came with the reemergence of the towed boats on the interstate, now heading home from the recreational lakes. Arizona has its ration of “trading posts,” but also boasts the Painted Desert and Meteor Crater within minutes of I-40. (The Grand Canyon is more than minutes.) Watch for the big dinosaur statues erected by the roadway, obviously to attract the attention of kids and make them beg Dad and Mom to “Stop here! Stop here!” Read the Adopt-a-Highway signs; there are clearly some stories there. In Winslow, an Indian (east Indian) family seems to have bought the Super 8, and is running it very efficiently (much more than previously, at any rate), the desk clerk as eager to offer concierge-type services as anyone in uniform at the Ritz-Carlton. The Bashas’ grocery store, it turned out, was going out of business, and I could be sure of finding some real bargains there if I wanted to buy snacks. (This turned out to be a good tip.)
Leave Winslow before 5:30 AM and you’ll get to Flagstaff not long after the coffee chain Wicked Arizona opens for the day. Little parking lot kiosks about town. Incredible cappuccinos. Gas up at the Whistle Stop on the way back to I-40, a few miles east of the Naval Observatory, and you won’t be sorry. It was west of Flagstaff that I saw the trailer coach hand-decorated to proclaim “Ruthie’s Arizona Taters,” hooked to a pick-up truck driven by a lone old lady – had to be in her 70s – who was clearly Ruthie in the flesh. “Hot and fresh,” the hand-painted signs promised; and “Arizona-grown!” Ruthie probably travels to outdoor events to sell her Taters.
This was the area I stopped in during a winter drive a couple of years ago, when I couldn’t stay awake and needed to nap for a bit. I ended up pulling into the crude parking area of a hunters’ entrance to the national park, a remote and untenanted spot that day. The Park Service had a small wooden container erected on a pole, in which was kept one of those cloth-bound green logbooks. Hunters were responsible for logging in and out in the book, and as I dozed in the gloom of dawn, going in and out of sleep, I observed some of them arrive and do exactly that. It was probably about 7:00 AM when I left, and a Park ranger drove up and checked the logbook as I was warming the car back up, making some annotations on a writing pad of his own.
Many people also know this area as one of the most scenic parts of old Route 66. I drove it several years ago with my sister, going from Williams to the Colorado River on 66 (yes, through historic Oatman, and the whole spectacular drive that forms the approach from Kingman and parts east). Didn’t have time to do that on this trip, but thinking of Route 66 does trigger the memory of my stop in Grants, New Mexico in August. Leaving the hotel that morning, I saw a very large group of motorcyclists – 40 or 50 of them – who turned out to be Christian Bikers, some of whom were Americans hosting their confrères from Eastern Europe on a Route 66 bike trip. There were Austrian, Polish, and Czech bikers, as well as others speaking languages I couldn’t identify (Romanian? Hungarian?).
Is this a great country, or what? A country in which hunters and the Park Service operate on the basis of anonymous trust makes a country in which the scrappy old Ruthie can hawk her Taters in successful safety, and bikers can praise the Lord down Route 66 with their new best pals from the other side of the world. Okies in cowboy boots belly up to the Starbucks bar early in the morning, Texans put up the Biggest Cross (because who else would?), and New Mexico Indians run giant casino-hotels (with “Plenty of Big-Rig Parking!”) as well as tidy, pastel-painted “trading posts” that, other than being labeled “trading posts” and being pastel-painted, look for all the world like Flying J travel plazas. Truckers and RVers, Porsche drivers and SUVs, all share the road with Bubba and Maw who have to get out on Labor Day and move the bedroom furniture in the home-made trailer, taking care not to go faster than 45 lest the dresser fall off the back.
It’s Ruthie and Bubba and Maw that the country becomes unfriendly to, the more we go to socialism and government control of everything in our lives. Their viability depends on the anonymous trust and courtesy that still thrive in most of America, but that collectivism steadily eliminates by prioritizing not attitudes and options but outcomes. Incredibly, or so it seems to me, there are actually Americans who can see Ruthie and think “Outsized carbon footprint for an old lady. Why isn’t she living on a pension in a senior home and playing canasta?” There are Americans who see Bubba and Maw and think, not that they have their own vehicle and trailer and can make their own choices about life, but that it is a problem that they have less than the Virginia family zooming down the highway burning up gas in the $40K SUV. There are Americans who think it’s offensive to the point of criminal that Texans should be able to put up, on private land, a cross visible to I-40 drivers from 15 miles away, and that Christian Bikers should be able to travel Route 66 wearing their T-shirts with crosses and Route 66 logos on them, without having to pay fees or tolls or something. And there are plenty of Americans who see the Indian casinos and think, before they think anything else at all, “Can’t possibly be paying enough taxes.”
One good thing about driving across the West is that it is a reminder of how government should be: a servant and handmaiden to the energy and strength of the people. It’s not there to “provide jobs” or dictate lifestyles. It’s there to build roads and dams – and that’s about it. It’s not bad that there’s a Park Service to keep track of how many hunters have entered the national park today, and how many come out by the time the sun goes down. But it’s a service, not a form of supervision. And if the feds didn’t do it, hunters and local authorities would figure something else out. Hunters are some of the most self-sufficient, least stupid people on earth. In the real America, the one you see from the interstates all across the nation, Ruthie has options and opportunity, dignity and independence. This is the America worth keeping.