I’ve been thinking I should write something regarding the insane debate around health care reform. I’ve been reluctant to do so because I guess I’ve lost hope that any meaningful reform will happen. Surely no sane person believes that the health insurance industry will allow their puppets in congress, on both sides of the aisle, to pass anything that would help consumers and simultaneously reduce their profits. Given the powers and pocketbooks of big insurance and big pharma, anything that finally receives the blessing of both congress and the White House will be nothing more than the Health Insurance Relief and Protection Act of 2009.
But one thing I am willing to write about, at great personal peril, is that it is obvious to me Janus is alive and well and living in conservative western Kansas. Janus, you may remember from your last mythology class, is one of the Roman gods. According to Wikipedia “Janus (or Ianus) was the god of gates, doors, doorways, beginnings and endings. He is most often depicted as having two faces or heads, facing in opposite directions.”
I think it is the two-faced nature of Janus that reminds me most of the western Kansas version of the health care debate, which, at its core, is really a debate about government spending and government programs. We are a particularly conflicted people when it comes to deciding if government money is good or bad. We can’t seem to make up our minds if government intervention is something we desire, or something we loathe. It’s confusing to me.
On one hand, western Kansas votes consistently to send conservative Republicans to Washington. The people who win the overwhelming majority of our votes say they are against bigger government, they believe with a religious fervor that government spending is bad and should be reduced, and they almost all scream like wounded banshees whenever the dreaded “R” word (regulation) is mentioned. In our neck of the woods, we like guys who have a particular distaste for anything Fox News might label as “socialism,” or “big government.”
And yet, our Senators and Congressmen support bigger cash payments from the federal treasury for farm subsidies. They support the expansion of Medicare even though it’s the original socialized medicine. And while other conservative True Believers decry Social Security as Roosevelt’s Folly, our guys support the Social Security program at every opportunity. And clearly, voters out here agree with these stands even though they are in direct opposition to the philosophy of limited government and reduced federal spending.
Hello? Janus called, and he wants his two faces back….
Just for the record, I personally think Social Security, Medicare, and some farm subsidies are good things. But I also don’t see the boogey man under my bed every time someone mentions single payer and a public health insurance option during the health care debate. I think that out here in the hinterlands, we may find out the hard way that it’s not possible to have our government cake and eat it too.
It seems the overriding idea in Kansas is that MY government payments are good things. Expanding MY government programs to make them bigger is a good thing. But still, we vote for people who agree with our opposing thought that bigger government is bad, and real health-care reform will raise Marx from the dead.
The piper will have to be paid in Kansas if federal spending is truly reduced. Kansas receives far more federal dollars than we pay into Washington’s coffers. That’s been true for over 25 years. And in rural states, especially those with aging voters and declining populations, we don’t have the votes to swim upstream against programs that benefit urban communities. If we raise too much of a fuss about spending on their programs, we might feel the backlash against “our” programs.
You see, we are not one America anymore. We’ve allowed ourselves to be polarized into “your” and “mine” camps. We no longer care what is good for the country, but instead, we focus only on what we perceive is good for “us” and we shrug our shoulders and let the devil take the hindmost where the welfare of others is concerned.
The day of reckoning is near. Kansans will have to resolve our collective schizophrenia about whether or not federal spending is good or bad. We will be forced to look at the contradiction in believing Medicare is good but other government health care programs are bad. And we have to know that voters in other states see our farm subsidies as just another welfare program while we believe they are good investments of taxpayer dollars. We can’t sustain this duality any longer and expect to be relevant in the national debate.
Like I said, two-faced Janus lives in western Kansas, but not likely for long. We will soon have to choose which of our faces is real, and which one is fake. I only hope we choose wisely.