Sunday, September 20, 2009

Honking Big Government

This week we take a look at what "government" means on either side of the Pond.


There’s a lot of Americans upset about the government at the moment. Apparently, President Obama, and his supposed love of BIG government is pushing the USA towards socialism, communism or fascism, depending on who they’ve been listening to. (Rather sadly, most of these opponents probably couldn’t differentiate between the three but seem happy to bandy the terms around.) Apart from being mildly insulted that the UK’s health system is seen as the absolute worst thing that could happen to this country, the protests got me thinking about how government is viewed on each side of the Pond.

Having grown up with unlimited access to excellent, free healthcare it shocks me that some in this country go without routine medical check ups because they have no health insurance and others can be bankrupted by health care bills. Even though everyone agrees there’s a huge problem with healthcare in the US, Obama opponents see the status quo as preferable to government involvement. What is conveniently overlooked is that Medicaid (for some low income families) and Medicare (for the over 65’s) take care of millions of Americans and both are tax funded and government run. Sound familiar?

And I have more questions- Don’t people realize that law enforcement services are also tax funded and government run? And why isn’t state education such an outrage? Why is there no outcry against federal or state funded interstate highways? I understand that this country is made up of individual, autonomous states, but within that structure there is still government, and it’s often less efficient and more corrupt than the Federal government. (I live in Chicago - I know what goes on!)

I also get that this is a collection of very different states, and that’s the way people want it to stay. What I don’t understand however, is why it’s okay to have government involvement in some things, yet it’s seen as an attack on civil liberties (or a partnership with Satan) in other areas.

Makes no sense to me and I’ve yet to hear a decent explanation.


Probably the best argument for limited centralized government is that was what the founding fathers had in mind. But this isn’t what people are reacting against; at least I don’t believe so. Although I no longer live in the US, I did grow up there and I think I understand where this resistance comes from.

As a flag-pledging, God-fearing, Boy-Scouting American, I knew—just as I knew that if Jesus came back to earth he would, by God, be an American—that communism was bad. Well, “bad” doesn’t quite cut it. “Better Dead Than Red” seems to sum it up nicely, though.

Big government is simply the government seeking to control all aspects of your life. And that—especially if you are talking about health care—is communism, pure and simple.

If you take Big Government to its logical extreme, you are talking about a totalitarian state, so there is a basis, however small, for the current vociferous opposition. Why the health care system seems to be regarded as the Maginot Line I can’t say, but possibly is it because it represents a large entity moving from capable private hands into the slimy embrace of the Nanny State.

I have to admit, if I were still in the US, I would be firmly in the “you can take my health care when you pry it out of my cold, dead fingers” camp, but after living under a national health service for seven years without developing an unhealthy interest in Karl Marx, checking The Communist Manifesto out of the local library or referring to people I meet in the street as “Comrade,” I think the American public may be over reacting just a bit here.

The founding fathers could not have conceived of anything as abstract as “health care” in an era where medicine could be described as primitive, at best. I like to think, however, that if they could have looked into the future and understood that providing adequate heath services for the entire population was to become a possibility, they might look upon that, not as governmental interference, but as something any compassionate country would do for its citizens. Like seeing to it every child is offered an education.


  1. Toni, I think you make a very good point about education. Why is it any different from healthcare? Most Americans are perfectly happy for their kids to be educated by the state and ride on state-funded school buses, etc. etc. Not only that, but in New York state, parents don't get to 'choose' the school at all - their kids get allocated the nearest school. That's less individual choice than you get in the UK state system. Yet they balk at not being able to choose their doctor. It just isn't logical.

  2. Most Americans are perfectly happy to get their healthcare from the government. Most Republicans would like a public option and all polling has always indicated that. The healthcare "debate" has been so frustrating because it has absolutely nothing to do with healthcare. It's all "Obama is a foreign commie who will kill your grandma". But depth of feeling is not the same thing as breadth of feeling, and the 9/12 protesters and town hall people like most protesters don't represent some mainstream opinion. That's why they have to exaggerate their numbers to such an absurd degree (actual estimate 50,000 to Glen Beck estimate of 1 million).

    For the record nappy valley girl there are many Americans who have a huge problem with the government run schools. Because of course the government teaches unJesuslike things, indoctrinates children in an evil world of gay parenting and Darwinism. That's the basis of much of the home school movement. And like tea baggers most people think they're nutbags. I suspect, though I have no evidence to support it, that these two groups of people have heavy overlap.

  3. This is a great post. Being in the UK now, I know I am not seeing the full effects of the debate in the US right now, or maybe because I'm not there, it just drives me crazy the way people are getting all riled up by it. Yes, I've had my issues with the NHS since I got here. But I switched doctors several times in the US because I didn't feel they were doing their job properly.

    My personal feeling is, there is no perfect health care system. And no, on an individual level, you don't want the government, whoever they may be saying what you can and cannot do on a daily basis. But if you don't have an option for health care, is something not better than nothing? It's that simple for me, I wish it was for others.

    I am have sent the link to several people, and am going to share some more. You both make excellent points. I wish everyone could see the big picture like this.

  4. "Having grown up with unlimited access to excellent, free healthcare..."

    The only people I would expect to say that are royalty and the children of despots.

    The NHS is not unlimited, it's not free and is isn't really excellent. Not in most areas.

    Emergency care is excellent, because it sensibly has been made the priority. But because of that, other areas suffer. Regardless of Government statistics, waiting lists do exist, hospitals have difficulty with antibiotic-resistant diseases, wards are cramped, care for the elderly and psychiatric care are poor. And let's not discuss NHS dentistry.

    I do find it surprising the British people are offended when the NHS is criticised. There are 192 countries in the UN, if you had to model a new health service after one of them, what's the chance you would pick a system designed 60 years ago?

    Going back to NHS emergency care, it's worth remembering even this isn't perfect. There's an interesting article by a UK EMT who had to deal with a severely dehydrated baby. He took the decision to take the baby straight to hospital without attempting to rehydrate first, which would involve punching a needle into the baby's shin bone marrow.

    The comments are instructive. While most UK comments agree a quick dash to hospital is the sensible approach, US paramedics wrote to say they have an EZ-IO tool that makes rehydration much easier and they are never without it on their ambulances.

    The EMT never found out if the baby was saved, but it's sad to think it may have died because a piece of kit costing a few hundred pounds is not standard on London ambulances.

  5. Mr Potarto I have to defend some of my points. I grew up (way back when) with excellent health care, and of course it wasn't "free" but I know my parents weren't paying the equivalent of $16,000 premiums per year, with a $5,000 deductible plus 20% costs thereafter, like I do now for my family. I was making that point as my frame of reference to the current issues. I know the NHS isn't perfect.
    And in recent years, my mother had a hip replacement diagnosed, scheduled and performed in under three weeks. After staying in the hospital for about 5 days, she had medical visitors for another ten days. There was nothing one could have complained about.
    Whatever the current state of the NHS, it is insulting to me when Americans talk about it as if Brits were living in the Middle Ages. As has been stated, and most people agree, no one system is perfect -and certainly not here.

  6. My sense is that the fear of big government comes from a fear of increased taxes. No-one likes paying taxes, but it does seem to conjure up a hatred over here that it doesn't in Europe.

  7. I really enjoyed this post. I studied health care policy in grad school, and I have to say that I agree that no health care system is perfect. But I also have to say that what we have in the US seems to me to be an atrocity. I hope that some reform will come, and I am more than happy to let the government take a shot at it. I hate to sound bleak, but I honestly don't think the health care system in this country could get any worse.

  8. I agree with Elizabeth, this all has to do with Obama and the deep-rooted racism that exists in a good chunk of the US.


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