In this edition of the Jewish World, we have a rabbinic viewpoint on the healthÂ care reform debate, which seems to be getting out of hand in certain locales. On the opposite page, Rabbi Alexander Davis traces the priority placed on medical care in the Jewish tradition. We knew that a lot of Jews become doctors; but who knew that providing medical care for the poor has long been a Jewish position?
We should be able to agree that there is something wrong with a system that leaves more than 45 million Americans without medical insurance. And even among those with insurance, any significant hospital stay can result in financial ruination. However, the raucous town hall meetings called by elected officials have gone around the rhetorical bend, with people screaming allegations that the president is going to kill their grandma, in the course of creating a socialized medical system in the U.S.
Actually, a proposal for a single-payer plan, a feature of most industrialized democratic societies in the West, is not on the table. Now, sadly, even the health care reform plan’s so-called public option, an affordable government-run insurance program, seems to be on the political chopping block. This is a critical moment for the citizenry to rise up and demand that their elected leaders provide substantive change in the health care insurance system. Didn’t we just elect a presidential ticket and a Congress that ran on the slogan of “change” and societal uplift?
The sorry state of the debate over health care reform also touches on other Jewish concerns, as right-wing pundits invoke the Nazi regime in their arguments ad absurdum.
Rush Limbaugh, to cite one grossly irresponsible radio talker, has proclaimed that President Obama’s health care logo’s resemblance to the Nazi swastika is “overwhelming.” According to Eric Fingerhut, JTA’s Washington correspondent, Limbaugh offered his listeners a lengthy comparison of “the Democrat Party of today and the Nazi Party in Germany.”
“Well, the Nazis were against big business,” Limbaugh said. “They hated big business and, of course, we all know that they were opposed to Jewish capitalism. They were insanely, irrationally against pollution. They were for two years of mandatory voluntary service to Germany. They had a whole bunch of make-work projects to keep people working, one of which was the Autobahn.”
As you might imagine, representatives of Jewish groups complained that Limbaugh’s comments were insensitive to Holocaust victims and degraded the political discourse in our democracy; i.e., it is a remarkable example of chutzpa to take Democratic proposals for health care reform and compare them to Nazi eugenics.
One person pointing this out last week was Arthur Caplan, Ph.D., director of the Center for Bioethics at the University of Pennsylvania, who formerly held a similar post at the University of Minnesota. In an opinion article published on the MSNBC Web site, Caplan argued that Limbaugh “and those invoking the Nazi analogy to attack President Barack Obama’s effort to reform health care in America are not ‘insane,’ as David Brooks pronounced on last Sunday’s Meet the Press. Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, Sarah Palin and the rest of the loud-mouthed right wing are, when they even hint at an analogy to the Nazis in talking about Obama’s health reform effort, engaged in something far worse than insanity. They are engaged in the vile evil of Holocaust denial.”
Amid the proliferation of conspiracy theorists in America, the health care debate has birthed a new variety, the “deathers” — a passionate scrum of screamers who believe that Obama wants to start euthanizing their grandparents.
Caplan wrote: “When the right wing, in their distaste for the President’s push to reform a heath care system that even the American Medical Association and the pharmaceutical industry recognize has to be fixed, suggest that the disabled will be targeted, or that the elderly will be killed or find themselves without health care due to rationing by government bureaucrats as happened in Nazi Germany, they marginalize the gross evil that was the racial bigotry that fueled Nazi programs to euthanize, sterilize, experiment upon and torture people in places that were in no way connected to hospitals, clinics or nursing homes.
“There is plenty to debate about health reform. But there is nothing to debate about the contemptible introduction of references, direct or oblique, to Nazi Germany. To do so is to engage in Holocaust denial. To do that is, as those Americans of the greatest generation who died or were injured fighting the Nazi menace well understood, inexcusable.”
In a follow-up story this week, JTA’s Fingerhut reported that “a Democratic congressman had a swastika drawn on the sign in front of his office. Bloggers are exploiting images of Anne Frank, tagging her with the Obama health care plan’s symbol instead of a yellow star.”
These repugnant arguments and imagery are scaring people and creating a volatile social climate. There have been a number of reports of people with firearms — side arms and, in at least one case, an assault rifle — attending President Obama’s health care town halls. Also, partisan political groups and special interests (the medical insurance industry and pharmaceutical firms) are contributing to the grotesquely skewed framework of the health care debate.
We urgently need to rein in medical costs and repair the medical care safety net. It is time to discard the specious arguments and focus on what is really needed to promote the health and security of Americans.
— Mordecai Specktor / firstname.lastname@example.org
(American Jewish World, 8.21.09)