Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Haiti and health-care reform

For the past year or two, the American left and its cheerleaders on the MSNBC primetime block have beaten a steady drum for “health-care reform.” And yet, in the past month, a different news story has dominated headlines and chatter: the disaster in Haiti.

In hindsight, the scope of the Haitian disaster could have been reduced. Attention could have been called to the threat of earthquakes in the area and that so very many cement buildings would collapse and crush their occupants. Plans could have been formulated, debated, and put in motion. Potentially thousands of lives could have been saved had this course been taken.

Haitians’ vulnerability to earthquakes was, it goes without saying, not once discussed by Rachel Maddow in the months leading up to the deaths of 200,000 people. Keith Olbermann did not comment, specially or otherwise, on the failure of Congress or whoever else to act in the matter. Yet all along, as it turned out, a massive time-bomb was ticking away a few hundred miles from Miami. Americans were talking about the wrong issues and trying to solve the wrong problems, and we have paid a terrible price for those errors.

Some may argue that these were not in fact errors. We are Americans, it could be said, not Haitians, so it was not our problem. It could be claimed that we could never have seen this coming, or that even had we seen it coming, there was nothing to be done. But none of these arguments can be accepted without some sort of major concession on the part of liberal thinkers. For a liberal to say “I am not Haitian, thus I have no concern for this matter,” would be to admit of a grossly unbecoming nationalism. For a liberal to say, “We could not have seen this coming,” would be to hold that the American scientific apparatus suffers debilitating incapacities, unable to figure out where a quarter million lives might be at risk. For a liberal to say, “There was nothing we could have done,” would be to argue that government action can do little to improve matters abroad.

None of these concessions could be forthcoming: Liberals obviously are concerned for the well-being of Haitians, American scientists could have estimated (and some probably did estimate) the risk of an earthquake and the extent of devastation that would result, and liberals will not soon favor the writings of Bill Easterly to those of Jeffrey Sachs. And yet, liberal thought leaders spent 2009 obsessing not over the paralyzing poverty and terrifying earthquake risk faced by Haitians but instead over the details of a health-care bill that, in the best-case scenario, will mean slightly more medical treatment for some members of one of the most medicalized societies the world has ever seen.

Is the conclusion, then, that we have been talking about the wrong things? When we gathered around watercoolers last year to talk American health-care reform, should we have been pondering Haitian vulnerability to earthquakes? I think that a compassionate, cosmopolitan liberal would have to say yes, in hindsight, that is exactly what we should have been doing. But consider that, as I write today, the main thrust of liberal chatter is already refocused on health-care reform and the partisan composition of the United States Senate.

The MSNBC primetime writers have not performed a systematic post-disaster scan of the scientific landscape in a desperate humanitarian effort to find the next great vulnerability; instead, they have unapologetically reverted to their pre-disaster ways. Viewers are still, apparently, supposed to believe that American health-care reform is the greatest crusade of our time, with a Democratic supermajority being the vital means to that end. Somehow, Maddow’s sense of moral superiority survived the quake.

The Haitian disaster makes clear that the manifest agenda of the political left in the United States is not driven by thorough science or by altruistic compassion. The thought leaders and Democratic politicians are doing exactly what one would expect if their goals were to increase the material means and the social status of their consumer-constituents: the politicians propose policies that materially benefit those constituents, and the thought leaders shroud those policies in the holy cloth of morality. If and when these get their way, blue-collar Americans may enjoy a few extra medical procedures and left-leaning news consumers will get their righteousness fix, vulnerable populations around the globe be damned.