Normally, I avoid visiting my sister Apolitica at all costs. Not because of her, but because of her husband, Dolton, a dyed-in-the-fool right-winger.
But they’d had a second child recently, so I visited their tiny apartment to offer congratulations. It was the polite thing to do. (That, and Mom threatened to cut me from the will if I didn’t.)
Dolton sat on a rent-a-sofa in his cramped front room, cradling his newborn daughter.
“I’m so happy for you two,” I lied. Dolton toiled at three part-time jobs; none provided benefits. My sister is disabled and can’t work. They’ve had everything from appliances to vehicles repossessed. Sooo… what to do?
Have another kid! Sigh.
“Dolton, Jr., just loves his new baby sister,” my brother-in-law said, gesturing to his ten-year-old nearby. “Don’t you, little Dolt?”
My nephew winced. The kid was no dummy. Someday I’d have to ask Apolitica who the real father was.
“So,” I ventured, “what’s the new one’s name?”
“You mean,” I said, gasping, “she’s going to be… a little Dim?”
“You got it!” Dolt said, beaming.
And some people never will, I thought, glancing towards Apolitica. She dashed into the kitchen. Coward.
From the rent-a-tube in the corner, Bill O’Liely railed against healthcare reform.
“Obama and his damn socialism!” Dolton fumed. “He and that commie Congress’ll bleed America dry.”
It took me a moment to roll my tongue back into my mouth. Finally, I managed: “It’s especially tragic given how well our economy had, thus far, survived two needless wars, tax cuts for the mega-rich and trillions shoveled to criminals who sabotaged the economy.”
“Spew actual facts if you want,” Dolt growled, “but if Obamacare passes, mark my word: soon there’ll be a hammer-and-pickle on every flag.”
The only pickle I could visualize was the one my sister and her husband were in. They’d just received the bill from the county hospital for Dimina’s birth and, without healthcare, bankruptcy was imminent.
“Dolt,” I said, “you slave away and yet you’re still destitute, and now your medical bills will break you. How could you possibly be against affordable healthcare for you, your family and 47 million other uncovered Americans?”
“Because,” he spat, “socialized medicine is un-American!”
Dimina wailed. I could relate.
“Don’t buy the lie,” I pleaded. “Polls show a huge majority of Americans want healthcare for all, and most also know that single-payer is the only real solution. Which, incidentally, is not socialized medicine, but socialized insurance.”
“I’m against socializing. Period.”
Well, so was I — at least with my brother-in-law. Inexplicably, I pressed forward. Why did lemmings come to mind?
“Don’t get hung up on pejoratives,” I urged, thinking of all the ways the extreme right has sullied once-perfectly respectable terms in recent years.
“Then how’re we supposed to buy food that doesn’t rot?”
“Without pejoratives, food spoils. Everybody knows that,” Dolton declared triumphantly.
“I believe,” I said slowly as I wondered what I’d ever had against disinheritance, “you may be thinking of preservatives, which is what they’ll be dipping my brain in in a few hours after I donate my body to science immediately after leaving your place.”
“Ha!” he snorted. “There won’t be any donating needed once you liberals get your death panels in place.”
“They already exist.”
“Death panels. They already exist. Except they’re usually called ‘insurance companies.’”
“Whaddya mean?” Dolt asked, seemingly genuinely perplexed. (Well, OK, so he always seemed genuinely perplexed.)
“C’mon, Dolt,” I said, “surely even you can see those vultures spare no effort denying as many claims as possible which, once they’re done inventing exclusions and ‘pre-exiting conditions,’ translates into untold real suffering and, not infrequently, death.”
“Hnh,” Dolt snorted. “Why do you lefties hate the free market so much?”
“You mean the ‘free market’ that the insurance companies rig with millions of dollars in bribes, sorry, campaign contributions, and industry-written legislation that best serve, hmm, let’s see, the insurance companies?”
“There you go again with your precious details,” Dolt sneered. “Listen, Mark, government-run healthcare will put an industry out of business, and that’s about as hippo-pinkie as it gets.”
“Then you should love the bogus Baucus bill. Mandatory insurance for everyone, and fines for non-conformers? How delightful — for the insurance companies.”
My brother-in-law was silent. He’d either died, or was thinking. (Barring precedent, it had to be the former.) Cautiously, I continued:
“Dolt, let me ask you something: Are you more interested in the well-being of insurance companies, or tens of millions of your fellow citizens? Because here’s the deal: the sole function of the former is to further line the pockets of shareholders and CEOs by skimming up to thirty percent of a money pool that, were it to populate a single-payer system, could nearly all be applied toward providing excellent health coverage for every American.”
“I don’t want the government choosing my doctor!” he cried.
I wondered how I could’ve missed the moment I crossed into the parallel universe.
“Dolton,” I said quietly, “you don’t have a doctor.”
“What does that have to do with anything?”
I simply had to find out where the next Masochists Anonymous meeting was. Solidly cementing my qualifications for membership, I ventured on:
“Listen, Dolt, under single-payer, government simply handles the billing. Period. Current private investors are bought out, then hospitals become non-profit and receive annual payments for expansion and operational expenses. The government owns nothing, thereby debunking that ‘socialized medicine’ hooey. And, you choose your own physician.”
“I’m sure,” Dolton snarled, “doctors and nurses will love working for peanuts, which is all that’ll be left once the government starts handling all the dough in your fallopian world.”
Being in a fallopian world sounded pretty utopian at the moment.
“Hardly. Having the paperwork done by just one not-for-profit entity with low overhead — Medicare only spends about three percent on administration — instead of by numerous profit-sucking, bottom line corporations, not only frees up enough money to provide affordable, quality universal healthcare but also ensures doctors and nurses are well-compensated. It’s a no-brainer [thus making it right up your alley, I didn’t say].”
Dimina squalled. My sister came in swiftly and whisked her up. “She’s been running a fever,” Apolitica explained worriedly as she hurried to the bathroom.
“Yeah, she’s been feeling pretty crummy lately,” Dolt said, looking a little far off. (I mean, more than usual.) He was obviously concerned. I had to admit: for all his faults, Dolton was a loving father.
From the TV, xenophobia burbled: beware medical services-stealing immigrants, warned Glen Blecch.
“Handouts to illegals goes a long way toward making this country sick!” Dolt parroted.
I had to admit this, too: my brother-in-law was a bonehead.
“No,” I sighed, “what really makes this country sick is its sickness, in every way. We Americans pay by far the most for healthcare, yet rank miserably down the list in every major healthiness indicator. And as far as the expediency of denying medical services to undocumented aliens, you might want to think twice about that the next time you read about a tuberculosis outbreak in a farm labor camp or a meat-packing plant.”
“I don’t read.”
Imagine my shock.
“I don’t need the liberal media telling me how lucky we are to have a Marxist president making America more communist everyday,” he ranted. “What happened to good old American self-sufficiency? Why do people think the government owes them handouts? How come — ”
“Dolt!” It was Apolitica, entering from the hallway, carrying her bawling daughter. “Dimina’s temperature has shot up to 106. I told you we should have taken her in yesterday. We have to go the emergency room NOW!”
“But…baby — we can’t even pay the other bill we have.”
“NOW!” Apolitica repeated, already out the door with her ailing infant.
Dolton snatched his keys from the rent-a-table. “How did this happen?” he moaned.
Was there a rent-a-mirror around?