Last night, I talked with a woman who is dear to me for a number of reasons. Walking her dog recently, she took a very bad fall, smashing her face against a curb. Besides bruises and gashes in her lip, she suffered serious damage to several teeth that will require oral surgery and orthodontia to fix. She’s in pain, but her main concern at this point seems to be about money. You see, she has chosen to work for decades for a nonprofit agency that offers no insurance plan.
An evangelical Christian and extreme conservative, this fundamentally good woman is well aware of my politics. Thus, she followed this disclosure with the following remark, seething with hostility: “But I don’t want to be forced to buy insurance. I don’t want the government butting into my personal business.” She’s talked to people in her small town, she added, and feels that she’s convinced the city to pay for her dental and medical bills. She thinks they’ll accept liability (perhaps as a way of avoiding a potentially more expensive law suit) because their sidewalk was in poor repair.
Given the number of times I have to bite my tongue when talking to people like her, it’s a wonder I haven’t needed oral surgery myself.
Here’s what I didn’t say.
First, I contend that, at this point, this woman’s choices are no longer just her personal business. They also affect her neighbors, whose tax money will (if she gets her way) go toward paying her bills. It would have been a waste of time to point out that her fellow citizens might have a legitimate objection to having to pay for her clumsy mistake—not to mention her lack of responsibility in choosing not to buy insurance.
Second, there would have been no point in telling her that if it weren’t for the Republicans, no one would be “forced” to buy insurance. Opposed to the very idea of trying to solve this decades-old civic problem regarding health care, the GOP was particularly determined to see that nothing constructive got done under the current president. So they opposed every blessed aspect of the legislation on principle—including, most vehemently, the notion of a tax-based plan like Medicare. Thus, the compromise legislation that emerged—while a great improvement over the inadequate and socially irresponsible status quo—is far from perfect. (It did, however, succeed in protecting the “rights” of the insurance companies—the Republicans’ real constituents—to continue to be obscenely well compensated for sucking the blood out of people with ridiculously high premiums.)
Finally, I didn’t point out the obvious fact that living in community—even a community of two—always involves having to follow some rules. There are just things that responsible individuals have to do for the well-being of everyone —from getting a dog license in some communities to paying their fair share for roads and bridges.
On principle, I believe that citizens of a democracy have a duty to speak out about their convictions. Sometimes, though, when a relationship is important, you have to keep your mouth shut.