Thursday, June 28, 2012

Supreme Court Decision about Affordable Care Act: Keeping Moral Principle Front and Center

I don't often blog about news in "real time," but today's Supreme Court decision about the Obama administration's healthcare plan seems to me to warrant at least some commentary--though I don't have anything particularly novel to say about this decision.  At best, I can only echo (and say amen to) the fine editorial statement that National Catholic Reporter issued after the decision was handed down:

However complicated the intricate policy aspects of the Affordable Care Act, however confusing the actuarial tables, however conflicting the legal principles at stake, the moral issue is as clear as day: Every industrialized country in the world has found a better fix to the issue of health care than has the U.S. 
Only the U.S. is so beholden to powerful, entrenched corporate interests that we have failed to achieve universal access to health care. It is time for the nation to find the political will to defend the principles that defined the Affordable Care Act. 
Affordable care for all. Access for all. Lower costs for all. That is the recipe for a decent society and any continued obstruction is properly called indecent.

I am not thrilled by the healthcare plan the Obama administration hobbled together several years ago, which still provides far too much of a controlling role for the insurance industry in healthcare provision and still does not meet the needs of all citizens.  But I see this healthcare plan as a step in the right direction, a direction that has to be, from a moral vantage point, universal access to basic healthcare for all citizens.  Period.

And I see the Supreme Court decision as a positive development in a political culture that has become seriously tainted by attacks on the idea of government itself, and in which one of the two major parties in the U.S. was counting on a dismantling of a healthcare plan passed by Congress with the direct endorsement of the federal office.  If the Supreme Court had handed the anti-government forces a victory by rolling back the healthcare plan, the Court would have assisted in a dangerous erosion of government that has already reached lethal limits, and which threatens the future of American democracy.

As a Catholic, I'm especially grieved to see the extent to which the government-is-the-problem meme has made serious inroads in the imagination of American Catholics, when we share a faith tradition with a long, weighty body of social teaching which 1) sees government as necessary (here, the teaching of Augustine is foundational) to assure that the needs of the least among us are met, and that the rich and powerful do not ride roughshod over the poor and marginal, and 2) maintains that basic healthcare is a human right, and that a humane and moral society has an obligation to assure access to basic healthcare for all.  There is a growing body of Catholics, and some of them sit on the Supreme Court itself, who repudiate these essential elements of Catholic social teaching, and who are actively assisting destructive forces to dismantle American democracy and assure the rule of the super-rich--while many of our citizens go without access to basic healthcare.

Among the Catholics who continue to politic for the 1% are, unfortunately, the American Catholic bishops, who have already issued a shamefully mendacious statement that pays lip service to the moral imperative to assure everyone's access to healthcare, while the bishops continue their false, alarmist rhetoric about the bugbear of federally subvented abortion and attacks on Catholic religious liberty.  If we needed any further evidence that the USCCB is now an outright political machine for the Republican party, and is dominated far more by the super-rich than by Catholic values, we need only look at the response of the bishops to today's Supreme Court decision--which further undermines their already seriously damaged moral credibility.

Already, right-wing politico-religious groups which see only the issues of abortion and contraception--no other moral issues appear to exist in their worldview--have announced that they will continue their battle to overthrow the Obama administration's healthcare act.  These include the Catholic-dominated Beckett Fund, which has assisted with the litigation that led to the Supreme Court ruling and whose homepage today features pictures of the Fortnight for Freedom rallies and a smiling Mother Angelica, and Lila Rose, who is also a Catholic, whose forté is to produce duplicitous smear videos about Planned Parenthood, and who claims that the new healthcare plan is "nothing more than a Ponzi scheme to expand the abortion business."

In a culture in which some citizens--including, lamentably, not a few people of faith--can be so downright dishonest and so mean (since excluding millions of fellow citizens from access to basic healthcare is mean in the extreme)--today's Supreme Court decision is important.  If nothing else, it curbs the edge of the meanness a tiny bit. 

And Lord knows, some of the significant religious leaders we might have expected to be in the business of curbing the edge of the meanness and challenging some of the lying (about abortion and contraception, above all) simply aren't doing their job these days.  They're doing the opposite, in fact.  

And that makes today's court decision all the more imperative.

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