Mr. Speaker, I Ask That You Grant The Opponents of Health Care Unanimous Consent to Revise and Extend Their Selfishness

True Story:

An hour ago — with full sincerity — I chided my 12 year-old daughter for a comment she made as we were watching the House debate on the health care.  She had heard a comment by an opponent of the health care bill and crossed what I have struggled to teach her about the  “civility” line.  So I found myself  coming up with words that —  while sappy and saccharine —  I think I still believe.

“It’s true, I said, I don’t agree with what he said either. But this doesn’t mean he is a bad person.  In our country we can disagree and still be kind to each other.”

Part of me was gagging with guilt as I said it. I remembered all the distinctly uncivil rage she has seen me express.  I knew that she knew that I don’t always live those words.  But I still believe that quaint qualities like kindness and decency and civility are anything but quaint.

Then I turned on the television and began to watch the health care debate. And wouldn’t you know that here I am struggling with the civility thing again.

Why is it that, among all the speakers opposing the health care bill, not one representative — not one — started with anything close to the following:

“We rise in opposition to the health care bill. But before we make clear why this is a bad bill, we want to clearly state for the record that we are not blind to the pain of the uninsured and  unemployed, we are not blind to the thousands of uninsured children who were taken to emergency rooms today with life-threatening  illnesses, we are not blind to productive, employed  people who — in a flash — find themselves unemployed and uninsured, we are not blind to the struggles of those in pain. We don’t disagree about compassion, we disagree on how to be compassionate.”

I did not, and have not, heard one opponent say anything close to this.  I have not heard one opponent, before launching into his or her argument, give even a tip of the hat to the fact that somebody, somewhere is hurting. Apparently, this wasn’t on the list of approved talking points.

I  really do want to hear your argument.

But don’t say anything — NOT ONE THING — before at least one of you  makes a simple statement of concern (2 -3 words would count) for all the people who can’t take the time to think about politics when they are busy deciding which of their three kids will get treated first and who will get which medication.

C’mon guys:  Say you feel bad. Say you know hurt when you see it.  Acknowledge the existence of people who have done everything right but who find themselves uninsured for a whole host of reasons.  Then you can dump on the bill to your heart’s content. I’ll even try to listen quietly.

But if you want me or any other supporter of the bill to take your objections seriously,  we are waiting to see any sign — OK, I’ll settle for body language or even a wink of the eye —  that signals any compassion underlying your obsession with government control.

So far,  all I hear about  is   socialism,  the end of free choice, and Nancy “Beelzebub” Pelosi. You think you are right and I think you are wrong.  That’s  our system.  I respect your right to express your views. If you were sitting here now I would listen respectfully.

But I insist on an answer to this question:  Why has there not been one opponent today who has  who preceded his or her argument  with an affirmation of  plain, old-fashioned compassion? Couldn’t  you have at least lied and pretended that compassion is a fundamental value?

I am still trying to hang in there with civility, but can’t you see how loudly your silence speaks?  You have not given us one reason to think your script goes anywhere beyond government control, socialism, and dumping on Nancy Pelosi.

C’mon, compassion isnt controversial, it’s not some rhetorical trick. It is Sunday school stuff and , while I wasn’t always listening during the bible passage, I apparently was awake during the part about sharing and giving and sacrifice.

Your silence  speaks volumes.  And yes,  I grant unanimous consent for you to revise and extend your selfishness.


22 Kids in Nepal: Grief and Compassion in the Age of Globalization


To be unusually concerned about one’s immediate environment is natural.  If a school bus crashes in Manhattan and 22 children are killed, I will be distraught. And I will  be more distraught than I would be about the same type of event taking place at a distance.

But I am profoundly uncomfortable with this pervasive  “parochial compassion.”  In a globally connected world, with so many of us frequently crossing boundaries , living in countries  in which we were not born, and with so many unintended consequences flowing from events far away,  we desperately need to nurture the ability to care about people  in distant and unfamiliar places. 

So obvious. So simple. Sunday school stuff.  So why is it so hard to extend our “terrain of grief” to places that lie at the margins of our mental map?

22 children. Nepal. Parents. Families. Extended Families.  22 funerals.

This is,  after all,  a time when my New Jersey neighbor might be from Nepal.  Some of my students are  from Nepal.  My son may be travelling to Nepal.  Grief as a parochial practice just won’t fly anymore.

I am trying to reach. We need to reach. We are human beings.

Why doesn’t it come easier?