Conan and Health Care

On a quick note to everyone, welcome to the new blog! I haven’t had a chance to post yet b/c I got married on Jan 2 and was honeymooning in a rather chilly but happy Disney World when we launched and while I love you all and I like blogging, I don’t love you enough to blog on my honeymoon. Any complaints may be addressed to the new Mrs. ;)

Anyway, the big news of the week has been NBC’s struggle over the time slots of Conan O’Brien & Jay Leno, with people reacting passionately, mostly in favor for Conan. It struck me as I as looking at all the coverage that people cared about this.

I point this out b/c the “issue” of NBC’s treatment of O’Brien has managed to be something that people genuinely care about whereas I would venture to say that in large part people have stopped caring about the health care reform. I know I have.

Before I get deluged, let me explain. I’m a law student so I’m fairly busy, but I like many of you I try to keep up with the news as much I can. But with school (or work in many of your cases), family and friends, there’s only so much you can do. I’ve tried hard to keep up with the progress of the health care reform. But at this point, I’ve just given up. Highly technical proposals have come almost every day and the bills change constantly, perhaps corresponding to when the lobbyists checks can clear. By the time I’ve tried to educate myself on what a particular proposal actually does and then move on to evaluating whether or not I think it’s a good thing, the Congress has already scrapped it and has a new thing, with a new set of charts, budget projections, and back & forth between experts.

I couldn’t tell you (outside of money for abortion) what’s in the current proposals. I venture to guess that most Americans can’t either. I may even be so bold as to suggest that most Congressmen don’t either. Indeed, their arguments seem to be tailored to be cookie-cutters to whatever emerges (GOP: this is too expensive! Big government! ah! Democrats: well, if this doesn’t pass then we won’t be able to do anything in the future-which by the way, don’t you love it when the argument for a particular form of reform is not that the reform is good but that the defeat of the reform would prevent actual reform in the future not connected to the present reform?).

All in all, the entire debate of this critical issue has managed to have been conducted in the hands & minds of politicians, lobbyists, and a few people who have read a bunch of health care books and already know the lingo. The American people, who are interested only in so far as they care about health care generally, have been largely untouched by the current debate.

There is an exception, and that is the exception of the abortion coverage. People understand abortion; it’s a real thing that people are able to feel passionate about and able to engage in i.e. you don’t have to have studied health care for years or be able to read a chart to discuss it. This is part of the reason why I think people care about O’Brien: everyone can understand the guy who works hard and stays loyal to a company to his detriment in order to achieve a goal, and then the company stabs him in the back when he’s almost there.

What should we take from this as Catholics attempting to engage the political process? Well, I think in the health care debate itself we should be mindful that abortion is one of the few issues that people across America can be passionate about in the health care reform. It, more so then a lot of other stuff, may be key to shaping public perception of it and the Democrats heading into a re-election year know it. We need to continue to apply the pressure so that the bill does not spread abortion.

But more generally, we need to be conscious that the importance of an issue is not enough to motivate people. Conan leaving NBC is of little importance but b/c we can identify with the situation we care strongly about it (perhaps more strongly then we should). In discussing political matters then, we need to make sure our representation of the Catholic social doctrine is not merely an argument for its truth, but also a presentation done in such a way as to help people identify with and understand an issue.

This is not to say that technicality must be avoided; on complex bills like health care there is inevitably a large degree of expertise required for some issues. But in the end, for democracy to be functioning properly and for the people to be motivated to make a learned decision the politicians and experts must be willing to step down from the ivory towers and present a case that people can identify with and care about. As Catholics, our task is to take the complex teachings of the Church and help people to understand them and care about them.

This is not an easy task but an essential one, one I hope this blog will contribute mightily towards.

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