When I negotiated for a teachers’ union, years ago, I avoided the trap of arguing with School Board members about where to find money for health care or salary adjustments. I insisted the district reset its priorities. That’s why I turn a deaf ear when Republicans say there is no money to give medical coverage to the poor while they give tax breaks to the rich. I’m not being cynical about Republican motives. I’m rejecting their priorities. They believe the federal government shouldn’t be in the business of social services. For them, the federal government has two roles: to aid citizens in times of natural disasters and protect them from foreign invasion. All else falls to the individual, the local community and the churches, preferably in that order.
The notion is puritan, formed in the American psyche long before the industrial age, robber barons, multinational corporation, international trade and the internet. It persists despite the obvious economic revolutions, the unequal distribution of wealth and environmental devastation — which some Republicans deny just as they deny evolution.
Strictly speaking, the Republicans treat any data incongruent with their world view as “fake” That’s why they can increase military spending and allow U. S. children to wither in the grip of malnutrition without batting an eye. (Click) They aren’t heartless. They are stuck in an agrarian economy and believe families should plow their way out of poverty. Republicans haven’t figured out that big government, assuming it is relatively honest, is the only leverage citizens have against the unbridled power of money when it pools into the hands of a few.
Those of us lucky enough to have escaped an eighteenth century mindset are convinced a fair distribution of wealth is the bulwark of democracy. Providing affordable health care for everyone is one way to redistribute the wealth. We know an equitable society lifts all boats. No one should be required to wait for basic needs to “trickle down.”
To rebalance the disproportionate distribution of wealth in this country, I propose a new set of priorities for the Republicans. We should ex-a-p-a-nd the health care system, not dismantle it. We should begin by adding universal dental care to the national budget. Harry Truman proposed the idea during his presidency, but the dental association opposed him. There weren’t enough dentists to go around, they said. Apparently, their solution was to let poor people’s teeth rot. (“The Teeth Gap,” by Adam Gaffney, The New Republic, June 2017, pg. 64.) But if we are sincere about wanting people to work in our service oriented economy, nothing disfavors a job seeker more than missing teeth.
I don’t know what genius decided to separate health care from dental care. Everyone knows a link exists between healthy teeth and a healthy heart. (Click) As far back as the 17th century, medical records listed poor teeth “as the fifth or sixth cause of death.” (Ibid, pg. 64.)
Donald Trump promised the American people a “’beautiful’ health-care system that would cost less and do more.”(“Straight Talk About Teeth, excerpted from the Washington Post, June 2, 2017, pg. 40) Let’s hold him to it. The Republicans will cry, “Where will we find the money?” I say they already have our taxes. Let them set the right priorities. It’s time to make America smile again.