International affairs columnist Roger Cohen, notorious for his obsessive insistence on negotiating with Iran (where Jews apparently have it pretty well), had an epiphany while on jury duty and is now a fully-fledged human being in touch with the common man, according to his Tuesday column for the paper's International edition, "The Narcissus Society." And, oh yeah, you're a selfish narcissist if you don't favor federal health care.
Community - a stable job, shared national experience, extended family, labor unions - has vanished or eroded. In its place have come a frenzied individualism, solipsistic screen-gazing, the disembodied pleasures of social networking and the à-la-carte life as defined by 600 TV channels and a gazillion blogs. Feelings of anxiety and inadequacy grow in the lonely chamber of self-absorption and projection.
I was thinking of this during a recent spell as a grand juror. Thrown together for two weeks at Brooklyn Supreme Court with 22 other jurors, I was struck by how rare it is now in American life to be gathered, physically, with an array of other folk of different ages, backgrounds, skin colors, beliefs, faiths, tastes, education levels and political convictions and be obliged to work out your differences in order to get the job done.
In a way, it was - a relief from being alone on a phone or in front of a screen. We got to know each other's tics and, having dealt with killing and rape and assault and insurance fraud, we all embraced at the end. Oh unthinkable act, we'd done something selfless for the commonweal, learned to listen to each other, accepted differences and argued our way to decisions.
After the moral preening, it got dopey:
America could use more of that kind of experience. As it is, everyone's shrieking their lonesome anger, burrowing deeper into stress, gazing at their own images - and generating paralysis.
Which brings me to health care: Crunch time has come on a question central to the nation's future, where an acknowledgment is needed that, when it comes to health, we're all in this together. Pooling the risk among everybody is the most efficient way to forge a healthier society. That's what other developed societies do. And they don't have 30 million plus uninsured.
All the fear-mongering talk of "nationalizing" 17 percent of the economy is nonsense. Government, through Medicare and Medicaid, is already administering almost half of American health care and doing so with less waste than the private sector. Per capita Medicare costs for common benefits grew 4.9 percent between 1998 and 2008, against 7.1 percent for private insurers. Why not offer Medicare as a choice - a choice - to everyone? Aren't Republicans about choice?
The public option, not dead, would amount to recognition of shared interest in each other's health and of the need to use America's energies and resources better. It would involve 300 million people linking arms.
Or we can turn away from each other and, like Narcissus, perish in the contemplation of our own reflections.
Jonah Goldberg had a withering response at National Review Online:
So, we need health-care reform because it will make going to the doctor more like sitting around waiting to be picked for jury duty! Cohen doesn't even realize how terrible this analogy is. Never mind that jury-duty service is mandatory and people who try to duck it can go to jail (that doesn't quite jibe with the feel-good spin liberals try to put on health-care reform). Jury duty is also boring, tedious, and supremely inconvenient. Only refugees from Hands Across America get a thrill from contemplating "linking arms" with 300 fellow Americans just for the sake of doing it. Moreover, no one - and I mean no one - will feel the thrill of social solidarity when they pay higher premiums, wait on longer lines, or find out that their doctor will no longer treat them.
Some respondents to Goldberg also refuted Cohen's misguided ideas about the alleged efficiency of Medicare and Medicaid, and the futility of a "risk pool" for comprehensive health care for an entire population.