Health Care Reform and Afghanistan: Why the Double Standard?

The juxtaposition of funding health care reform and listening to the President announcing 30,000 more men and women in uniform to Afghanistan strikes me as the “odd couple”. There exists strong positions on both sides of each topic, but both will cost billions of dollars. Yet, financing and paying for our soldiers does not seem to be as big of a concern as paying for the health and well being of all Americans. After all, we did not figure out a way to pay for the war in Iraq before engaging in combat there; now, we will be stationing another 30,000 in Afghanistan before knowing how we are going to pay for them. Health care reform, though, must be able to pay for itself. Why this “double standard”?

Health care affects individuals and is personal to each one of us. Without our health, we have nothing – – – we cannot be productive to ourselves, our families, communities, the work force, and, in the end, to the economy. Conversely, if we are not healthy, we become a drain on the economy, particularly for those who are uninsured or underinsured. We need the product called healthcare to stay healthy; some say, including this writer, healthcare should be a right; others have said that it should be viewed as a community service, like taking the municipal bus to work, or paying for heat or electricity for our homes.

A war, on the other hand, is a big and complex business (recall Eisenhower’s use of the term, “military-industrial complex”, in his farewell address speech). The reasons to spend billions to engage in armed conflict are many and varied, some proven to be worthwhile, like the rise of Hitler preceding our entry into WWII, and others based on chicanery, like the claimed existence of weapons of mass destruction possessed by Saddam Hussein. And then there was the mess that turned into the Vietnam War. Paying for a war seems less of a concern to Americans and those who we send to Congress (than ensuring we all have access to and then can afford healthcare). Perhaps it is because protecting our homeland in light of 9-11 is a compelling reason to do whatever is necessary to ensure that we never experience that atrocity again. After all, going to Afghanistan with a goal to squash the Taliban, i.e., Al Queda, is like offering up Motherhood and apple pie, isn’t it?

Maybe the reason we do not rise up against financing a war in advance is because our armed forces are the sine qua non of any other big corporate industry that has considerable leverage and lobbying of those in Congress who hold onto the purse strings. It involves millions of Americans, not only the boots on the ground, but civilian contractors, manufacturers of military hardware and subsidiary goods and services. This does not even mention the thousands of ancillary civilian jobs that feed and breath life into many a small community from having a military base or post located there. Our generals and commanding officers are also nothing more than the CEOs and CFOs of private enterprise.

The choir of Congressional voices that demand any health care reform must be budget neutral (even Obama insists on this) is louder and more vociferous than funding a war is perhaps best captured by sentiments expressed recently by Senator Richard Lugar (R-Ind.). His view is that the needs of the country when it comes to a troop build up in Afghanistan are more important than health care reform so that the latter should be put on hold until next year. While other reasons certainly exist for why he said what he did, his views are but in microcosm to war being more significant in the American psyche than ensuring access and affordability by every American to our health care system.

Not worrying as much about paying for a greater military presence in Afghanistan than funding healthcare reform is a matter of policy and political expediency – – – protecting the interests and homeland of the United States of America by the military industrial complex from terrorists and others looking to do her harm is the number one priority of all those on the Hill, again like saying nothing outranks Motherhood and apple pie. But, isn’t being healthy as equal an imperative to fighting a war and defeating our enemy? Remember, if we do not have our health, we have nothing – – – including the ability to engage the enemy in armed conflict.