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A Very Unruly Emotion

Do you ever have that thing where you get really involved with your own life for a few days, and you don’t read the newspaper or hit the blogs or scan the headlines of the dude with NY Daily News who’s standing over you on the subway every morning with the same interest or gusto, and when you take a moment to regroup and reacquaint yourself with the landscape, you kind of want to scream? That’s been my thing the last couple of days.

It started when my mother, a health-care social worker, said I wasn’t allowed to bring up SCHIP, the State Children’s Health Insurance Program. That’s because after initially passing the bipartisan bill, Congress was unable to muster the votes to overturn President Bush’s veto. (Do you know how your representatives voted? Find out!) The plan would have increased the program’s budget $35 billion over five years—an average of $7 billion a year. You might say that as a Republican, President Bush and the thirteen missing votes are concerned with fiscal spending. That might be true, if the proposed budget for 2008 didn’t include a 6.7% increase. (FYI, the biggest discretionary funding hike by far goes to Defense—natch! Health and Human Services, the department that deals with children’s health care, gets the barest nudge upward, while the EPA and Labor departments actually lose percentage points. Life’s funny like that.) You might, like some Republicans have chosen to do, say that the bill doesn’t focus enough on poor kids, that it caters to the middle class. To that, I’d say you need to check your facts, and I’d also counter with the concept that “poverty” has actually become something of a gray area. America has an almost unprecedented number of people living in what’s known as “near-poverty.” In fact, the number one factor pushing those in “near-poverty” into poverty is a medical trauma that isn’t covered by insurance. So you can see why our fearless leader would be so afraid that this bill would “federalize health care.”

Thomas Paine said that “Time makes more converts than reason.” That is, people are more likely to accept something when it’s been around for a long time and just seems self-evident or natural to them than they are to accept something that feels new and strange, even if it might logically make sense to them. However, if you keep pressing the bruise, or creating new ones, you can interrupt the process of naturalizing the self-evident. That’s what I learned from watching the brand-new film “Unborn in the USA” with my (atheist, rationalist, feminist) roommate. We were both pretty horrified at the sheer relentless paternalism of the many interviewees, who seemed, no matter what position they occupied in the anti-choice landscape, to agree that women need to be protected from the horrors that doubtlessly spring from the decision to have an abortion. I think I won’t bombard you with details of some of the frankly loony people meticulously interviewed here, but rest assured that they’re hard at work, and no amount of “dialogue” will ever make us agree with one another. Meanwhile, vital time, energy and money is spent fighting this endless battle—which will never end with agreement between the warring sides—when they could be spent on any number of projects that could endlessly improve the world. (For a scary reminder of how absent women really are from the abortion debate, watch this. And just for a laugh, watch this.)

I know there’s a lot of vitriol in this blog post. You know, J. William Fulbright once said, “In a democracy, dissent is an act of faith.” That’s a lovely sentiment, but depending on how the Senate does with FISA (the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act) vote goes next week, we might have to correct Mr. Fulbright, because dissent might more appropriately be known as an act of treason.
Call your senators, and tell them you love your democracy, and you’d like it to stay that way.

So…not a great few days. What’s a woman to do? Give in to despair and anger? It may be tempting, but the “unruly emotion” from the title of this post actually comes from a Gloria Steinem quote, and what she’s talking about is…hope. Hope is the great lesson that history teaches us—nothing gets fixed unless we imagine we can fix it, that a better world can indeed exist and that we can fight our way through to it. So, having spent myself creating this scary list of what’s gone wrong, I’m going to take a much-needed page from Fran Leibowitz. She’s the one who said, after all, “Every intention, every achievement has come out of dissatisfaction, not serenity. No one ever said, ‘Things are perfect. Let’s invent fire.’”

–Mel Weiss