11-year-old caught in the middle of health reform mudslinging

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Upon hearing the story about Marcelas Owens, the 11-year old boy who lost his mother after she became unemployed and without health insurance, my heart skipped two beats. I thought about my own mother, and how confusing the world would have been had I lost her guiding spirit at such an early age. I also thought about how it would have been even more confusing to be approached by politicians, radio show hosts, and lobbyists on both sides of me who either believed my pain to be irrelevant, or were trying to use my trauma for their own personal gain.

I then saw reports that Rush Limbaugh, Michelle Malkin and Glenn Beck were attacking Marcelas for telling his story. Upon hearing the reports, I was appalled, but not surprised. Michelle Malkin is a highly malevolent, wannabe commentator who is almost comical in her political analysis. Beck and Limbaugh are simply entertainers with large platforms and non-existent leadership capacity. They are the three stooges of social commentary, only intended to provide a good laugh.

Even more appalling than the Republican attacks on Owens was the fact that the Democrats chose to parade him throughout the line of fire on Capitol Hill. The “Axis of Ignorance” (which I’ve referred to as Sean Hannity, Rush Limbaugh and Bill O’Reilly) has a very good point in that Owens is subject to public scrutiny mainly because the Democrats are very happy to put a cute little kid on the cover of their convoluted and uninspiring health care reform bill. The bill is incredibly weak, but I support it because I am hopeful it can elevate our health care system from “horrible” to just “pretty bad.” I also expect that someone will explain to little Marcelas that when you walk into the political kitchen, you might end up getting cooked.

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There is another way to look at Marcelas Owens and his rise within the public sphere. Perhaps he is just another American who has been personally affected by our nation’s inability to provide affordable, high quality health care to its citizens. Marcelas’ story can bring realism and relevance to a debate that has been about posturing, bickering and mid-term elections. While the politicians fight, real people are suffering, and many of the millions affected are children.

To some extent, we can argue that the case of Marcelas Owens is one that is reflective of the pitfalls of allowing our nation’s health care system to fall victim to the beast of unfettered capitalism. Capitalism doesn’t make much room for our humanity or compassion. It is only designed to consider return on investment, corporate growth, market share and other financial variables when determining whether or not someone should live or die. Such a coarse and insensitive way of viewing the preservation of life is in direct contradiction with our values as a society and our instincts as human beings. The Republicans, in their attacks on Marcelas, are presenting themselves as living, breathing personifications of the bankruptcy of our collective conscience.

When asked why Marcelas was engaged in the fight for health care, he made a very simple and poignant statement: “Everybody deserves health care.” Sarah Palin’s “death panels” have long been in existence, since millions of Americans die because of an insurer who denies their claim or a surgery that a hospital has decided that the patient cannot afford. The fact that we have chosen to believe that some people don’t deserve health care if they don’t have enough money should give us reason to pause and take a look at what we’ve become.

Dr. Boyce Watkins is the founder of the Your Black World Coalition and the initiator of the National Conversation on Race. For more information, please visit BoyceWatkins.com>

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