Emanuel Cleaver II represents the Fifth Congressional District of Missouri. This seat covers much of Kansas City and all of Independence, Missouri. Most folk remember the later city as the hometown of Harry S. Truman, who served as the 33rd President of the United States from 1945 to 1953.
The life histories of Cleaver and Truman parallel in a number of ways. Both men grew up in poor families, Truman the son of a hardscrabble farmer and Cleaver in public housing. Both started their political careers at the local level. Truman served as a judge of the Jackson County Court and Cleaver began as a city councilman in Kansas City then became the city’s first African American Mayor.
Cleaver and Truman’s histories intertwined again this past week. Cleaver’s vote last Sunday in the US House of Representatives helped insure that the Obama Health Care Bill passed through with its very slim majority. Truman had unsuccessfully attempted a more ambitious plan decades earlier.
Barely three months after the end of the Second World War, President Truman proposed a national health-care program. He argued in a message to Congress that “The health of American children, like their education, should be recognized as a definite public responsibility.” The Truman plan, in addition to the national health insurance aspect, sought to address the inadequacy of medical services and personnel in rural and low-income areas as well.
Both Truman and Cleaver felt the wrath of the powers that be and the popular opposition they mobilized. The American Medical Association attacked the Truman bill as “socialized medicine” and heralding the later rhetoric of McCarthy the AMA labelled the Truman administration as “followers of the Moscow party line.” A Kansas City Star dispatch on Wednesday this week reported that in the lead up to Sunday’s vote Cleaver’s office received a call which “warned that if the congressman voted for the health care bill, he would get ‘a bullet to the head.’”
Apparently a dozen or so similar threats to legislators supporting health-care reform were recently reported to the House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, a Maryland Democrat, according to the article. The heightened cant of opponents tainted by Coulter-esque extremists substituting fear and ideological caricature for rational debate can be expected yield results like this.
How can any notion of a common good be striven for in such a highly fragmented social and political landscape?
I grew up in the 5th Congressional District of Missouri. Our family relied on private health insurance, Blue Cross as I recall. It, however, wasn’t enough when diabetes and heart problems exacted their toll on my father. We lost our family home, savings and the business my father had spent 30 years supporting our family with in order to secure his needed health care.
I saw then, and certainly now from the vantage point of my life in Canada, the pursuit of the common good is essential to building a just society. The provision of health care, though, is just one aspect of a just society. We know that health services are only one factor in keeping us healthy. Poverty, social exclusion, powerlessness and hopelessness are among the other determinants of health. Pursuing the common good demands that these be somehow addressed here as well as in land to our south.
Michael Dougherty is co-chair of the social justice committee of Sacred Heart Cathedral of Whitehorse. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
Sunday, March 28 – Palm Sunday is the Christian celebration of the entry of Jesus into Jerusalem. It begins the Christian Holy Week. A suggested reading is Luke 19:28-40.
Monday, March 29 – Mahavir Jayanti is a Jain festival honouring their founder, Lord Mahavira, on his birthday.
Monday, March 29 – Pesach or Passover begins the Jewish 8-day celebration of the deliverance of the Jews from slavery in Egypt.
Tuesday, March 30 – Magha Puja celebrates the presentation of teachings by Lord Buddha to an assembly of holy men.