Contributions to the Dead Letter Office–Exhibit A

Sometimes you just spit right into the wind, knowing perfectly well the result. Even so, the spitting can still be a little fun, even if, as in the case with the following letter, you know that it is dead on arrival and probably culled by some stern and highly offended secretary so that it never soils the hands of its intended public servant.

September 21, 2009

Dear Senator Wicker,

I have, with the passing of the decades, learned to refrain from the common temptation to write one’s elected representatives with a view to dissuading them from what I might consider to be a perilous course, largely because I have found such letters to be ineffective. No doubt this ineffectiveness is due to my peculiar views generally favoring democracy and the commonweal rather than oligarchy and plutocracy, wedded to what I perhaps erroneously consider the morally proper thing to do; the consequent result being that those views are received as the misguided, pernicious, or naïve bleating of the pinko left and thus relegated to the only suitable place—the round file.  But I do not mean to bore you or to waste your time. I merely meant to establish what you might consider my “reverse” bonafides: to wit, that I am a member of what to your party would be the loyal opposition.

But I am in receipt of your recent “Report on Health Care,” and the bonds that usually keep me silent were loosed. I believe that you are an honorable man, despite a senatorial campaign that on both sides was remarkable only for its lack of civility, truth, and candor. (I had thought to write a letter prior to election day and send it to whomever proved to be the victor; its theme was to be simply that you—or Governor Musgrove—should be ashamed of the campaign for its near total incapacity to run more than a single advertisement that did anything other than to recite, usually with no small degree of hyperbole, the multifarious irregularities and digressions from integrity of your respective opponent. How refreshing it would be if our campaign discourse could emerge from the slums and gutters which have become its natural element; but that forlorn hope has been nearly abandoned by most Americans, I suspect. But in compliance with the view expressed in my opening, and despite my repugnance at the scurrilous nature of the campaign, I kept my own counsel.) But I do believe that it is a blotch on your honor to continue uttering the shibboleth that, regarding health care, anything other than some minor tinkering with the status quo constitutes a “government takeover.” It is—and I am totally sincere in asserting this—truly difficult for me to believe that a man of your gifts and accomplishments actually believes this; but it is equally difficult for me to accept that you would knowingly engage, by using this loaded refrain, in the flagrant demagoguery and seemingly unashamed mendacity that the phrase represents. A public option would no more represent a government takeover of health care any more than the existence of The University of Southern Mississippi and its sister public institutions takes over higher education, as the success of Millsaps, William Carey, Tougaloo, and Mississippi College testifies. Nor does the existence of the U. S. Postal Service seem to imperil FedEx or UPS. Would you have opposed state-sponsored elementary public education in the nineteenth century on the ground that it would eliminate the cobbled-together private venues in which readin’, ‘ritin’, and ‘rithmetic were taught? Wouldn’t the success of Presbyterian Christian School and Sacred Heart here in Hattiesburg belie that opposition?

I have a close friend and colleague of 29 years who votes Republican; another who with her husband daunted me in taking into her home after Katrina a total stranger, an elderly black refugee from New Orleans, and following through by finding local housing for him and assisting in a thousand ways up through his funeral about a year ago. It was an example of being your brother’s keeper that illustrated for me how far I fall short of that Biblical admonition. And yet, when it comes to national policy, it seems to me that the Republicans (the Civil War being excepted) and the most conservative Democrats are far too often on the wrong side of history, and act in the interest of the corporate, the powerful, and the well-heeled. How many Republican congressmen voted for Social Security, the Civil Rights Act, or Medicare? And yet despite their actuarial problems, aren’t Social Security and Medicare now acknowledged by Republicans to be public goods? And would we do away with the government-run Veterans Administration?

I must lastly tire you with a comment in response to your observations about waiting lists in Canada and Great Britain. It is the nature, of course, of politics and polemics to articulate only those sides of an issue which support one’s position, disingenuously ignoring, as if they did not exist, any aspects uncongenial to that position. But I am sure that you are aware that both of those countries provide coverage for ALL of their citizens; that their health care is far less expensive per capita than ours, even though the physicians and hospitals are actually private; and that in general their people are healthier than we are. Though I am not proposing copying their systems, it is certainly less than honest to suggest that the mere existence of a public option represents a “government takeover” duplication of Canada’s system, and equally less than honest to neglect to mention those significant superiorities of their system, while only endlessly bemoaning their waiting lists.

After 157 years as slave-holding colonies, and another 87 years from the day we proclaimed that we were a nation, we abolished that “peculiar institution.” While health care is not the moral touchstone that slavery was, it is not a passing issue, and it has its own moral imperatives (I pass over entirely the current unsustainable fiscal imperatives). Eventually we will have universal coverage, and that coverage’s cost will not forever spiral upward, far outpacing inflation. I invite you to break ranks and represent your fellow Mississippians on the right side of history—not as a politician, but as a statesman, perhaps even with a touch of Genesis 4:9 in mind. If you cannot, I do at least ask you to forego misleading us further with hand-wringing, fear-mongering, and utterly false pronouncements about “government takeovers.”

Respectfully and cordially,

John R. Rachal


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