Today, many of us know someone who has no health insurance and we
worry about what would happen if they got seriously sick. Early last
year a friend was diagnosed with cancer. Fortunately he had an
excellent outcome with treatment. But two months later, he lost his job
and—after he and his wife struggled to keep up with the insurance
payments for eight months while he searched for a new job—they finally
stopped paying for insurance. The choice came down to keeping a roof
over their heads or paying their COBRA bill. They know they are now
playing the lottery with his health. And God forbid his wife or son
gets sick. This is the dilemma too many of our families, our friends
and our neighbors are facing right now.
Reforming the health-care insurance market is not only a primary
goal of President Barack Obama, but is also a major requirement for the
economic health of the United States because it will prevent the
bankruptcy of our country and its citizens.
As the Dow Jones Industrial Average inches upward, there will be a strong temptation--especially from financial news outlets--to equate recovery by shareholders with the recovery of economic security in our country.
America is crumbling, and bipartisan deregulation is to blame. Free-market mantras and corporate welfare have destabilized the dollar, bankrupted suburban America, and drained every sign of government activity from the landscape.
In recent months it has become common, even fashionable, to describe the situation in Iraq as “Hobbesian.” In his Nov. 29 column in the New York Times, for example, Thomas Friedman wrote that Iraq “is not the Arab Yugoslavia anymore. It’s Hobbes’s jungle.” Or, as Washington Post correspondent Thomas Ricks said on “Meet the Press” on Dec. 10, the Iraqi sectarian conflict is a “Hobbesian war of all against all.” Helena Cobban, in the June 6 Christian Science Monitor, wrote that Iraq “has become a Hobbesian nightmare.” The examples could go on and on.
The point, clearly, is that the situation in Iraq is really, really bad, but never do those invoking Thomas Hobbes’s name bother to examine the deeper issues that such a comparison invites. What does this persistent reversion to a seventeenth-century British political philosopher tell us? How far does it take us in understanding the war in Iraq? How does it work to frame the issue, and what assumptions are built into it?
With the election this month of the first-ever democratically elected Iraqi government, under the new constitution ratified in October, Iraqi society has turned a corner, and the world looks on with mingled hope and trepidation. The optimists cheer; the sober demur. For it is not clear yet what, exactly, lies around this corner.
Historical parallels are never perfect, no more than metaphors are literally true, and we should also keep a clear view of the distinctions between different historical moments, actors, and forces. But historical parallels can vividly illuminate the present, and serve as vital indicators of where the present could be heading, just as metaphors can make known to us the qualities or properties of a literal thing.