For the seventeen years I’ve been living in Germany, my favorite way of describing the difference between Americans and Germans was to use the train-station illustration. If a German and an American were waiting for a train in a station with no announcements and no signs on the platforms, the German would sit until kingdom come before he got on a train that might be going the wrong direction. “The American,” I have, until now, proclaimed confidently, “would get on the first train out of there and then hop back off again if he found it taking him somewhere he didn’t want to go.” But thanks to the current debate on Healthcare reform, I have had to eat those words without any sauce to help them go down. Where did all those rugged, brave Americans disappear to? What has happened to their adventuresome spirit? What awful specter has struck this paralyzing fear into the hearts of my fellow countrymen?
During numerous failed attempts to convince friends and loved ones of the merits of getting on the Healthcare Reform Train, I believe I have caught glimpses of the apparition which is haunting them: The Spook of Slippery Slope. The logic is always the same: “If we take a left at this intersection, we will end up in Communist China.” “If you follow this to its logical extreme, you will see how dangerous such a first step actually is.” “Give ‘em a hand, they’ll take off your whole arm.” The most extreme example of such arguments came before Obama’s election in a letter from James Dobson from the year 2012 of an eventual Obama administration: A worst case scenario of all loathed liberal ideology; a conservative’s “Nightmare on Main street!”
Unfortunately, the scare tactics haven’t disappeared with election defeat. Blocking the way to meaningful reform is a large minority of Americans who appear to be stuck in this ideological cul-de-sac. In continuing to defer to some extrapolated future nemesis, this “un-American” brand of conservatism is not only holding the country hostage in “juncture station,” it is also dodging its responsibility for the actual and current suffering in America and is eluding the necessary systemic evaluation and reform of our run away free market. These voices of caution might imagine that they are trying to save Americans from some future calamity which reform would bring upon us, but many Americans are living through tragedy now, for which our present, undeniably flawed healthcare system is responsible. The fox is in the coop with a hen in his mouth, and some would warn us to barricade the farm house against an inevitable poultry revolution!
Of course there are “slippery slopes”: If I open a bag of chocolate chip cookies, chances are I will eat them all, and it is probably not a good idea to try heroin even once. But reality rarely fleshes out this law of extremism. When I leave the house and hang a left, I usually make a right before too long, and then another left and so on, until I get to Starbucks, to work or to my hairdresser. Most of us, most of the time, don’t dump the whole bottle of Tabasco into the chili, don’t place all of our money on one horse or press the petal to the metal just because the speedometer says we can. Most of us, most of the time, live our lives within the bounds of moderation and are better off for it. I have every confidence, that after hanging a right eight years ago, Americans can safely make this little left turn toward a pronounced healthcare reform guaranteeing everyone affordable quality coverage without waking up to find ourselves on a non-stop train to Animal Farm.