This weekend, I attended Elizabeth Edwards' discussion on health care with author and surgeon Atul Gawande as part of the New Yorker Festival. Edwards came to talk about the problems with (and some possible solutions for) the health care system in this country and — like me — isn't exactly a fan of John McCain's so-called reform ideas. One would think that 90 minutes to talk about health care wouldn't leave Gawande and the audience with enough time to talk about much else. One would be wrong.On the one hand, Elizabeth acknowledged that part of the willingness of people to pay attention to her on health care policy now stems from her post-election admission in 2004 that she had cancer — and I think both she and Gawande implicitly acknowledged that some in the crowd were there to gawk at the cuckolded lady as much as to hear why tort reform won't solve the problems in our health care system or why morbidity costs are such a drain on the system. That's probably why, as his final question, Gawande asked Edwards to address the problem of giving speeches like this when the audience was going to ask about her personal life. In addition to quoting Gawande's book (from a scrap of paper she pulled from her bra strap, which I loved), she said "I don't think that I lead a perfect life. And I think that's what makes me able to speak to people, that there's a recognition of my imperfection," and added that her ability to focus on her work for health care reform was a refuge. (Which of course prompted someone around my age to get up and ask her about how her kids were coping with the fact that he's husband's a cheat. Seriously. If you were that girl and you are reading this, as a member of your gender and a woman your age, it was truly disappointing to watch you get to ask the last question and ask something that was personally painful for her and incredibly off-topic when the 4 other people in line — like the 5 people before you — probably had something interesting to ask about the topic at hand.) Anyway, Elizabeth Edwards had some advice for Barack Obama and the Democrats about tying health care costs to the current economic crisis so that people view it as part and parcel of the problem rather than annoyance that the government can get around to as some unspecified later point. She mentioned that a lot of people who were struggling with medical expenses were (prior to the mortgage crisis and stock market meltdown) using their equity to pay for health care costs... and now have little or no equity, if they even have their house. Catastrophic health care costs are real, they tug at voters heart strings and all McCain's got on his agenda to help that is Health Savings Accounts, which is basically a big "fuck you" to people that can't afford to save money because they're already in debt from mortages and medical bills. Well, she didn't say that last part, that's me, but the point remains the same. But the big, important this she said is that fixing this problem requires leadership — and it will require sacrifice. She said, "We have to change what we're willing to sacrifice to change things." If you want reform, if we want reform, we have to be willing to reform ourselves. It's not a matter of sitting back and letting someone else do it for us. Elizabeth Edwards is sacrificing her privacy and her ability to not be publicly confronted at every turn by some wannabe do-gooder who wants to know how she's holding up being married to a cheat in order to talk about and push for the kind of reform she wants to see. What would you be willing to give up for your pet issue? Caring For Your Health, Caring for Her Health [New Yorker] Elizabeth Edwards Has 'Passion' For Health Reform [MSNBC]
I don't know what to say, in some ways, except that sacrificing buying clothes or microbrews - and I'm really fond of some of the commenters in here, don't get me wrong - reads to me like some kind of horrifying joke.
Also: self-interest comes in many forms, and can be found hiding in grad schools as well.
I am not trying to be a bitch so much as trying to puzzle out why it seems so difficult for people to do good things. Even one good thing in a sea of self-interest is still a good thing. To me, I don't care if you have bad spending habits. I care how you vote, and I care how much of your time and effort is dedicated to trying to actually change things. Because you all abstaining from buying at H&M is great, but if that energy, out-there-in-the-world-ness, isn't directed somewhere else, it will get you absolutely nowhere in terms of getting free health care.
Now people don't need to be political activists to change things. They do, however, probably need to give a shit. But the giving of a shit is so uncool these days. Much better to be hip and ironic. Much better to write snarky comments on blog walls and congratulate oneself on living largely as if the rest of the world did not exist.
Anyway, I'm sort of self-imploding in this comment.