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A Vision for a Healthy Society

August 4, 2011

Did you know that this past weekend was Medicare and Medicaid’s 46th birthday?  For 46 years these national programs have kept people healthy and allowed people to see doctors when they otherwise would not be able to.  FamiliesUSA had a great email campaign to share your birthday wishes with members of Congress as a reminder that these programs have served as a cornerstone for all that America is.  This got me thinking that it is time to think in terms of a “Great Society” – Medicare and Medicaid were created as part of President Lyndon B. Johnson’s vision for a great America, and nowadays it feels like today we could use some more of that kind of vision.

This week our leaders came closer than we have ever been to having the United States of America default on its loans.  That does not make for a great society.  It does not make for a healthy society.  And in my view, a great society is a healthy society.

To truly be healthy, we need many things.  At an individual level, it’s about feeling well physically, yes, but it’s also about stress levels, being financially sound, having happiness and love (of some kind) in your life.  Likewise, at a societal level, “healthy” means so much more than physical well-being.  Not everyone is going to be physically well, so people need easy access to care, both preventive and treatment for illnesses.  It’s also about levels of violence, verbal and physical.  It’s about levels of poverty; in addition to common wisdom that there must be more poverty when our economy is as bad as it is, a quick google search gives me several indications that the poverty rate in the U.S. is not what it should be for a healthy society.  And then there’s the topic of race.  A healthy society is not segregated.

So what does any of this have to do with reproductive health, rights, and justice?  Healthy societies recognize that every person, regardless of race, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation, immigration status, religion (or lack thereof), or any other factor of identity, has the right – and therefore needs to have the ability – to determine their own reproductive lives, and that means, every person has the right to enjoy sexual relationships without necessarily producing a pregnancy or a child.  Humans are sexual beings, and it’s time that we stopped teaching people that “sex is the most awful, filthy thing on earth and you should save it for someone you love” (as Butch Hancock said).  It’s from that mindset that we wind up with leaders who believe all sex must always be procreative, and that limiting sex to procreation is an important enough goal to regulate individual sexual behavior through legislation.  Apparently these same leaders believe that when the great society defaults on its loans, that’s a good thing. 

Defaulting on loans is not a sexy topic, nor does it have much to do with sexuality.  But there is a connection here.  Congressional leaders are behaving as though they can unilaterally impose their ideology on everyone.  Not just every American, but, from default’s effects on the global economy to another version of the global gag rule, every person around the world.  Healthy societies aren’t led by people who believe it’s their way or the highway (or maybe a private space shuttle?).  Yes, compromise is part of governing, but there’s a bigger issue than that underneath all this.  Leaders of a diverse society – diverse in gender, race, geography, income, religion, political beliefs – cannot impose one viewpoint on everyone and expect us to fall in line with no repercussions.  I just hope that the repercussions come next election, and that us little people caught in the various crossfires can hang on until then. 

What do you think we need to make America healthy?

And for a great, historical perspective on how we got here and how sexuality is connected to the debt ceiling showdown, check out Amanda Marcotte’s piece at RH Reality Check.

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