Critical issues demand high levels of dialogue that political debate seldom provides. For instance, the profound legislative step forward of health care reform has been pounded with shallow, misleading attacks. There may be honest questions about plan’s specifics, but they don’t justify the vituperative distortions its critics have flung about so irresponsibly.

Not only is the criticism often contradictory or wrong, it misses the fundamental moral reason for reform–to provide health care for 50 million Americans without it. Nevertheless, GOP leaders in the House and Senate have pledged to repeal this landmark bill–turning their backs on fellow Americans without adequate coverage.

Critics are so caught up with their “me-isms” that they simply ignore the needs of 50 million Americans. Apparently, what “family values” Republicans value most is themselves–to the detriment of others.

Take their self-centered arguments against reform. Some critics warn that it could trigger a shortage of primary care physicians. Because they fear they may not be able to see a doctor as quickly as they want, we should keep 50 million Americans from seeing one at all? During the height of the debate, Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) and others claimed health care reform would “pull the plug on Grandma.” Alas, overturning our health care reform would “pull the plug” on millions of Americans who could get coverage because of it.

Frankly, it’s not only the currently uninsured who will benefit from reform. People with pre-existing conditions can gain coverage; college students can be covered longer by family plans; the drug coverage “doughnut hole” will be filled.

It’s appropriate to discuss reform’s cost–but only if it’s discussed honestly. Opponents predict that reform will increase health care costs, ignoring that this will happen anyway, even without the changes President Obama signed into law. The non-partisan Congressional Budget Office claims the plan actually provides savings to offset some increased costs.

Criticism about costs raises questions about those “alarmed” by the national debt. When did these naysayers “get religion” about national debt? I see a DNA connection between today’s “Party of No Way” and the Reagan and George W. Bush administrations. During those years, our debt rose more precipitously than the critics’ worst estimates of the cost of health care reform.

Is it hypocrisy, stupidity, or dishonesty that allows critics to embrace the debt from these former administrations but condemn the current budget deficit?

If they were really serious about cutting the deficit, they’d have to stop pushing for tax cuts for the wealthy and stop funding our very questionable wars. The American Friends Service Committee calculates that it costs $1 million per year per soldier in Afghanistan–and that $1 million could provide health care for 227 adults. For the cost of maintaining over 100,000 military personnel in Afghanistan, we could fund health care for 22.7 million Americans.

Some, like Michael Steele, the soon-to-be Republican National Committee ex-chairman, have been outspoken in condemning our health care reform as “socialist.” Get real! Government involvement in our lives is a fact we embrace daily. Think schools, public utilities, Medicare, armed forces, postal service, highways, and public funding for sports stadiums.

These critics’ blind assumption that free enterprise is always better has been discredited by our current financial crisis. You know, the one brought upon us by the unbridled greed and short-sighted actions of the “giants” of laissez-faire.

There’s one criticism about health care reform that I do embrace. The national organization Physicians for a National Health Plan criticizes the plan because it doesn’t go far enough. They say it’s “dispensing aspirin for the treatment of cancer.”

Rev. William McCartney is a retired pastor and district superintendent of the United Methodist Church. He lives in Delaware, Ohio.

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