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Going Nowhere

As President Obama and a few allies like Senator Kennedy struggle to pull together a coalition able to pass health care reform, I am struck by the single-minded selfishness that rules the nation. Every interest group insists on their narrow self-interest without much regard for the nation as a whole.

Republicans are utterly shameless in opposing everything the president does, of course, but we don’t expect much from the GOP. What is shocking is that big labor insists on maintaining tax-free status for their lavish corporate health care benefits, HMOs lobby to block a public option, the AMA prevents accountability and transparency of patient outcomes, and so on.

This is an old story, but it is exacerbated by the ideology of “profit-centered capitalism” that dominates American culture, and which caused the financial meltdown in the first place. Yes, individualism, competition, and free markets are great strengths of the American character. But what about E Pluribus Unum, the benefits of coopetition, teamwork, and all of our other equally valuable traditions?

Americans don’t want to even think about cooperation. The very idea is anathema to our reigning culture that glorifies the satisfaction of me. Apart from an occasional crisis like hurricane Katrina that causes people to rally together for a few days, it’s hard to find much many people willing to cooperate. It’s certainly true that “politics ain’t  beanball,” but creative politicians know that great strides forward can only be made by finding intelligent ways to reconcile divergent interests into a more productive whole.
I am left wondering what it will take to see us recapture the great accomplishments this nation made based on selfless cooperation for the public good – winning World War II, the Marshall Plan, and landing men on the Moon. Obama is trying as best he can to resolve differences, but he can’t do it alone, and expecting a leader to lead over the objections of his followers is silly.  Unless Americans develop a little humility and learn to think of others’ interests as well as their own, we are going nowhere fast.

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