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Bob Letcher

Thursday, June 28th, 2012 marked the end of a week of high drama around how the Supreme Court would rule on President Obama’s Health Care Reform. Actually, for me personally, the week began back in March 2010, when I “stood up” for Obama’s reform by sitting down with a sign saying that I have Parkinson’s, and evincing some ugly treatment from some Tea-Party people who were rallying against Obama’s reform. And for the nation as a whole, the week actually began way back, during the New Deal, when not even FDR had the clout to expand Social Security to cover medical costs.

The high drama of the actual week began with most pundits of most stripes predicting that the Court would rule that the crucial “individual mandate” violated the “Commerce Clause”. On that basis, I started brainstorming my reaction. For five-plus days, I labored to capture my feelings fairly, yet not histrionically: dividing the country further didn’t seem like the right first prescription for the new law.

Then, I learned that Justice Roberts had upheld Obama’s reform, by grounding the individual mandate under Congress’s taxing authority. After a good, hard, happy cry, I realized I had to start over again. My first thought was to portray Roberts as the Lion who had found his heart in the land of Oz. But that failed my “don’t divide us further” test. Eventually, I came up with “Now, we needn’t be military to have each other’s backs!!”

And with that I stopped, satisfied. Why? This response contextualizes implications of the Roberts’ decision within a larger setting. It does so succinctly, fitting on a sign. And it uses the opposition’s argument against them.

Some vignettes illustrate these points. The phrase, “got your back” has come to be almost ubiquitous in military movies, cop shows on TV, and NCIS “federal agent” reruns. Real insiders even have a slang for this slang: instead of anatomical reference, they morph the phrase to “got your six”. Marines pride themselves on a metaphorical extension of “having the backs” of their comrades, as they make a practice of risking their own lives to assure the bringing back of even the dead bodies of their Brothers-in-Arms, and each time they do so, they bring back the custom as well. They remind each other of their commitment to this code of honor every time they figuratively exchange “[high] Semper Fi[ves]”.

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Which gets me back to my sign, we Americans needn’t be Marines to honor the Marine practice of “having each other’s back”. Indeed, we needn’t be military at all. Many everyday people honor the practice—including many who do so by actually practicing it. It’s hardly uncommon anymore to hear this promise promised. But, I must admit that to having little data on follow-through when having the other person’s back requires having a back… bone.

How can a citizenry credibly claim to honor such a practice, BUT only under certain circumstances, to be specified by each individual citizen? The whole point of telling someone “I have your back” is “I have your back PERIOD”, without reservation. Qualified, the message is meaningless. I can see it now: Red hats, with gold-stitching reading “Sometimes Fi”.

That just doesn’t make sense. “Sometimes Fi” would quickly erode to “Rarely Fi”, possibly even among military. And before long, l would anticipate hats saying, quite cynically “Fi... What’s that?”

robert letcher

Which gets me finally to healthcare. It seems to me that a citizenry cannot claim at once BOTH [1] to value having each other’s back, figuratively, AND [2] to oppose sharing the cost of caring for each other’s back, literally. Either we share the cost of healthcare orcut the self-admiration and invest in those “Sometimes… Fi” hats. I hope we choose Option 1.

Bob Letcher

Posted: Thursday, 19 July 2012