My mother’s Italian mother died before I was born. My Hungarian grandma made it to ninety-four. I swear I didn’t kill her. I have, in fact, never ever killed anyone’s grandmother.

But I can’t prove it to my conservative friend, Anthony. The other morning at Fuel he announced loudly that liberals want to kill grandmas.

It’s about government, Anthony says. Government is evil and more government is more evil. Liberals and leftists want to use government to control the way people live, and now the way they die. It costs too much to maintain an unproductive grandma. Why keep her alive when she can no longer make macaroni?

It’s crystal clear in Anthony’s mind. The first step is the new Health Care Bill: getting rid of diagnostic programs for mammograms and prostate cancer. Then, even though the words aren’t in the bill: the death panels.

I tried to assure Anthony I’m against death panels but I’m not sure he believes me. I do think we need government, a necessary evil. To build and mantain roads, bridges, and build schools and employ postal workers and teachers and food inspectors.

This was a disturbing conversation because it is apparent that we see two different realities and have different stories about life in America.

So the first step was to read the Senate Health Care Bill. Unfortunately, my brain turned to pudding.

The bill calls itself the “Affordable Health Choices Act: a bill to make quality, affordable health care available to all Americans, reduce costs, improve health care quality, enhance disease prevention, and strengthen the health care workforce.”

Anthony thinks it has been shaped by left-wing, pro-socialist, pro-government types. But it doesn’t feel that way to me.

Before I gave up I got the sense that this is a patchwork of compromise, and each compromise strengthens the position of the status quo.

In fact, a November 26, 2009 Associate Press story analyzes who has been shaping the bill: “President Barack Obama’s top aides met frequently with lobbyists and health care industry heavyweights as his administration pieced together a national health care overhaul.” This list includes “George Halvorson, chairman and CEO of Kaiser Health Plans; Scott Serota, president and CEO of the Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association; Kenneth Kies, a Washington lobbyist who represents Blue Cross/Blue Shield, among other clients; Billy Tauzin, head of PhRMA, the drug industry lobby; Richard Umbdenstock, chief of the American Hospital Association, and numerous lobbyists.”

I really don’t like being put in the position of defending government. Despite some people’s best intentions I think most governments end up being creepy conglomerations of ego and ambition and influence peddling, with rooms full of the kinds of people I never really trusted in school. Maybe I’m cynical.

Anthony believes one of the great conflicts in America is between individual rights and government control.

My problem is that the folks who say they believe in individual rights only believe that at certain times: many don’t believe a woman really has the right to control her body. Their intense discomfort with abortion makes them more comfortable with the idea of defending the rights of the fetus than the rights of the woman who chooses not to be a mother. According to Anthony, he has never met a liberal who wasn’t in favor of abortion.

And my problem with liberals is that too often their talk about taking care of others is just that, talk. And they rarely put their lives on the line to make any of that happen.

All of which leaves me thinking that words, vocabulary, and the way we look at the world seems to keep us apart rather than bring us together. If I can step away from my debate with Anthony, it doesn’t take too long for me to accept the fact that I don’t trust government anymore than he does. Maybe I just need it more than he does to protect us from the raw greed and immorality of the ever more powerful corporations.

In the meantime I promise not to kill your grandma.

And I still want a Medicare-like universal health care program that will offer us quality healthcare we can afford and treat us all with respect. Especially Anthony and especially grandmas.


Anthony, still in the Witness Protection Program, has undergone extensive plastic surgery and is now thirty-five years old and virtually unrecognizable.

Thursday, December 3, 2009 © Mickey Friedman – All Rights Reserved