Montana Viewpoint


September 14, 2009

I used to think that people held a certain opinion because it made sense when they considered the facts, but after years of laying out the “facts” in a logical order in the hopes that people would change their opinions to fit them, I came to realize that it’s the other way around; facts don’t form opinions, opinions form facts. To put it more clearly, we don’t adjust our opinions to fit the facts, we adjust the facts to fit our opinions. I don’t have a big problem with that, and it wouldn’t do much good if I did, but it sure throws a wrench into trying to get folks to see things differently.

The health care “debate” we are now in the midst of barely tolerating is being driven by defenders of more government on the one hand and defenders of less government on the other. It’s “government can do little wrong,” versus, “government can do little right.” There is a middle ground, folks, which is where I hope we can all live one day.

Abe Lincoln wrote, “The legitimate object of government, is to do for a community of people, whatever they need to have done, but can not do, at all, or can not, so well do, for themselves - in their separate, and individual capacities.”

It’s like a barn raising, you need help.

Each of us at one time or another has put a couple bucks in a jar at the grocery store to help someone we know pay medical bills. We do it because we feel an obligation to help each other, which, by golly, is the reason we form governments in the first place.

Something touches our heart, or conscience, or sense of humanity, or whatever, and the change goes into the jar. That’s a voluntary contribution.

But if the jar is for somebody we don’t know in a town we’ve never heard of, the odds are most of us will put the change in our pockets and go home. But if the check-out lady won’t let us leave the store without making a contribution, and we have to pay to help even people we don’t know, that’s taxes.

Ponder that; we’ll help someone we know, but not someone we don’t know.  Why the difference? That’s for you to answer, because I don’t know either, but those voluntary acts of charity are what some folks think should take up the slack between government health care coverage for all and health care coverage only for those who can afford it. The problem is, charity doesn’t cover the slack and we all know it. We’ve seen that a bunch of friends and neighbors just can’t pony up enough cash to cover a friend’s medical bills for a triple bypass, and we won’t—I’ll bet the store—throw money into a jar to pay for anyone’s  routine colonoscopy. We’ll contribute to pay for a crisis, but we won’t contribute to prevent it.

This whole health care issue is not really about whether everyone should be covered by insurance, it’s how they should be covered. My answer is any way that it works, and you and I both know that what we have now doesn’t work because those contribution jars at the grocery store haven’t gone away.

Meanwhile, just because we have opinions to defend—I’m not talking about politicians, I’m talking about those of us who have taken sides and have been stubborn about it—people are either dying or going bankrupt because they can’t afford medical care. There needs to be room in this debate for some give and take on the part of the public, because a sick person’s death isn’t theoretical for them and their family—it’s real.

I’m on the side of getting insurance coverage for everybody, and if it takes a government to do that, I’m for that too. A lot of folks may call that socialism, but they could just as easily call it “applied Christianity.”


Montana Viewpoint© is carried by 20 Montana weekly newspapers, including those in Helena and Billings, with a combined circulation of over 60,000. There is no charge for publication.

Jim Elliott is Chairman of the Montana Democratic Party and a former state senator from Trout Creek.

The opinions expressed in this column are his, and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Montana Democratic Party.

Jim Elliott
Phone: 406-827-3671
Mail: 100 TC Road, Trout Creek, MT 59874