I wrote this for the Urban News.mandelaThe great Nelson Mandela has died at the age of 95. His death should cause reflection and celebration: Nelson Mandela was, simply, a great man.

In our culture we like to simplify and homogenize our icons. George Washington never told a lie; “Honest Abe” Lincoln studied by candlelight in a log cabin; Ronald Reagan, according to some of his idolizers, never did anything wrong (despite supporting apartheid while he was president). We like to sanitize our heroes.

We don’t need to sanitize Nelson Mandela: he was a human being just like you and me. Human beings are complex; they make mistakes. Many conservatives like to point out that Nelson Mandela was a terrorist, and indeed, Nelson Mandela did turn to violence. He also embraced anyone and anything that could help fund his struggling ANC (African National Congress)—including Fidel Castro and socialism, as he looked for answers to end his nation’s oppression.

Does this diminish Nelson Mandela? I don’t think so. I think it makes his image richer. Nelson Mandela liberated a nation, freed a people from generations of oppression, brought down a regime based on racial separation. Not only did he do so without a violent revolution; he did so without demonizing the white minority, but by reconciling with them. Nelson Mandela embraced his former oppressors—and the world is a better place for his life and example. (Egberto Willies, over at DKos, said just about the same thing.)

Jobs
The American economy created over 200,000 jobs in the month of November. Some members of Congress are considering allowing unemployment benefits to expire. These congressmen, while vying for the Ebenezer Scrooge award, vehemently believe that these unemployment benefits are “too generous” and have gone on far too long.

For once I would agree with conservatives—on one point: these unemployment benefits have gone on for far too long. Yet placing some arbitrary time limit seems wrongheaded. The unemployment rate stands at 7.0%, compared to 5.0% when the Great Recession started in 2007.  7.9 million Americans who lost their jobs during the Great Recession still haven’t found work. So instead of implementing arbitrary timelines, why don’t we put more Americans back to work? That way they wouldn’t need unemployment benefits.

Federal, state and local governments have shed more than 1.9 million jobs since the recession began, including tens of thousands of educators. We can start by hiring some of these people back. We need more teachers in the schools, at better pay. We have roads that need to be repaired, and substandard bridges that need to be updated. Let’s quit cutting government and start spending money to fix our country. That would be a great Christmas present!

Obamacare
Over the past three years we’ve seen a relentless attack on the Affordable Care Act (ObamaCare). I would be the first to admit that this law is not perfect. As a matter of fact, I don’t know of any laws that are perfect. Anything that we do as human beings is, by definition, imperfect.

If you are a religious person, a moral person, an ethical person, arguing that affordable, high-quality healthcare is a basic right for all Americans is a no-brainer. I simply don’t understand arguing against getting healthcare for all Americans. The alternative is going back to some sort of system in which some Americans have excellent health insurance, some Americans have mediocre health insurance (which probably doesn’t cover them if they get sick), and still others have no health insurance whatsoever.

This system is morally unacceptable.  Regardless of endless cries of “socialized medicine” from opponents on the right, ObamaCare is simply a minor tweak to our existing for-profit corporate insurance system. It was designed to address some of the most egregious—and typical—incidents under that system.

  • For most young adults between the ages of 18-30, health insurance is simply unaffordable. ObamaCare made it possible for some of these Americans to stay on their parent’s insurance policy until age 27, and offers subsidies to millions of others so they can afford their own coverage.
  • Many private insurers charged women more than men for health insurance: they deemed fertility—the possibility of becoming a mother—an expensive “pre-existing condition.” But women, after childbearing age, are far less expensive to take care of than men, yet even then insurers still would not grant women a financial break. ObamaCare addresses this inequity.
  • Americans who worked hard all their lives and paid into an insurance system would suddenly get dropped from their insurance coverage when they came down with some expensive illness. Others faced annual and lifetime caps far below the cost of treatment for some chronic conditions or critical illnesses. This can’t happen anymore; policies must cover you no matter what.
  • ObamaCare has set standards for a minimum acceptable health insurance policy as well as standards for hospitals and doctors. If your hospital, doctor, or insurance policy doesn’t meet the standards, then that doctor, that hospital, or that insurance policy is no longer eligible to offer “care.” This is a good thing: elevating the quality of medical care in this country while trying to control the cost.

Finally …
During this season of celebration, reflection, and joy, I hope that you and yours have a safe, healthy, and happy Christmas season.