Firefighters in Tennessee watch a house burn down because the owner didn’t pay his protection fee.[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FxALJ-9Ys-w[/youtube]
And Glenn Beck laughs!
Sick people die because they don’t have the money for health insurance.
And the Tea Party cheers!
Is this America?
If you listen to Glenn Beck, my favorite chipmunk in jackboots, you might think that America was founded on the principle of every man for himself. To Glenn Beck and his tea fogger followers, that is what the founding fathers fought for.
Not according to Mark Tebeau, an Associate Professor of History at Cleveland State University. As the author of Eating Smoke: Fire in Urban America 1800-1950, Prof. Tebau was invited by National Public Radio to offer his insights into the incident in Tennessee.
Prof. Tebeau stated that late 18th century and early 19th century firefighters would most certainly have responded to any fire by putting it out. Fire presented an “exceptional danger.”
Tebeau also put to rest the urban myth that early firefighters would only put out those fires to houses that had “firemarks”, a sign on their property indicating that the house had fire insurance.
Not true, according to Tebeau. It was a source of pride to put out the fire.
But equally important it was an expression of community good will.
I wonder if the tea bashers can even speak those words.
Lady Liberty for the community
But listen to Mark Tebeau:
Fire brigades in the late 18th and early 19th century really emerged using all of the iconography of the early republic; all the political symbols of the day indicated their commitment to public service and their vision of a community of Americans…
What surprised me in the Tennessee case is that that whole iconography from the early republic seems to have been lost in this sense of quid pro quo; if you give me money I will give you protection…
The use Lady Liberty, as a way of expressing both political identity but also commitment to the polity, is a powerful motif thats repeated again and again across the United States in the 19th century..
There is a lot in the blogoshpere that offers various rationales for the behavior of those firefighters; some of them admittedly half hearted.
Many of them point to the simple fact that South Fulton is a poor town and cannot, nor should not, be expected to put out fires for all of Obion County. It seems the good citizens of Obion County are unwilling to fund their own fire department.
But even that goes to the Professor’s point. We have lost our sense of obligation to each other. It is not just reflected in the decision of one fire company to watch a family’s house burn down. It is reflected in the decision of the citizens of Obion County to deny support to their own fire company.
It is what I call meanness.
And it is reflected in the opposition to health care.
Conservatives get a bit tripped up over this issue of firefighting as evidenced in a half hearted defense of the Tennessee action or inaction in one libertarian blog- United Liberty. (Do I sense some confusion in that title?)
Many libertarians have no problem with municipal fire services.
Free market fire departments open up all kinds of other problems, and I’m not going to deny it. We’ve tried them before and they didn’t work out so well. That’s the reason municipal fire departments started in the first place.
I would be curious how libertarians differentiate those municipal services they support from those they don’t.
Health care as a social good
Don’t free markets for health care open up all kinds of other problems. We have certainly tried them before and they surely do not work. That’s the reason government got involved with Medicare, with Medicaid, with the Indian Health Service, with the VA. In fact, when you include government employee benefits, government pays for about 70% of health care expenditures.
It wasn’t some free market theology that let that house burn. It was just plain meanness.
And it is just plain meanness that underlies the objections to health care reform.
A society that has already agreed to provide health care for the old, the poor, for Indians, for veterans, and for government employees; should be able to extend that helping hand to the marginally employed, those working in low wage jobs, working multiple part time jobs, or who can’t work because they are sick and who can’t get better because they don’t have health insurance.
Seems to me that is a position that libertarians could find a way to support.
Instead of letting their philosophy get in the way of their humanity.
Instead of watching the whole house burn down.