Monday, July 25, 2011

A Distinction Without a Difference

I must confess here in the public forum that from time to time, my mind drifts during the weekly sermon at church.  I challenge any of you who are not guilty of the same transgression to cast the first stone.  During this particular homily, my mind drifted towards politics, if you can imagine that.   The July 17th Sunday sermon recounted the parable of the mustard seed, and the priest read us the following passage from Matthew:

"The Kingdom of Heaven is like a grain of mustard seed, which a man took, and sowed in his field; which indeed is smaller than all seeds. But when it is grown, it is greater than the herbs, and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and lodge in its branches."

The priest began his sermon by explaining that Jesus taught through parables, and these parables included exaggerations to illustrate the major point.  He referred to this passage, and the priest asked rhetorically, “Is the mustard seed the smallest of all seeds?”  No, he answered his own question.  He added that Jesus’ audience at the time would have included farmers, and they would have known this fact.  There is no historical record of any of the farmers in His audience attempting to correct Jesus’ agricultural exaggeration.

The priest continued.  “Could birds flock to the mustard tree?”  No, he again answered his own question.  He told us that mustard bushes grow low to the ground, and were far from large trees or even large bushes.  Again, there is no record of those in attendance questioning Jesus’ estimating skills.  So was Jesus a liar, the priest asked us?

Of course not.  Here’s where I drifted momentarily to current events.

During the 2008 campaign for President, Barack Obama often retold the story of his dying grandmother, fighting with insurance companies to cover her health care expenses.  His moving personal account took center stage in his battle for comprehensive health care reform. 
A new book has been written by Janny Scott, a New York Times writer and author of the book A Singular Woman: The Untold Story of Barack Obama's Mother, that disputes part of his story.  It turns out the health insurance company did not deny Obama’s grandmother health coverage; it was her disability carrier that did not cover her out-of-pocket unreimbursed medical expenses.

"I will never forget my own mother, as she fought cancer in her final months, having to worry about whether her insurance would refuse to pay for her treatment," Obama told the nation during the campaign.  This has been presented as proof that Obama lied in order to move the urgency of health care reform with the American people.

Really?  His mother was fighting with an insurance company to help pay her medical bills that the carrier would not reimburse.  This caused the woman financial hardship at the most vulnerable time of her life.  These facts are undisputed.  The crux of the “shocking revelation” is that Obama’s mother had not been denied coverage.  She had coverage from the health provider.  She just couldn’t pay her out-of-pocket expenses because the insurance company fought reimbursement.

As Kathleen Parker wrote two Sundays ago in an editorial on the issue, “It is too much to say that Obama told an intentionally tall tale to mislead the public. But it is also incorrect to say that he told a true story.”   According to the Sunday’s sermon at my church, the name Jesus could be substituted for Obama in the previous sentence, and that would also be accurate.

Now before my Far Right readership (if there is any left) begins excommunication procedures (or exorcism procedures) on me, I am not comparing Obama to Jesus.  Only one of them walks on water, although both give a good speech.  I am comparing intent.   Jesus wasn’t a liar when He said that the mustard seed was the smallest seed; Obama wasn’t lying when he said that his mother fought with the insurance company over health care.  I am illustrating how silly the arguments are that are being put forward that Obama is some kind of pathological liar.  When you go after these silly arguments, it demeans any potentially powerful examples of Obama not telling the truth that could advance your point.  Is he a politician?  Yes, without a doubt.  Is this story an example of willful deceit?  Not even close. 
Those on the right are quick to point out that disability insurance coverage was not part of the health care plan that was passed, so Obama was disingenuous when he pedaled his mother’s heart-wrenching story.  If disability coverage was the problem, why wasn’t it part of the ACA?  Guess what?  A lot of things, including the public option, were not part of the health care reform law that passed.  Obama didn’t get the perfect health care solution for this country.  He got what could get enacted into law, because the issue could wait no longer.  If anything, it can be argued that Obama outsourced the health care reform debate to Congress, and remained above the fray.  If anything, he did not provide enough guidance on what the new law should look like.  Talk to Pelosi and Reid.  They both thought Obama was too hands off on the creation of the law that the Right has named after him.

Kathleen Parker wrote in that Sunday editorial, “The president likely will be forgiven this exaggeration in the service of a greater truth. But it was never, in fact, quite true.”  It is reassuring to know that Jesus has been forgiven for His exaggerations and lies about the mustard seed in the service of a greater truth.

Let’s hope it doesn’t take 2,000 year to clear this nonsense up in the public discourse.

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