The Universal Declaration of Human Rights outlined what Eleanor Roosevelt and the other authors of the document believed should be the basic premise of the modern world: "Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services."
When the declaration was approved 70 years ago, the notion that health care is a universal right was not a radical vision. Americans had just defeated fascists who rejected universal rights by dismissing the humanity of those who did not match the narrow standards established in Hitler’s anti-Semitic and racist Nuremberg Laws.
Franklin Roosevelt countered with an American standard, promising to deliver a “Second Bill of Rights” that recognized “the right to adequate medical care and the opportunity to achieve and enjoy good health.” There could be no compromises because, the 32nd president warned, “America's own rightful place in the world depends in large part upon how fully these and similar rights have been carried into practice for all our citizens. For unless there is security here at home there cannot be lasting peace in the world.”
Seventy-five years after FDR embraced the future, there are still Republicans in Wisconsin who reject it. Their apostasy should be understood as what it is: the contemporary expression of Tory opposition to the idea that Americans are created equal and “that from that equal creation they derive rights inherent and inalienable, among which are the preservation of life, and liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”
The wrangling between Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers and Assembly Speaker Robin Vos over Medicaid expansion has been reduced to clinical arguments over how to balance a budget. But that narrow construction misses that deeper sin of a Republican approach that Evers correctly identifies as "fiscally irresponsible and morally reprehensible."
Yes, of course, Wisconsin should have a balanced budget. And, yes, that budget should reflect the values of Wisconsinites who, last fall, rejected the economically-unsound policies of Scott Walker, who steered billions of taxpayer dollars toward foreign corporations while under-funding schools, roads and essential services.
But the fight over Medicaid expansion is about more than the fiscal common sense of Evers' plan to accept roughly $325 million in federal funding that’s been made available to the states through the Affordable Care Act. It is about whether Wisconsin recognizes that health care is a right.
Medicaid expansion would allow 82,000 Wisconsinites whose income levels straddle the poverty line to get necessary health care. But it’s not the same 82,000 from year to year. It’s everyone who, in these turbulent times, might lose a job and end up at risk of getting sicker or dying because they cannot afford health care. This is why Evers is so right and Vos is so very wrong.
The governor is not just fighting for a budget.
He’s fighting for all of our lives.
John Nichols is associate editor of The Capital Times. firstname.lastname@example.org and @NicholsUprising.
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