Dear Barak and Hillary:
I'm dismayed by the fact that the term "mandate" is being used by both of you to discuss the pressing issue of health care. A simple browse through any Thesaurus will reveal that the word connotes: "directive," "decree," "command," "order," "injunction," "edict," "ruling" and "fiat." Language is a powerful way to stereotype and discredit good ideas, and this is the wrong language to be using.
Why are you two dickering over the question of the "M-word" when discussing ensured health care? By doing so, you are employing the language that right wingers have successfully used for over sixty years to malign the idea of universal health care in the United States. It is a language they will use again. Why play their cards for them? You should be embracing the idea of a "guaranteed right to health care."
Barak is right. As with many democratic rights--including the rights to vote or to speak freely--not all people take advantage of them. This is a shame. But in a just society, constitutionally protected rights need to be there for all, and health care must finally stand among them.
By moving the language of the debate from one of government dictates to one of human rights, the argument will move away from technocratic jargon and into the more congenial arena of democratic values. That should be a matter of principle, not simply words.
In recent times too many Americans have become so complacent, cynical, or scared, that they think a concern for "human rights" must stop at U.S. borders. By extending the question of rights into the political debate, you can assume a necessary high ground that presently remains unoccupied. It is essential that you note the difference between mandates and rights, and change the terms of the debate.
Whichever of you becomes President, the difference may have a fateful impact on how the move to provide guaranteed health care will play out.
In planning for the upcoming and final debate between the two of you, and then afterward, I hope this letter may be of use.
Ph.D. Programs in History and Sociology
The Graduate Center, City University of New York
Department of Film & Media Studies
Hunter College, CUNY