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We forget that ‘public’ refers to us, and it's about real people’s experiences

Why are so many fervently pro-American folks so ardently anti-government?  They drive the public-private rift that splits the nation and assumes government’s only role is war, not the general welfare, as established in the U.S. Constitution.

Once the phone, utility, postal and other basic services were “public” entities, not “private” or profit-driven businesses giving super bonuses to executives.

Public schools work beside private ones, which lack accountability to the public, but some Los Angeles schools may “privatize” and many public universities have turned over some departments to private companies, but costs continue to rise, especially administrative costs.

It’s a constant sales pitch to keep us reminded through the private, for-profit “mass” media, which may wittingly or unwittingly promote the public-private rift.  The lack of reasoned debate in media on the “public-private” divide on health care may leave the public fearful of public options.

What does “public” mean anyway? It’s something “of, by and for” the people, a community, state or nation.  It’s about public service, the common good and empowering the vulnerable. It’s about us.

Why do we hate a democratically elected government of, by and for the people?  Do we hate and distrust ourselves, or neighbors and family of different political persuasions?  Or do we distrust public officials, suspecting their complicity with private, special interests focused on profit alone?

What does “private” mean?  It’s about secret, privy, unofficial communication in the interest of an individual, company or “special” interest, not connected with or concerned about others.  Private means not publicly known, not open, not accountable, not regulated—a private understanding.  It seems like a source for distrust.

Do we have a private government, disjointed people paid by private interests to protect the private interests of private industry?  Public matters are open to scrutiny, accountability, rules, responsibilities, checks and balances.  Private matters are’t.

As we privatize more, are tasks done better? Has dropping government regulations that were in the “public” interest improved efficiency?

It seems more a matter of choosing which bureaucracy to trust, government or private corporations accountable only through supply and demand.

How about a real debate on public health options?  We need investigative journalism that tells us real stories of real people suffering under today’s private health care bureaucracies.

A recent public TV documentary on health care in America gave food for thought for critics who stir fear of euthanasia, rationing, Medicare cuts, bankrupting America or outlawing private insurance. 

PBS’s Bill Moyers recently re-aired a program telling the stories of people whose low incomes mean they wait for care, take less medicine or are denied coverage.  It told of people losing health care when they lost jobs, waiting for insurance companies to pay or having coverage for life-saving treatment denied for pre-existing conditions or at whim.  Some of those people died.

The private system has its own forms of rationing, euthanasia, bureaucracy and heartlessness.  It’s also bankrupting the nation, because too many people wait too long for care and then use emergency rooms for otherwise preventable conditions, driving up health care costs for all.  It’s bankrupting businesses, including congregations and nonprofits that can’t afford to provide insurance or who fire people who use their benefits and drive up costs.

Thanks to public TV, we saw an alternative to fear-inciting, myth-driven mantras that have filled pop digital and ad-dependent private media.  Finally, we saw a credible discussion, an example of responsible media, and it was from the public sector.

Mary Stamp - editor