Back before the fall of the Berlin Wall and the sudden, mysterious and probably Dick Cheney–induced collapse of our beloved Soviet Union, my father, the sainted “Che” Kahane, used to take me and Uncle Joe with him on vacation behind the so-called “Iron Curtain.” Most of the time we would go to Lake Balaton in Hungary, to summer alongside the plucky, banana- and porn-hunting East Germans, but we also hit the other garden spots, including the Polish plains, the Romanian hills, the Bulgarian seashore, and the steppes of Central Asia.
What fun we had: Che would talk Party philosophy and the plot twists of Dynasty with the local commissars while Uncle Joe would entertain the young teen girls with his tales of the Spanish Civil War, not that he actually fought in it. The closest he ever got to the Lincoln Brigade was a couple of protest songs that he dashed off and sent to Billie Holiday, which she never recorded.
To see the splendor that was the now-vanished Communist world through the eyes of a child was an exhilaratingly empathetic experience: the sludge lakes, poisoned with mercury; the barren fields, unplowed and unsown because the tractor factory didn’t meet its production quota; the open strip-mining pits; and the soot-filled skies, especially in the mornings and the evenings, with their flame-red sunsets. If Hell were Heaven, it was like approaching the throne of Gaia Herself.
What bothered me even more, though, was how the people lived. Every east-bloc city was the same: an inner core, much of it still destroyed by the heroic Soviet troops who liberated the place, surrounded by rings and rings of substandard apartment buildings, either white or slate-gray, wherein were warehoused the bulk of the proletariat. We, of course, never got near them, since we always stayed in various hotels built for Party big shots and visiting fellow travelers, but I could see at a glance that they looked suspiciously like the evil Halliburton-designed “housing projects” that my dad and his brother were always railing against back in America — things that made my own native Al Smith Houses on the Lower East Side look like Buckingham Palace.
“At least they have health care,” was how Che always responded to any of my uninformed, childish criticisms of the heroic future we were building together.
You see, for us on the left, there is absolutely nothing more important than health care. Having long since cast off the shackles of the superstition known as “organized religion,” we need something to believe in, and health care is our principal article of faith. For us, it simply will not do to live in a world that is nasty, brutish, and short; why, I personally know people who visit their doctors at least once a month, and not just for plastic surgery, either. The slightest sniffle sends them sprinting to Doc Feiertag because, after all, it might be swine flu. A little heartburn might be a heart attack. And on this filthy, polluted planet, cancer is always ready to strike, no matter how green you are. Everybody knows that when it comes to your health, you can’t be too careful, and that if you’ve got your health you’ve got everything except a three-picture deal at Fox Atomic.
Luckily, over the past 60 years or so, we’ve managed to convince the once sturdy and stoic American people that illness is not to be borne “manfully” or uncomplainingly, and that constantly worrying, 24/7, about your health is not a sign of hypochondria or outright insanity. Why, to hear us tell it via our stooges in the media and out here in Hollywoodland, the entire country is perpetually on the brink of a financially ruinous physical meltdown, just a pack of cigarettes, a pre-existing condition, a bag of Cheez Doodles, and a closed emergency room away from debilitation, despair, dementia, and death.
Because we’re not kidding about that “got everything” part. We understand that if government can control each aspect of the human life cycle, from insemination to gestation to a woman’s right to choose to final destination (whichever comes first), it’s game, set, and match for the antiquated notions of “individual liberties.” Once His Serene Highness, the Emperor Barack Hussein Obama II, Protector of the Holy Cities of Honolulu and Chicago, and Czar of all the Fussers, gets his camel’s nose under your hospital gown, then nothing you ever do in your life will go unregulated. We are, after all, the people who convinced you that second-hand smoke was nearly instantly lethal, that the ingestion of trans-fats resulted in immediate obesity, and that a few drops of alcohol transformed you into a raging maniac behind the wheel. Like Bill O’Reilly, we’re looking out for you.