The Best & Worse of America

 

Watching the local TV here in Boston, I caught part of a trashy TV show that serves as the perfect vignette for the best and worst of America.

The show was ‘Minute to Win It’.  The premise isn’t that important, but in a nutshell two strangers are paired up to complete 10 one minute challenges to win a million dollars.  Think ‘Ant & Dec’s Saturday Night Take-away’ meets ‘Who Wants to Be a Millionaire.  To emotionally connect with the contestants they throw in ‘X-Factor’ style interviews with their families explaining how the Million Dollar prize would transform their lives.

A particularly enthusiastic soul on the episode I watched explained in a matter-of-fact fashion how she used to work as an insurance agent, ‘a good job with an excellent healthcare plan’, but when the recession came along was made redundant.  They could make the mortgage payments on one salary but her younger son was on specialist treatment for Asthma, they didn’t want to stop it, without the health-plan the medical bills rolled in. They lost their house.

Just wow.  It hammered home to me that our society’s consensus that we treat our population free at the point of the delivery on the basis of need is golden.  I have no issue whatever with innovative plans put forward to meet that consensus more efficiently, nor any particular truck with whether the actual health delivery is by private, public or third sector (and so have no philosophical objection to anything Lansley proposes, only concerns about the detail) – but if ever there was a proposal that threatened that core ideal – and could result in stories like the above – well, you could find me at the front row of the protests, entirely up for subjection to a good ‘ol kettling.

But if that story was the downside of America – the upside was there to be seen in the same lady.  Behind the whooping and high-fiving, which continued even after she lost –  and all the other hoopla nonsense that makes our European toes curl – there was still that relentless optimism.  She had a belief to her core that with hard work, personal sacrifice, and just one little break it would all be OK.  Now, faith alone aint going to solve her problems.  But I have little doubt that the ‘can-do’ attitude that seeped from her every pore massively increases her chances of making herself that ‘one little break’.

That optimism seems hard-wired in the US DNA.  Yes, the recession has dulled it, but even now at the pit of the downturn the level of self-belief in ordinary hard-up Americans and that innate sense that they themselves have a stake in digging themselves out of it is something I find inspiring. On a macro level, those tens of millions of souls applying that attitude will be the real driver that picks the country up by its bootstraps and gets it back on-track.  If we could only somehow bottle that optimism and transfer it over here to the UK – we’d be a better nation for it.  Without it, we must count the blessings we have – and I’ll start that count with the NHS.

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