Let’s talk about morality.
No, not other people’s morality; your morality. Parsing the morality of others is too easy. It comes to some as naturally as breathing and almost as often.
Examining what you think is right for you? A little harder.
Here’s the scenario.
It’s morning. You stroll to the sidewalk to collect your Sun-Times — you subscribe, thank you very much, a good sign, though not the ethics test I have in mind.
You bend to pick up the plastic-clad cylinder and hear a cry. You stand up. There, on the tree lawn, is a baby. About 6 months old. Chubby arms and legs waving. Gurgling baby noises.
What do you do?
Well, first you look around. Hoping to see a parent quick-stepping over to claim their darling. That’s natural. Someone take this cup from me.
There is nobody on the street. You blink a few times. You look down at the baby.
What do you do?
My hunch is, whoever you are, young or old, Christian or Jew, Buddhist or Muslim, Republican or Democrat, you do not shrug and go back into the house, idly musing, “Hope somebody takes care of that baby.”
Instead, you pick it up. Even if you have an important business meeting later in the morning. Even if you’d rather not. You take the baby inside and place a phone call.
To whom? Do you call your church, and say, “Pastor Brown, I’ve found a lost baby. Could the church raise him for the next couple decades?” Do you call your office? “Hey boss, I’ve found a baby. We could sell her to an infertile couple, make $10,000 and get a fancy espresso machine for the breakroom.”
No, you call the cops. And you would be aghast if the officer on the phone replied, “That kid is out of luck; his parents should have managed their lives better.” You want to live in a society where institutions exist to cope with such situations. You expect it. You pay taxes for police to respond, a road for them to respond on and foster homes to place unclaimed babies.
Still with me? We’re all on board with the ethical protocol for this one baby. So how does that moral logic crumble to nothing when the one baby is multiplied by a million or 10 million? Or the 34 million kids who receive health benefits from Medicaid, whose care is now endangered by the GOP passion to slash public health resources and give the savings to rich people. The latest incarnation, the Senate’s Better Care Reconciliation Act, was shelved Tuesday because a bare minimum of Republican senators found they couldn’t do what their party expected them to do. They couldn’t ignore the baby.
But the threat will return.
I stacked the deck with my scenario. Children are innocent and need care. Adults, however, are supposed to be the masters of their own fate. If they chose to work at one of the 33 percent of American private-sector jobs that offer no health care plan, so be it. They should have had the moral courage to get themselves elected to Congress so they could enjoy their gold-plated plan. As our nation becomes increasingly divided between winners and losers, haves and have-nots, those holding the bag of goodies and ladling out big portions to themselves will pretend like this is all part of God’s plan. They deserve health care and deserve not to pay taxes.
But that baby reminds us that everyone needs help at some point. When young. When old. When out of a job. A just society offers that help. The rest of the developed world has figured this out. We are the lone exception, toying with making an unfair system even more unfair. We should be improving it.
One more question. Assuming you still think that baby merits help, when does it stop deserving care? At 5? At 10? If it were an adult facedown on your tree lawn, would you step over him, collect your paper and go back inside? Would you?