The daily drumbeat of criticism and alarm regarding the Affordable Care Act has put me in mind of something that happened in the small Kentucky farming village into which I was born. I was just a boy but its lessons have lasted into my 70th year.
In our little village there was a dog that was a threat to anyone who got within biting distance. When it got loose, mothers hustled their children inside, grown men picked up whatever was handy and made for the porch praying that dog would not come their way and all the other dogs made for the fields outside of town. Some of them wouldn't come home for days.
I can't remember that dog's name, but it should have been Frankendog. He was a real monster.
Everybody complained bitterly about the dog, imploring its owner to just shoot it. There was muttering about getting a few men together and raiding what passed for a dog pen, but no one took action because, truth be told, that dog's master was just about as mean as the dog itself. I don't think we had a dog warden, but the town marshal was asked repeatedly to do something about that dog. Finally, he took action.
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He went up to that house with a rope to get the dog, and it was a real fight. He got the dog but he came out of it with bites on his hands and arms, shredded trousers and boots that never lost the tooth marks from that vicious canine.
Everybody thought the marshal would drag the dog to an out-of-the-way spot and shoot him but he took that dog to his own place and securely penned him up. The dog ceased to be a problem and everyone gradually forgot about it.
Until one day, months later, when the marshal strolled through what passed for our downtown with that dog on a rope. Frankendog had become a different dog. He walked beside the marshal without snarling, growling or baring his teeth. He wagged his tail. He sat when the marshal stopped to talk and he heeled when they took off again.
What had happened? For months the marshal worked with that dog; first with him penned up and the marshal outside, and later with the marshal inside. He was well fed, talked to and generally treated as normal as possible. And wonder of wonders, it all worked. Slowly, very slowly, that dog came around under the hands of a patient man. Those hands never lost the scars of those bites on that first day, by the way.
When I hear the critics of the Affordable Care Act, I think about that dog. The key then, and now, is that someone had to step up and tame the snarling beast. That's what our health care system has become — a poisonous mix of for-profit beasts, a perk for those with money.
President Barack Obama is the man who got a rope on the system. Like the marshal, he has come away with bite marks everywhere and clothes shredded. But he has taken the first step, one no one else dared to take. He is paying a high price, but it is a price worth paying.
The critics daily demonstrate their narrow and limited vision, as well as a desperate lack of character and strength. Like the other residents of my little village they choose to run inside, close their doors, loudly complain but do nothing to solve the problem.
One day, the health care system in this country will be like that old dog: gentled and calmed in a way we cannot imagine today. But it will be remembered that it took one man with a vision and the strength to start the process, in spite of the scars and wounds the initial step requires.
The common citizens of this country ought to be grateful. Those who would be king are in a clamorous tizzy. Everybody should have the patience needed when a great task is undertaken, and a lot of our politicians should stop acting like petulant, foot-stomping children.
Others will get the credit when the battle over health care is finally over, but none should forget that, like every great task, one man had to step out and throw a rope on the dog.
We have that kind of leader, unappreciated though he is, and we and following generations are fortunate indeed that courage can yet be found in the face of a great human need.