(Cross-posted with my Tumblr)
So yesterday, between binge watching Breaking Bad on Netflix, I had an idea for what I considered a clever little cartoon. I spent a couple hours drawing and coloring, and then uploaded it to share with my modest little base of readers.
I must have struck a nerve, because today it took off on Twitter like nothing I’ve ever done. This is surprising, overwhelming, flattering, and exciting. As an aspiring author it’s important to get my name and my web site “out there,” and while I assure you that was not my intention (any more than it ever is when I put something on Twitter) I’m very grateful to all of you who felt my little cartoon was good enough to share. Thank you.
Meanwhile, tweets are arriving in my feed that want to debate me on the cartoon, most of them reciting the same old tired fallacies about socialized single-payer health care, especially the trope that people in Europe and Canada have to wait so long for care that they invariably die before receiving it. Mind you, every person telling me this is American—not one of them lives in a country where they’d have actual first-hand knowledge of this.
So with the disclaimer that I really just wanted to draw a clever little comic strip that called attention to a particular political interpretation of a show I’m enjoying, and those five panels were intended neither as a damning indictment of the American for-profit health care system nor an airtight case for single-payer socialized health insurance, I will indulge those who are looking for something more substantive.
As I said in my initial blog/Tumblr post (though not on Twitter) one thing that really intrigues me about Breaking Bad is how the concept reflects the collision of two of the worst, most colossal policy failures in the history of the United States: The for-profit health care system, and the War on Drugs.
The former has created a system where the quality of one’s life is entirely dependent on wealth. Based on what the US spends annually on our military, on our police, on our prisons, and on our surveillance apparatus, all of which are socialized, single-payer systems, we have clearly accepted the idea that tax dollars are worth spending to protect the lives of our citizens—at least from attack by other humans. When it comes to protection from malady, however, Americans have been left to fend for themselves.
In order to afford the medicine that protects his or her life, the average American has been forced to subjugate his or her liberty to an employer who would provide insurance, or the money to pay for such. This is an indefensible failure of our government to protect what it labels as inalienable rights.
…and I haven’t even left out the grotesque number of Americans who died because they either lacked health insurance or, worse by far, had the bad luck to have bought into an insurance company that let them die rather than sacrifice profits.
For the record, while I view the Affordable Care Act as a good thing that incrementally improved a terrible system in a few impactful ways, I think it is VERY FAR from the right solution, and I still want to see the US adopt a single-payer, government system similar to what EVERY OTHER INDUSTRIALIZED NATION has adopted.
So that’s health care. As to the War on Drugs, this is the other essential ingredient in Breaking Bad, because without the War on Drugs Walt and Jesse wouldn’t make any money cooking and selling meth. Without the War on Drugs there would be no powerful drug cartels moving back and forth across the US/Mexican border, and no wealthy drug dealers fighting over turf in the American Southwest.
Does that confuse you? It shouldn’t. The War on Drugs is probably the single most damaging policy in US history, considering both economic costs and impact to our social fabric. The War on Drugs has done nothing—nadda, zilch—to lessen the sale or consumption of illegal drugs in the United States. It has, however, created a massive prison population that drains our economy, instituted a permanent lower-class of people who, thanks to convictions, cannot find a decent job or a good place to live, and funneled trillions of dollars into the hands of drug dealers, cartels, and other organized crime.
Drug cartels worldwide, but especially in Mexico, depend ENTIRELY upon the United States black market for illegal drugs, created by the War on Drugs, for all of their funding and power.
If the US did what it SHOULD have done years ago, namely end the prohibition on illegal drugs, and regulate and tax the sale of those substances, that black market would immediately cease to exist. We’ve done it before, when we ended Prohibition of alcohol (a point Walt makes to Hank in Season One of the show, by the way) and in other less-famous cases, like when state governments instituted lotteries, taking over the “numbers racket” and its associated revenues from the Mafia. Both of these were massive industries under government-created black markets. Nowadays, I’d bet most of the people reading this have never had the chance to buy bootleg booze or to play an illegal numbers game.
So this is what makes Breaking Bad a uniquely American show. For the basic concept to be realistic, Walt needs to be thrown into a situation where the prohibitive cost of his medical care puts his life, and his family’s future, in clear and immediate peril, and he needs to see immense potential revenue from cooking meth. If not for America’s clinging to two obviously failed and destructive policies, the show’s basic concept wouldn’t work.
As Twitter user Dr. John (jp_dutch) tweeted in response to my cartoon, “Uncivil society leads to acts of desperation.” Well said.
So there, there’s a very serious post instead of a silly cartoon. If you’d like to debate me on the points I’ve made, I’m willing to do that—Tumblr is a better forum for it than Twitter with its 140-character limits. Your comments and thoughts are appreciated.
Oh, and for the record I do try to respond to everyone on Twitter who engages with me directly. I’m not used to the kind of traffic I’ve been seeing today, though, so if I miss any of you I do apologize. Thanks again for reading.