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Ralph Dolan: Backstage at ‘The Shutdown,’ a comic opera

Ralph Dolan poses for a portrait, Tuesday, in Northampton.


Ralph Dolan poses for a portrait, Tuesday, in Northampton. SARAH CROSBY Purchase photo reprints »

In reality, Congress serves to codify what has been established in the lives of the people. Members of Congress act as overlords when in fact they are agents of the people.

Their most recent theatrical piece was a one-act play called “The Shutdown.” At a cost of $16 billion, it went way over budget. We had to sweat it out but in the end the bills got paid and all the less-than-essential people were allowed back to work.

The story line of the production had to go with health care: Who gets it? Who gets left out? Who pays? Who wins?

The majority of Americans are in favor of universal health care. This is a bedrock issue in any society struggling to operate in accordance with ethical and moral standards. Yet the people are kept waiting for universal health care. There are those who see Obamacare as an entry-level drug leading to the ravages of socialism infecting our precious, privileged capitalist way of life. To shut down the government, in their eyes, is a symbolic gesture, a warning, a small price to pay to prevent the land of the free from going down that slippery slope.

Corporate capitalists have a hard time with the very notion of universal health care. To them, everything can be made into a commodity to be bought and sold, or bundled, so that money can be made. “No free lunch!”

The dirt under our feet is brought and sold. What the indigenous peoples of America over the millennia would have looked upon as sacrilegious is commonplace.

My physical well-being, represented in part by my health insurance coverage, is put on the auction block by business people working off actuarial tables. If I have to go without treatment because of an inability to pay the price, then that’s perfectly acceptable. This is how the “real world” works. There is a point beyond which our economic system doesn’t care if you live or die. Millions of Americans face that reality every day.

What “The Shutdown” means to all its players is preservation of a world view in the face of quaint axioms such as: We’re all in this together.

“The Shutdown” is a small fissure opening in the body politic.

For the wealthy few, government exists to protect and advance wealth-generating initiatives, no matter now exploitative they may be. For working Americans, government is there to serve all citizens — in the form of affordable or free health care, for instance.

The battle rages on. But as the gaps between rich and poor grow ever wider, there is bound to be a breaking point. The gentlemen and ladies of Congress will be compelled to enact universal health care. The majority finally will rule in this matter.

There’s no way vested interests will be able to stop it because there is a decency in the human heart that wants the conditions of a good life to be available to all, not just a few. And that decency, I bet, will win in the end.

Ralph J. Dolan of Haydenville served in Vietnam and has had a career as a licensed psychotherapist. His column appears on the fourth Monday of the month.

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