Monday, December 26, 2011

A Cure for Cancer?

As we end 2011 with a bipartisan agreement to have a temporarily two-month extension of unemployment insurance and payroll tax cuts, we must understand the need to continue these benefits through all of 2012.

Specifically, this two-month package preserves a $1,000 payroll tax cut for the middle class, and extends unemployment benefits for the long-term laid off. As President Obama described it, “This is for 160 million people who are going to see their taxes go up if Congress doesn’t act. This is for 5 million individuals who are out there looking for a job and can't find a job right now in a tough economy who could end up not being able to pay their bills or keep their house if Congress doesn’t act.”

House Republicans, many of whom have said previously that they did not want an extension at all, recently changed course and said they would accept a one-year deal or nothing at all. Although this has been the goal of President Obama and Democrats all along, the Republican leadership tried to tie the extension to other very partisan legislative measures—thus making it harder to pass.

Bipartisanship requires a willing partner. But with a Republican party that has previously rejected all efforts by Obama to spur economic growth, a party that has said their single most important goal is to defeat Obama in 2012, and a party that has risked two government shut-downs, this two month extension was the only viable way to prevent a tax hike for the middle class at the end of this year.

Proof of the difficulty Obama has had to pass such job-creating measures is the opposition faced during the first stimulus package, the bailout of the American auto-industry, Wall-Street reform, Health-Insurance reform, Student-Loan reform, and the American Jobs Act. Each of these measures have proven to help the economy, provide needed tax cuts for small businesses and middle-class families, and create American jobs.

In the past, however, Republicans have argued that we should not invest in immediate job-creating infrastructure projects, let the American auto-industry to go bankrupt, continue deregulating Wall Street, allow the health insurance industry to continue raising premiums while reducing care, provide fewer incentives for students to attend college, and issue tax cuts for the rich instead of tax cuts for the middle-class.

Democrats are not arguing for free healthcare, but affordable healthcare; they don’t want free handouts, but job opportunities; they don’t want to punish the rich, but ensure they pay their fair share. It’s not about social welfare or doing something humane. This is purely economic, and is about creating an environment where everyone has an equal opportunity to succeed. In fact, the main reason why all the successful businessmen, lawyers, doctors, scientists, etc. are at the level of success that they have achieved is because at some point, someone invested in them: in their education, in their community, in their well-being.

Republicans say they want government out of their personal lives, unless it comes to issues regarding gay marriage or abortion. Although this seems hypocritical, it does bring up an important point: in a society that has become more culturally, politically, and economically interdependent, we are all connected. As such, every aspect of our economy is connected—healthcare, unemployment, education, public sector and private sector.

This sense of collective identity was expressed in the Pulitzer Prize winning book, The Emperor of all Maladies, by Siddhartha Mukherjee. Through this biography of cancer, Mukherjee highlights the significance of people from different fields working together to better understand and treat cancer.

Borrowing and extending from the work of a botanist and an animal physiologist in the late 1830s, Rudolf Virchow was able to develop a “cellular theory” of human biology to better understand diseases, like cancer, in terms of cell growth. In the early 1900s, Paul Ehrlich used chemical dyes from the flourishing German clothing industry to selectively stain tissues for histological examination, helping him develop an idea to target disease-causing organisms and create a template for chemotherapy. In the 1940s, scientists discovered that the mustard gas used as a chemical warfare agent during WW2 could also serve as an effective treatment for cancer. After the war, Sidney Farber (the father of modern chemotherapy) used his experience as a pathologist to work with Mary Lasker in applying modern political lobbying efforts to build public support for cancer research.

It was through the understanding of this shared responsibility that millions of Americans, including me, have benefited from advancements in cancer treatment.

Therefore, by continuing to work together, realizing how interdependent we are of one another, and understanding the obligations we have toward each other, not only can we continue growing this economy, but we can eventually find a cure for cancer.