The Sickness Outside the Hospital

April 21, 1994|By CARL T. ROWAN

WASHINGTON — Washington. -- When you spend six weeks recovering from triple-bypass heart surgery and replacement of the aortic valve, you get a lot of time to look closely at what's going on in America. What I've been seeing has made me almost as sick as the clogged arteries.

I've come out of the fog of pain-killers and sleep-inducers to see clearly a society that shows no sign of finding its way, at home or abroad.

I see my leaders still fumbling ineptly over Bosnia, virtually paralyzed militarily and morally, as they watch a human tragedy unfold in the enclave of Gorazde.

I see the Congress still pretending it can curb crime in the streets by designating 70 or more federal offenses for which the death penalty can be imposed; and President Clinton telling the poorest, least sophisticated people in the nation that they can have crime-free public housing if they will just sign away their constitutional right to be free of warrantless and unreasonable searches and seizures.

I still see no political leaders who dare to demand a halt to the manufacture and sale of firearms to ''just anybody'' when our streets already bristle with more than 200 million handguns and assault weapons.

During these six weeks of convalescence, no throb in my chest brought as much pain as the stories and reports I read about the condition of children in America. So many millions living in abject poverty! So many doomed as the pitiful prey of sex abusers and drug peddlers! So many children who will find no escapes in either the educational system or an economic system that never gives them jobs.

A few free hours of prostrate observation and reflection indicate that the war of hatred against the poor is being intensified. Television dredges up an old story of a super ''welfare queen'' by way of ratcheting up the cries for the total abolition of welfare. The homeless are assailed as costly irritants who live in pricey motels and hotels. Residents of Foggy Bottom here in Washington fight in court to try to stop a church in their area from feeding the hungry -- and thus luring in ''undesirables.''

I look at my incredibly high hospital bill and know that, no matter what Sen. Bob Dole says, there is a health-care crisis in America. I ask what happens every year to people half as sick as I was who lack health-care insurance, and I hear the brutal answer: ''Most of 'em die.''

Your sickbed columnist reflects upon enough TV newscasts and reads enough op-ed pages to see that political passion is now the great curse of America. The struggles for power that supposedly ended with the elections of 1992 go on furiously. I understood this clearly when I lay day after day watching the asinine preoccupation of my own profession with some two-bit Arkansas business shenanigans called Whitewater and some 1970s commodities-market cattle trades by Hillary Clinton.

I discern nothing about Bill Clinton to compare him with Franklin D. Roosevelt and his hated New Deal, or Lyndon B. Johnson and his now-cursed Great Society, but some insurance-company executives, doctors, homophobes, paranoid white males and tax-hating editors and publishers see the Clintons as grave threats to ''America as we have known it.'' Especially Hillary.

In this sickbed I see clearly.

Carl T. Rowan is a syndicated columnist.

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