A BILLION IS, LIKE, A LOT. Sometimes numbers are so huge – so much larger than life, if you will – they are beyond our comprehension.
For instance, the tonsillectomy that went so horribly wrong recently and left one child brain dead can engage the national media and captivate the country for weeks – while we pay no attention at all to the millions upon millions allowed to remain at risk at the edge of life every day.
That narrow focus on the sad and sensational at the expense of the broader problem makes safety nets unravel and societies snap.
For instance, last week’s shocking plight of one seven-week-old baby can engage the local media and captivate the city for days – while we deny care, even compassion, to the tens of thousands right here, right next door, who have nowhere to turn, nowhere to go for even the most basic Band-Aid health care that they’re dying for right now. That denial makes our cold reality so very cold.
For instance, we’ve just gone through weeks and weeks of tooth-gnashing, finger-pointing, number-crunching, consultant-spouting, bat-waving, spitball-throwing, extra-inning arguing over whether or not to spend $24 million to buy a $72 million asset – a 2/3 off sale on what is widely regarded as the nation’s finest minor league sports facility – and to let the St. Louis Cardinals buy the team and rent the place, just like we’ve wanted them to do for decades. Really? We fought about that?
Yet our governor’s decision to refuse a billion dollars a year for Medicaid expansion – a billion dollars every year of our tax dollars from our country to help Tennesseans help Tennesseans who need it – can’t even draw a foul ball call. Perhaps it’s time to make those numbers relevant.
At $24 million each, a billion dollars a year will buy 42 AutoZone Parks in Tennessee. Every year. Or provide health care coverage to more than 300,000 Tennesseans below the poverty line who don’t have it now. Every year. And more than 60,000 of them are your neighbors in Memphis. Every day. It’s your money, but the governor won’t let you have it.
At $250 million each, a billion dollars a year will buy four FedExForums. Every year. Or support hospitals and the health care industry in Tennessee. And the beleaguered and bedraggled emergency rooms and overwhelmed clinics of Memphis. It’s your money, but the governor is about to let some other state have it.
At $500 a pair (they’re pretty fancy with the state seal stamped on the front), a billion dollars a year will buy 2 million pairs of Lt. Gov. and Chief Puppeteer Ron Ramsey’s cowboy boots. Every year. Plenty enough to keep the anti-Obamacare pressure on our timid governor’s neck. Plenty enough to give the 300,000-plus Tennesseans who are already down and out several politically motivated kicks every day.
When you add it up, the sum total of petty and pointed politics diminishes us all.
I’m a Memphian, and a Tennessean, and it’s time to let the governor have it.
Dan Conaway is a lifelong Memphian, longtime adman and aspiring local character in a city known for them. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.