George Pyle: It became necessary to destroy the lives of the working poor in order to save them

In this Monday, Jan. 22, 2018 photo, Republican Sen. Lincoln Fillmore looks on from the Senate floor at the Utah State Capitol, in Salt Lake City. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)

It became necessary to destroy the town to save it.”

That quote was attributed to an anonymous U.S Army officer in a dispatch from Associated Press war correspondent Peter Arnett, describing the heavy bombing of the town of Ben Tre, Vietnam, in 1968.

For many years now, the accuracy and originality of the statement have been questioned. A common hazard of quoting unnamed sources. If the officer really existed, and really said that, it is likely that he made no pretense of originality. And that Arnett inferred none.

Destroying perfectly good stuff so your enemy can’t seize it is a common theme in military history and war stories, including the amazing tracking shot of Dunkirk in the movie “Atonement

and the once-aborted and once-competed auto-destruct sequence of Star Trek lore.

But whether the quote was accurate or original, it was a perfect summation of the whole of the American adventure in Vietnam.

“The only way that we can honor the will of the voters is to ignore the will of the voters.”

That’s what Utah state Sen. Lincoln Fillmore, R-South Jordan, was quoted as saying when he was explaining why the Senate was in such a hurry to repeal Proposition 3, the voter initiative approved in November to fire up a straight expansion of Medicaid under the original provisions of the Affordable Care Act.

Within hours, there were some legitimate questions as to whether those words were taken out of context. Whether they represent, not the senator’s views, but his characterization of the views of people on the other side, people who think the tax increase included in the proposition is enough to cover the costs of the proposition. They say it is and he says it isn’t.

Even if it isn’t fair to hang those words, in that context, on Fillmore, the sentence is a perfect summation of the attitude the supermajority Republicans in the Legislature have toward the voters in general and Prop 3 in particular.

Despite bearing a name that is practically dripping with historical significance, Fillmore may be too young to remember the destroy-to-save sentiment that summed up the Vietnam years. And thus unaware of the irony of his words.

Prop 3 backers run a different set of numbers, working out how the tiny sales tax hike that was approved by the voters in the same motion will comfortably cover the 10 percent share owed by the state in order to draw down the 90 percent offered by the federal government. A match that would have already pumped more than $1 billion into the state’s economy over the last four years if Utah had gone along from the beginning.

The argument for the Senate’s destruction of the people’s will is deliberately devoid, not only of compassion for the sick of respect for the voters, but of the multiplier economic impact of full expansion that would cycle through the state’s economy in general and its health care sector in particular, creating some 14,000 jobs.

The will of the people is clear, wise and responsible. We want full Medicaid expansion. And we want to pay for it.

If the 0.15 percent sales tax hike isn’t enough, then find the money somewhere else. Count the money saved by cities, counties and the state when Medicaid pays for services for the homeless and for people in the criminal justice system. Count the additional income and sales taxes paid by health care businesses and workers. Put a tax on the hospitals, which will still be way ahead once they get reimbursed for all the care they now provide to people who can’t pay.

This is what the people want. This is what the people have volunteered to pay for. For our elected officials to tell us that we don’t really know what we want, and that we aren’t really willing to pay for it, is to assume that we are as cheap, selfish, shortsighted and cruel as they are.

It would all make the argument that it would be time to destroy the Legislature in order to save it.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Tribune staff. George Pyle.

George Pyle, editorial page editor of The Salt Lake Tribune, is too young to have served in Vietnam, but old enough to remember what a monumental disaster it was. gpyle@sltrib.com