Sunday, August 9, 2009

Racism and Health Care Reform.

A number of weeks ago, while I was upstate housesitting, I got caught in a rather intense online debate with someone I knew in high school, Dan, but haven't seen since then, and a number of his friends. It happened on facebook; I saw his post which said something to the effect that if the top 2% of the American population was indeed taxed to pay for univeral health care, he was going to leave the country. It was a brutal exchange and one that smacked of unspoken racism and maybe even a dose of mysogyny. I was a lone woman, defending the need for universal health care against 3 white, educated, self-employed southern males.

My high school friend and I managed to keep some of the peace and civility, while one of the other commenters and I made nice and I refuse to exchange comments with the third.

In short, Dan says that government intervention - programs managed by the government to provide services like health care to the uninsured - is something that we should agree to disagree about. But I am left to wonder why this is an issue that has no solution. We already have programs that save the lives of those who are too old or too disadvantaged to make it on their own: Food stamps, medicare and medicaid, student loan programs. I could go on about the successes of these programs. And yet, Dan's crowd feel that most of these programs are teaching an entire class of Americans to suckle at the government's teet.

When I mentioned priviledge, they cried out boot straps. Dan's wife briefly entered the conversation to tell me how she was born dirt poor and had managed to make it out because she worked so hard. The poor, she told me, were lazy and needed to take care of themselves. I asked her if her poor parents were lazy. That didn't go over well.

Those who oppose government's (further) involvement in health care tend to be those who say, I worked for what I have. The poor can too. But in Dan's case, his father was a white college professor. I don't want to take anything away from Dan's intellect and efforts, but it's not like he grew up in the projects or lived in section 8 housing. He never was inside the cell that is poverty.

Priviledge is so seldom acknowledged by those of us who like to think that we deserve what we have. Accepting that we don't deserve what we have is a hard thing to get the mind around - and the powers of marketing have worked so hard at making us believe that "we're worth it!" Buying that new car is a little more dificult when you have to think about whether you need it or not. Because you deserve it you have it; other's who don't deserve it don't have it. This proves their inferiority, their laziness, their lack of contribution to society.

Hand-outs - entitlements - are seen as spoiling those lazy children who don't have the good education, the fine car, the right accent or skin color. And the class structure that keeps the poor poor and the wealthy wealthy is perpetuated - and justified - by those who have. "They're not getting health insurance. They're not getting my health insurance."

All three of these guys were gung-ho for charity! One of them said he would rather give a check each month to three poor families than give his money to the government. To me, this smacked of paternalism, of the ideas in slavery that kept a landowner free from the stigma of slavery as long as he was good to his slaves. Charity elevates us, makes us feel superior. We can feel better about our consumerist excesses when we give something away to the less fortunate. (Another post some day should be looking at how this attitude poisons our international aid and foreign policy!)

The point I am getting at is this: If it weren't for racism, for the fear that a predominently white culture has of being placed on the level with minorities, we would have health care reform by now. Not only do those in this country who are teabagging and brownshirting represent a fascist element within our society that is rife with racism (opression of white men!), obscene nationalism (real Americans!), paranoia and delusion (he wasn't born in America), and ignorance (health care reform equals the Holocaust) and great fear of being on the same level as other citizens (the browns and blacks and poor), but they are getting a free pass to push their violence and agenda from the Republican party, Republican commentors, and the media.

How many gunman deaths does it take to wake us up? Is it acceptible that senators and representatives are being hung in effigy or receiving death threats? Do we really think that government health care will lead to euthanasia. What does our current administration really have in common with the third reich?

I don't want to be alarmist; as Amanda says, I think the violence turns off a majority of independents and basically sane Americans. Yet, some people with volume need to start calling this out for what it is in terms that will be heard.

I got to this post on the Atlantic by Ta-Nehisi Coates via Amanda Marcotte's Facebook posts. I highly recommend you read it because it better lays out this position than I have been able to. And it will scare the bejesus out of you.

There are a few in the country who are watching this trend of fascism, who are listening to our racist fellow citizens struggle with their sense of threatened priviledge, entitlement and authority. I only hope they will speak up more loudly. Obama's election (and Sotomoyor's appointment) wrongly left us with the belief that racism was over. We could all pat ourselves on the back for being so anti-racist. But we are a long way from equal opportunity. I am reminded of this every time Pat Buchanan says that the white man is being oppressed by a colored man's success.



Anonymous Tony Zito said...

It is surely not helping that we are trying to accomplish this reform during a period of big job losses. The last time I recall hearing an excess of the "I'm swell, they're lazy" rap was during the Reagan recession, when 'downsizing' was the favored euphemism for throwing good people off the boat. Economic circumstances are adding to the defensiveness of the haves, who surely don't want to face the fact that their's could be the next head on the block.

But that is where the fear is, and Democratic strategists are not exploiting it. Instead of the cutesy Harry and Louise redux campaign, with it's bland sloganeering, we need real people giving real testimony, every day on TV all over, about how they lost their insurance just recently, or how their insurance turned out to be useless in the clutch, or how their choices were limited, etc. If the comfortable are not discomfited, this is not going to get done.


August 10, 2009 at 2:57 PM  
Blogger L A Neumann said...

Hi Tony. I agree that the Obama admin seems strangely flat-footed on this one, acting like the truth would be enough, that the country needs reform and we all should see it. Can't believe they weren't faster on rebutting some of this (and that the "don't bring more attention to it" tactic hasn't been swiftboated by now).

And so the message ran away from them. I for one thought the euthanasia thing was coming 'round again (only because I was watching it anyway) and the pro-choice folks were saying, oh nos, here come the anti-abortion folks. On and on through the constituencies, it seems like we were better prepared than Obama's folks. Again and again, I want this admin to fight. Again and again they make me feel like the battle is unnecessarily almost lost.

Yes, testimonials everywhere!

I also agree that the shitty economy has contributed to broader ideas about who has and who has not and who's gonna get mine.

August 10, 2009 at 3:12 PM  

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