Deaths Own Party

Terrance Heath

Just when I think I’ve heard and seen it all, along come the Republican presidential debates. Judging by a couple candidates’ of biggest applause lines, the GOP base is quite enthusiastic about (someone else’s) death, and apparently don’t care who knows it.

The most recent one is from Ron Paul.

 

Good for Ron Paul. At least he grabbed some camera time away from "pretty boys" Rick Perry and Mitt Romney. And to his credit, according to the CBS News article linked above, when Wolf Blitzer asked "But Congressman, are you saying that society should just let him die?," Paul answered "No." It was the audience who cried out "Yes!"

It’s one thing to cheer someone’s death. It’s another to do it with the camera’s rolling. Did nobody tell them their enthusiasm for "end-of-life non-care" was being broadcast to the world? To borrow a bit from Wanda Sykes, did no one remind them "Sane people are looking at you!"? Or did they just not care?

It’s worth pointing out that Wolf asked the wrong question, or rather asked one that played right into conservative framing. (This is what we get when CNN panders to the tea party.) As George Lakoff explained, that’s how the media helps conservatives mainstream their messaging, by picking up the right’s language and using it. Wolf was just reinforcing the conservative frame that the uninsured (like the unemployed) are so by choice — that is, they chose not to buy insurance — and ignored the reality that before health care reform, millions of Americans couldn’t afford insurance or couldn’t get insurance due to pre-existing conditions, not to mention what it costs all of us to cover the uninsured..

In typical fashion, Paul’s answer was to go back in time to the "good ol’ days" before FEMA, Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, you-name-it, etc. (While Paul had the good sense to part ways with the studio audience on this one, he represents a wing of conservative that wants to go back to a time before FEMA, when hurricanes killed 6,000 people instead of 40. (Or how about going back to a time before Social Security, when half of our seniors lived in poverty instead of just 6.8%.

"And we’ve given up on this whole concept that we might take care of ourselves and assume responsibility for ourselves. Our neighbors, our friends, our churches would do it. This whole idea, that’s the reason the cost is so high. The cost is so high because they dump it on the government, it becomes a bureaucracy," he added.

Of course, we tried that and it didn’t work.

Congressman, we tried that for the first 150 years of America, and we ended up with people who were starving in Applachia and dying in our streets. Old people were living in the most extreme forms of poverty until the New Deal, and I note that your own experience with treating the indigent began in the 1960s, well after the New Deal’s fabulous implementation of safety nets.

Indeed, most Americans never even had health insurance until after World War II, when FDR’s mandatory disability insurances were expanded to cover illnesses and injuries off-site. A government program YOUR HOSPITAL BENEFITTED FROM to treat the indigent. Idjit!

But here’s the thing. Even if Wolf had asked a better question, it wouldn’t have changed Ron. Paul’s answer. Of course, the good doctor wouldn’t turn away someone who couldn’t pay and couldn’t afford insurance. But it wouldn’t have changed the audience response either.

The "Let him die" contingent would have applauded just as loudly. If not louder.

Yes. I said it. I call it "’Drop Dead’ Conservatism" for a reason, folks.

These are the same people who carried signs like this one during the health care debate.

They’re the same people who gave us scenes like this one.

They’re the same people who demanded deadly cuts to Medicaid, like cutting cutting funding for organ transplants in Arizona to make up for a budget shortfall, after passing $538 million in tax cuts.

They’re the same people who want to hold disaster relief hostage unless they can massively cut funding for first responders.

They’re the people who brought us e. coli conservatism, and now after years of deregulation and waves of food recalls want to gut food safety even further..

This debate isn’t the first time we peered into what Eddie Vale, the Communications Director for Protect Your Care, called in the CBS News article "a disturbing window into the Tea Party’s extreme views on health care." What we saw then and have now seen again underscores one of the fundamental differences between progressives and conservatives, and the difference is most stark on health care reform.

Whether or not it’s a crisis that millions of Americans are uninsured or underinsured, that thousands lose their health insurance every day, or that tens of thousands die every year because they lack health insurance is a matter of perspective. The same goes for the economic crisis, the foreclosure crisis, or any other crisis.

Depending on your perspective, there’s nothing wrong with hundreds of thousands, or even millions losing their homes to foreclosure. (Even if deregulating the finance sector made it easier to sell them time bombs, in the form of mortgages, that went off long after the people who really matter made an easy buck and moved on.) There’s nothing wrong with millions of people having no health insurance, and thus no access to affordable, quality care. There’s nothing wrong, because it’s all right, and there’s no need to do anything about it.

…Many don’t have coverage "enough to meet all their needs"? But it’s not even a need, but a "want," as Andrew Card pointed out.

And even if were a need, other people’s needs — whether sitting in a livestock stall in need medical care, or facing foreclosure and needing shelter — are not our problem to solve or our responsibility to provide.

After all, we’ve got ours. We already have health benefits. We’re safe. So it doesn’t really benefit us to make sure everyone else gets the care they need want. It doesn’t do the rest of us any more good, anyway.

Does it?

The "Let Him Die" contingent on the right has their answer to that question: No.

President Obama offered a resounding counterpoint when he addressed the joint houses of Congress on health care reform and effectively defined it as not just a debate, but a struggle over the moral character of our nation, and what kind of country we want to be.

For some of Ted Kennedy’s critics, his brand of liberalism represented an affront to American liberty. In their minds, his passion for universal health care was nothing more than a passion for big government.

But those of us who knew Teddy and worked with him here—people of both parties—know that what drove him was something more. His friend Orrin Hatch—he knows that. They worked together to provide children with health insurance. His friend John McCain knows that. They worked together on a Patient’s Bill of Rights. His friend Chuck Grassley knows that. They worked together to provide health care to children with disabilities.

On issues like these, Ted Kennedy’s passion was born not of some rigid ideology, but of his own experience. It was the experience of having two children stricken with cancer. He never forgot the sheer terror and helplessness that any parent feels when a child is badly sick. And he was able to imagine what it must be like for those without insurance, what it would be like to have to say to a wife or a child or an aging parent, there is something that could make you better, but I just can’t afford it.

That large-heartedness—that concern and regard for the plight of others—is not a partisan feeling. It’s not a Republican or a Democratic feeling. It, too, is part of the American character—our ability to stand in other people’s shoes; a recognition that we are all in this together, and when fortune turns against one of us, others are there to lend a helping hand; a belief that in this country, hard work and responsibility should be rewarded by some measure of security and fair play; and an acknowledgment that sometimes government has to step in to help deliver on that promise.

Given a choice, most Americans don’t want to live under the the tea party’s model for health care. Not that it matters to conservatives, who want to take away the benefits of health care reform but have no plans to replace it with anything else.

Of course, an even better answer to Wolf would have been that a public option could have made the question moot.

Instead the answer we heard, not from the stage but from the audience was clear and simple: Some people should just die.

That answer’s one final question about this GOP debate. Who won? Easy. Death.

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