The hypocrisy of healthcare protestors

Many "town hell" activists have a very selective opposition to "big government." Medicare, anyone?

Published August 13, 2009 1:14PM (EDT)

Editor's note: Glenn Greenwald is on vacation this week. Darren Hutchinson of Dissenting Justice is guest-blogging today.

In a previous post on my own blog, I questioned the seemingly sudden concern about the perils of "big government" among healthcare reform protestors. Many of these individuals undoubtedly failed to contest (and probably supported) governmental excess that led to "senseless wars, government regulation of uteruses, police intrusion into the bedrooms of consenting same-sex adults and the maddening state and federal governmental effort to make sure that Terry Schiavo remained in a persistent vegetative state." On Wednesday, an article distributed by the Associated Press confirmed my original understanding of the protestors' opposition to big government: It is selective and contradictory.

Big government for you, but not for me!

Although the Associated Press article does not analyze the irony of the protestors' positions, it nonetheless presents a factual basis for concluding that many of the activists suffer from selective opposition to big government. Consider the following passage:

Nancy Snyder says she kept quiet when abortion was legalized and prayer in schools was eliminated. Not this time.

"They did it for prayer, they did it for abortion, and they're not going to do it for our healthcare," the 70-year-old nurse from Philipsburg, Pa., said Wednesday as she and her husband Robert, 74, a retired coal miner, waited in a long, snaking line for Democratic Sen. Arlen Specter's town hall meeting.

Apparently, Snyder believes that it is perfectly fine for the government to dictate the reproductive choices of women and to force kids to pray in school. Expanding the availability of healthcare is outlandish. All of these situations, however, involve "big government."

Big government for me, but not for you!

Ironically, many of the people whom the article portrays as fuming over "socialized medicine" probably have state-sponsored health plans. Accordingly, if the protestors actually applied their anti-government rhetoric to their own lives, many of them would lose health insurance coverage or would have to spend a fortune to obtain it.

One protestor is a public school teacher, who undoubtedly has a public-sponsored health plan and pension (along with his salary). In other words, the individual is living on the taxation of others. Another person has a 74-year old husband, who is likely on Medicare -- the largest government-sponsored health plan. Even if these individuals have "private" plans provided by their employers, the public still pays for roughly 1/3 of the costs of these plans through favorable tax treatment (for further discussion, see here and here).

According to a recent Gallup report, only 13.3 percent of Americans with health insurance purchase their policies on the open market. The remaining individuals are enrolled in either state-sponsored plans or in employer plans that are heavily subsidized by state and federal tax policy. The notion of a free market in health insurance is a myth for the vast majority of Americans.

Big government for Bush, but not for Obama!

It also seems like many of the protestors have conveniently repressed their memories of George Bush's expansion of government, including his role in the expensive bailouts of the financial sectors and of the auto industry. Bush and Paulson proposed the financial sector bailout and ushered it through Congress. Bush also structured a $17.4 billion bailout for the auto industry, claiming authority to do so pursuant to the financial sector legislation. Despite this very recent history, the protestors apparently blame Obama exclusively:

For many opponents the health care overhaul amounts to the final straw. After seeing Obama bail out banks and car dealers, push a major energy bill and pass a $787 billion economic stimulus package that hasn't driven down unemployment, overhauling the $2.5 trillion U.S. health care system is a step too far.

Certainly, the fact that Bush also accelerated public spending and cut taxes simultaneously should have concerned these proud stewards of the national treasury, but only Obama's spending has caused them to mobilize. The protestors are acting, to use Ron Paul's language, like "born-again fiscal conservatives." If Obama is wrong for spending more during an economic downturn, Bush was definitely wrong for spending more while intentionally taking in less.

PS: After I wrote this article, Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, became an even bigger hypocrite on the issue of healthcare reform. See: Today's Shameless Hypocrite Award Winner: Senator Charles Grassley


By Darren Hutchinson

Professor Darren Hutchinson teaches Constitutional Law, Critical Race Theory, Law and Social Change, and Equal Protection Theory at the American University, Washington College of Law.

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