Republican politicians often struggle not to come across as heartless plutocrats when defending their right-wing agenda to the world. Yet even when they convincingly project compassio
This has been especially true over the past couple of weeks, as congressional Republicans have attempted to defend the American Health Care Act (AHCA) — which passed the House on a narrow party-line vote last week — against its many critics. Considering how appalling and cruel the legislation is, it has not been surprising to see Republicans squirming a bit more than usual.
Last Friday, for example, Rep. Raúl Labrador, R-Idaho, prompted a backlash when he responded to an angry constituent at a town hall meeting who suggested that he is “mandating people on Medicaid to accept dying” by supporting Trumpcare. Labrador sneeringly dismissed this claim, telling the voter “that line is so indefensible,” and that “nobody dies because they don't have access to health care” — a line that provoked an incredulous gasp from the audience.
The following day, Labrador attempted to qualify his statement in a Facebook post, writing that “hospitals are required by law to treat patients in need of emergency care.” However, as PolitiFact notes in its analysis (which rated the congressman’s comment “pants on fire”), even if you accept his claim that emergency rooms protect the uninsured, “that leaves out a whole range of chronic and potentially deadly diseases — from heart disease to diabetes — that can be prevented only through long-term access to physicians.” So Labrador gave the impression of being not only callous and uncaring, but completely unaware of the fact that Americans die every day because of a lack of medical care.
On last Sunday’s broadcast of ABC’s “This Week,” House Speaker Paul Ryan — the real architect of Trumpcare — almost topped Labrador’s idiocy with his own “let them eat cake” moment, which came when Ryan responded to the Congressional Budget Office forecast that around 24 million people will lose their health insurance under the AHCA. “What the CBO is basically saying, and I agree with this,” remarked Ryan, was that "if the government's not going to force somebody to buy something they don't want to buy, then they're not going to buy it. So they're basically saying people, through their own free choice, if they're not mandated to buy something that's unaffordable, they're not going to do it.” (Emphasis mine.)
One has to wonder whether things would have turned out differently had Marie Antoinette simply proclaimed that the French peasants were starving to death by their own “free choice.”
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Needless to say, Paul Ryan and his Republican colleagues in Washington probably don’t stay up at night worrying about losing their health insurance, and therefore have difficulty comprehending the fact that millions of hard-working Americans who need medical care simply cannot afford it. Republican lawmakers tend to assume that a person who lacks health insurance either doesn’t want it (and is merely exercising his or her “free choice”), is poor and thus lazy and undeserving, or is frivolous and spends her money on nonessential goods (e.g., the latest iPhone) instead of health insurance. In other words, it’s entirely a matter of personal responsibility, and no one can’t get health insurance (just as no one dies because they don’t have health insurance). In the conservative mind, it is inconceivable that an honest, hard-working and responsible American who has done everything he or she is supposed to may be unable to afford health insurance.
Last week’s trifecta of stupidity from congressional Republicans was rounded off by Rep. Mo Brooks of Alabama, who tried to rationalize the return of pre-existing conditions during an interview with CNN’s Jake Tapper. Eliminating Obamacare protections for people with pre-existing conditions, Brooks argued, would help reduce costs for people “who lead good lives” and have “done the things to keep their bodies healthy.” One hardly needs to point out the folly of this argument when considering that cancer, multiple sclerosis, cerebral palsy, mental illness and Alzheimer’s disease are all defined as pre-existing conditions.
These stomach-churning attempts to defend the AHCA and its cruel implications showcase just how disconnected Washington politicians — especially but not exclusively Republicans — are from the people, and what a farce “American democracy” has become. According to various polls, about six in 10 Americans now support a single-payer style program in which the government ensures health care for all citizens, while only 22 percent of Americans, per a Gallup survey, support repealing Obamacare without a government replacement (in other words, support Trumpcare).
This serves as a useful reminder that the U.S. government is scarcely democratic, and that Washington will never represent the will of the people as long as it is dominated by special interests and inhabited by economic elites. Just consider one revealing statistic: In 2013, the median net worth of a member of Congress was $1.03 million, compared to a net worth of $56,355 for the average American household. A Congress full of millionaires is the result of a political system that is controlled by organized money and business interests — and according to a 2014 study from Princeton, “economic elites and organized groups representing business interests have substantial independent impacts on U.S. government policy, while average citizens and mass-based interest groups have little or no independent influence.”
When most elected officials are rich men and women (though mostly men) who spend much of their time in office courting big campaign donors, and have never known what it’s like to go without medicine because it is unaffordable or to worry about making ends meet — unlike the six in 10 Americans who do not have enough savings for an emergency and live paycheck to paycheck — then a disconnect is inevitable. Privileged politicians who see themselves as natural elites are bound to espouse concepts like “freedom” and “personal responsibility” to justify their social Darwinist agenda.
“People with advantages are loath to believe that they just happen to be people with advantages,” observed the American sociologist C. Wright Mills. “They come readily to define themselves as inherently worthy of what they possess; they come to believe themselves 'naturally' elite, and, in fact, to imagine their possessions and their privileges as natural extensions of their own elite selves.”
People with advantages also control Washington today, and tend to believe that the undemocratic system that favors “natural elites” like themselves is a system worth preserving. Of course, it is the people who do not have such advantages — like the millions who will lose their health insurance under Trumpcare — who will suffer the consequences.