Brilliant at Breakfast
August 30, 2009
You’ve got to love the “Don’t let the government get its hands on my Medicare” crowd. That’s the kind of sound bite that so beautifully encapsulates the willful ignorance of people who think with their jerking knees. Republicans, with their “pull the plug on Grandma” rhetoric, are making some headway in convincing seniors that it’s they who are the guardians of Medicare while the Obama Administration and the Democrats want to destroy it. This is what happens when we forget history, or never learn history, or are too incurious to take history and place it in context as part of a continuum leading to the present day.
Sometimes I wonder what my late father-in-law would have made of all this. He was a son of Italian immigrants, and as wingnutty a wingnut, as racist a racist as you’ll find. This was a guy who had a photograph of Ronald and Nancy Reagan sitting on top of the TV on which he watched Fox News.
DougJ over at Balloon Juice wrote yesterday about the syndrome of people who were discriminated against when they first came over aspiring to reach the point of finding someone else to shit on. My father-in-law was one of these guys. A funny thing happened to him, though, after his health started to go and he spent more time in hospitals: He began to realize that Medicare was not a Communist plot to turn us into the Soviet Union, but a vital service on which he could rely when he became ill. Some of his mellowing was because he moved to the Jersey shore, where he squired around the widows of his friends who had predeceased him instead of spending ALL his time feeding Fox Hate Network into his head. But some of it is the realization that perhaps something run by the government isn’t so bad that for many people only comes when they need it. It didn’t hurt either that for the first time in his life, he was actually interacting with people who were from groups he’d always hated — Black and Hispanic and Filipino nurses. I remember seeing him joking and flirting with a black nurse in a way he never would have when he was well.
I often wonder what he would have made of what’s going on now, whether his mellowing would have continued or if he would have remained stuck in right-wing ideology about health care. I wonder if he would have been one of those people screaming “Keep the government’s hands off my Medicare!” at Congressional town halls. It’s hard to imagine he would; the man wasn’t stupid. But I wonder what kind of hoops he WOULD have jumped through to protect his Reaganite worldview.
Reality is going to smack them hard across the face, should these people decide to turn Congress over to the Republicans in 2010. Because Republicans may be playing to their fears about Medicare now in an effort to keep health care in the hands of for-profit insurance companies, but once they succeed in that, Medicare will have outlived its usefulness to them.
The republicans charge that Democratic health care reform would, in Sen. Charles Grassley’s words, “pull the plug on Grandma.” According to Sen. Jon Kyl, the bills before Congress would ration medical treatment by age. Rep. John Boehner says they promote euthanasia. Sarah Palin has raised the specter of “death panels.” Such fears are understandable. It’s not preposterous to imagine laws that would try to save money by encouraging the inconvenient elderly to make an early exit. After all, that’s been the Republican policy for years.
It was Grassley himself who devised the “Throw Mama From the Train” provision of the GOP’s 2001 tax cut. The estate-tax revision he championed will reduce the estate tax to zero next year. But when it expires at year’s end, the tax will jump back up to its previous level of 55 percent. Grassley’s exploding tax break has an entirely foreseeable, if unintended, consequence: it incentivizes ailing, elderly rich people to end their lives—paging Dr. Kevorkian—before midnight on Dec. 31, 2010. It also gives their children an incentive to sign DNR orders and switch off respirators in time for the deadline. This would be a great plot for a P. D. James novel if it weren’t an actual piece of legislation.
Other GOP policies promote death for senior citizens with more modest incomes. Take George W. Bush’s failed plan to privatize Social Security—a program that has driven life expectancy up and death rates down since it was instituted. It has an especially pronounced impact on suicide rates for the elderly, which have declined 56 percent since 1930. Had Bush prevailed, those who gambled on the stock market and lost would be less able to afford medicine, food, and heating for their homes. In aggregate, they’d likely die younger and commit suicide more often.
Republicans continue working to short-en and sadden the lives of the elderly in more oblique ways, too. One of President Obama’s first official acts was to reverse Bush’s executive order limiting government funding for stem-cell research, which remains the most promising avenue for new treatments of diseases that afflict the aged, including Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s. Clean-air legislation, which the Republicans defeated in 2002, has the potential to save 23,000 lives per year, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. Many of those victims are elderly people, who suffer disproportionately from cardiovascular and respiratory illnesses exacerbated by air pollution. Because emissions of carbon monoxide and such are merely a contributing factor, you can’t name the individuals who have died because of this policy choice. But it’s reasonable to deduce that there are tens of thousands of people who would still be elderly today if Republicans didn’t value the rights and campaign contributions of polluters more highly than their lives.
If the Democrats were even a tenth as savvy about the reptilian brain as Republicans, they’d use this reality. But because they are gutless, lazy, AND as much in the pocket of the insurers as the Republicans, they won’t. And all those elderly people and the near-elderly screaming about socialism are going to find themselves living their own nightmare very soon.
Copyright 2009 Brilliant at Breakfast