Like almost everybody else, I’ve been thinking about healthcare a lot recently. Given the failed attempt to “repeal and replace” the Affordable Care Act by the current administration and Congress, I’ve tried (unsuccessfully, as it turns out) to understand the claim by people like Speaker of the House, Paul Ryan, and director of the Office of Management and Budget, Mick Mulvaney, that the changes proposed in the now-dead Affordable Health Care Act, would allow more people to receive healthcare. This claim is hard to grok, given the Congressional Budget Office’s estimate that “The largest savings would come from reductions in outlays for Medicaid and from the elimination of the Affordable Care Act’s (ACA’s) subsidies for nongroup health insurance.”
The reason I’ve been having trouble wrapping my head around the GOP claim that their healthcare reform would cover more people isn’t because it’s obviously, demonstrably false but because these men seem to want everyone to believe that they’re (“really, truly, no kidding”) on the side of the disadvantaged. That the proposed reform would also give a sizable tax break to the wealthiest two percent of the population, they argue, is not the point (“harrumph, harrumph”). Their real motivations stem from their genuine desire to position themselves on the side of the “least of these.” (A little side eye is not inappropriate here.)
But here’s my question: “Why do they even care what people think? Why do politicians—whose primary constituency, many agree, are those at the top of the economic heap—want everyone to believe that their true concerns are for those at the bottom? Why do they go to such gymnastically ambitious lengths to reassure everyone that they care (“no, seriously, again, we’re not kidding”) about the economically disadvantaged?
After all, politicians like Paul Ryan have already expressed their contempt for those caught in the cycle of poverty: “We don’t want to turn the safety net into a hammock that lulls able-bodied people to lives of dependency and complacency, that drains them of their will and their incentive to make the most of their lives.”
The only thing I can think of that explains the apparent political need to give the impression of legislating with the good of the poor in mind while actively embracing policies that further disadvantage them is because our culture frowns on the naked grabbiness that comes with appearing only to look out for the interests of the wealthy. We like our politicians to come across as at least tipping a cap in the direction of those in need. Like our nation’s relationship with racism, the fact that it’s no longer fashionable to be overtly racist is a step in the right direction. But anybody who knows anything about racism realizes that there are still miles to go in the journey to root out the deepest expressions of racism.
Those who talk about caring for the poor, while at the same time cutting the legs from under policies and programs designed to aid the poor, seem not to love the idea of caring for the poor, but to love the idea of the idea of caring for the poor. That is to say, it seems important to some folks to be known as having ideas about caring for the poor—even though those ideas curiously seem always to benefit those who have much by denying real help to those who have little.
But to the extent that it seems politically necessary to seem to be thinking about the poor, I guess that’s something; though if you happen to be on the wrong end of the economic spectrum it’s certainly not enough. In fact, in practical terms, it turns out to be nothing at all.
Safety nets are a necessity. Hammocks are for rich people.
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