Jim Wallis, unofficial White House chaplain and Sojourners editor, is exercised about the fact that the American people various evil right-wing types are making life difficult for those seeking to enact health care reform legislation.Things are so bad that it’s necessary to bring in the big guns:
Every so often, the issues at stake in the public debate become so clear and compelling, so alarming and disconcerting — or both at the same time — that I feel a need to speak out in a more personal way.
It’s happened before around the 9/11 attacks, the war in Iraq, and the consolidation of power by the Religious Right after the 2004 elections (which was when I released God’s Politics and began a 50-city book tour).
The issue that compels me to speak out today, and to send this personal column, is the moral drama surrounding the health-care debate.
For Wallis (as well, in some misguided instances, as some on the right), what’s going on in Washington isn’t the sausage-making that is the legislative process, it’s a “moral drama.”
We have a health-care crisis. The health-care system in the U.S. is sick and broken, 46 million of God’s children are left out with no health insurance coverage, and 14,000 more are losing their coverage every day. Without change, costs will continue to go up, and we all will pay more and more for health care — without reform.
And in moral dramas, facts aren’t necessary, especially when they are inconvenient. The 46–or 43, or 47, or whatever it is today–million figure is a sham that doesn’t take into account people who choose not to buy health insurance, who are between jobs, who are illegal immigrants, etc. That there are people who are in legitimate need of health coverage is certainly true; that there are 43, 46, or 47 million of them is almost certainly not so.
President Obama has made health-care reform his top domestic policy priority, and Congress is slowly moving to embrace a plan for reform. But as members of the House and Senate went home for their August recess, the opposition forces to health-care reform have mounted a ferocious offensive.
Which, as we know, only those on the side of the angels, like Jim Wallis, as allowed to do.
We have a democracy crisis, with right-wing forces trying to prevent and destroy a civil debate with their “mob rule” campaigns. Fueled by right-wing conservative talk-show hosts and funded by special interests in the health-care industry who are afraid they will lose money if the system is really fixed, a vicious campaign to defeat health-care reform has begun. The “storm troopers” of political demagoguery, such as Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, and Glenn Beck, have mobilized their followers to disrupt town meetings and defeat comprehensive reform by yelling louder than anybody else. The campaign tactics include lies, intimidation, character assassination, verbal abuse, and even mob behavior against members of Congress trying to conduct town hall meetings on the issues.
If we have a democracy crisis, it is because people such as Jim Wallis can’t understand that there is actually a place for legitimate disagreement with their preferred policy solutions to social problems. I don’t doubt that there have been some wackos at some of the town meetings, and that there’s been some rude behavior, but let’s get real. Most of the people at those meetings have been asking tough questions, exposing their senators’ and representatives’ ignorance, asking them to address their constituents’ fears of what change might bring, and reminding them that even the best intentioned government programs have unintended and frequently awful consequences. But those people don’t even exist in Jim Wallis’ world, at least if this column is any indication. The only people who are against the various (and in some instances ill-defined) proposals floating around Washington are mugs, pugs, and thugs, as Hedley Lamarr would put it.
In some places violence has broken out, and it has been threatened in other instances.
True. There was that guy in St. Louis…oh, wait. Those were SEIU bully boys (health care reform supporters) who beat up African-American conservative Kenneth Gladney, whose dissent-stifling tactics get nary a peep out of pacifist Wallis. (His only reference to any of the dishonesty or demonizing of opponents is this: “There are also now some stories of left-wing groups organizing to confront these disruptions.” Yeah, I guess that’s what SEIU is doing.)
There’s more of the same, but that’s all I’ve got time for now. If you think you can stomach it more of Wallis’ “moral drama,” read it all.
UPDATE: In the comments, Alan says, in effect, that I shouldn’t criticize Wallis for repeating the oft-cited number of 46 million uninsured without providing any numbers of my own. Far enough. Let’s try these from former Bush economic advisor Keith Hennessey:
- There were 45.7 million uninsured people in the U.S. in 2007.
- Of that amount, 6.4 million are the Medicaid undercount. These are people who are on one of two government health insurance programs, Medicaid or S-CHIP, but mistakenly (intentionally or not) tell the Census taker that they are uninsured. There is disagreement about the size of the Medicaid undercount. This figure is based on a 2005 analysis from the Department of Health and Human Services.
- Another 4.3 million are eligible for free or heavily subsidized government health insurance (again, either Medcaid or SCHIP), but have not yet signed up. While these people are not pre-enrolled in a health insurance program and are therefore counted as uninsured, if they were to go to an emergency room (or a free clinic), they would be automatically enrolled in that program by the provider after receiving medical care. There’s an interesting philosophical question that I will skip about whether they are, in fact, uninsured, if technically they are protected from risk.
- Another 9.3 million are non-citizens. I cannot break that down into documented vs. undocumented citizens.
- Another 10.1 million do not fit into any of the above categories, and they have incomes more than 3X the poverty level. For a single person that means their income exceeded $30,600 in 2007, when the median income for a single male was $33,200 and for a female, $21,000. For a family of four, if your income was more than 3X the poverty level in 2007, you had $62,000 of income or more, and you were above the national median.
- Of the remaining 15.6 million uninsured, 5 million are adults between ages 18 and 34 and without kids.
- The remaining 10.6 million do not fit into any of the above categories, so they are:
- U.S. citizens;
- with income below 300% of poverty;
- not on or eligible for a taxpayer-subsidized health insurance program;
- and not a childless adult between age 18 and 34.
So 10.7 million of the uninsured are eligible for existing programs. Another 9.3 million aren’t citizens, and while most Americans would have no problem with them buying health insurance or having it provided by employers, most might well object to the government providing it. Another 10.1 million are people whose income level is such that they may be able to afford it and choose not to buy it, or may need some government assistance to do so, which could easily be accomplished through a tax credit that would avoid creating a new bureaucracy, etc. Five million are people who probably don’t think they need health insurance. That leaves 10. 6 million people who should be the real focus of the debate, many of whom could probably be included in Medicaid with some tweaking of the eligibility requirements. As Kate says in the comments, that’s way too many who aren’t covered, and I have no problem with our tax dollars going to help them. The question is how to best do that, which in turn is a policy matter on which reasonable people may disagree. For Wallis, the “moral drama” isn’t about them, it’s about the universal, single-payer system that he supports. But given the actual extent of the problem, it’s questionable whether a moral drama, as opposed to a legislative debate, is really what’s needed.