There’s an article in the Boston Globe that ought to be required reading for all progressive activists. The reporter, Sarah Schweitzer, spent time with some New Hampshire residents who are poor, losing homes and jobs, going without health insurance, and will probably vote Republican next year.
I say we need to read this, because this is why progressives remain powerless. If the very people who are most hurt by Republican policies continue to vote for Republicans, what hope is there for changing anything? Or persuading Democrats that they should be more supportive of progressive policies?
One uninsured couple with thousands of dollars in medical bills explained why they don’t have insurance:
Theyâ€™d like health insurance. But itâ€™s too expensive. President Obamaâ€™s plan for subsidized health care is an abstraction, something theyâ€™ve heard about, but not banked on. They voted for Obama in 2008. Not next year.
â€œHealth care is not the anxiety,â€™â€™ Darlene said. â€œBasic needs are.â€™â€™
And I’m thinking, health care is not a basic need? But of course, she meant they have to first keep a roof over their heads and food on the table. When you’re living that close to the edge, health care is a luxury.
The health care reform law hasn’t made any difference to them, although it might after 2014, when most of it finally goes into effect. However, it appears the New Hampshire residents don’t know much about the law (and, judging by the continued incessant whining about the individual mandate, I’d say lots of progressives don’t understand it, either). Nor do they have any idea why their lives are so hard. They just know they voted for a Democrat in 2008 and nothing seems to be much better, so they’ll vote for a Republican now.
And then there’s this:
Peters has no health insurance. He could, perhaps. His business has done well, his children are grown, and he owns a home, along with several properties in town.
But like many around here, heâ€™s a do-it-yourselfer. He built his house, and he prefers to pay his own way on health care.
â€œIt is a gamble, but just shoot me,â€™â€™ he said. â€œI am not going to pay $2,000 just for health care.â€™â€™
Heâ€™d rather patch himself.
He bent at the waist and pointed to his pate. A tender scar runs down a third of its length. A few weeks earlier, he had gashed open his head reaching for a key hidden at the house where he was doing work. â€œIf I had insurance, Iâ€™d have run to the hospital and had 20 stitches and it would have cost $1,000. Instead, I got some tape and pulled hard and really tight and closed it up. And well, itâ€™s healed.â€™â€™
Of course, if he hadn’t healed, he would have finally sought medical help rather than die of sepsis. And if the bills were higher than he could pay, the rest of us would absorb his bills, and the cost of health care would go up a little more. This guy is very proud of his “independence,” but he’s really a moocher. And whenever healthy people make an economic choice not to join the health insurance risk pool, they become a factor in the steadily rising cost of health care that threatens to strangle the U.S. economy eventually.
And then there’s this, about the lady who runs the local food pantry:
Cross, a social worker and 40-year-resident of Ashland, gladly offers the help. But charity, from a steely Yankeeâ€™s perch, should be a local affair. Obamaâ€™s plan for national health insurance makes her nose involuntarily wrinkle.
â€œItâ€™s an entitlement and it takes away ingenuity,â€™â€™ she said. â€œI donâ€™t think I can be open-minded because I am so against the philosophy.â€™â€™
Getting more people affordable health care is an “entitlement” that “takes away ingenuity”? Whichever right-wing propagandist taught his fellow travelers to call federal benefits “entitlements” (which connotes people demanding things they haven’t worked for and don’t deserve) was a genius, you have to admit. Evil, but a genius.
Anyway — the people in the article certainly have internalized right-wing talking points about the evils of a big federal government. They also cling to a view of themselves as ruggedly independent and resourceful, even when they are really moochers. They are not well informed and have no idea what federal policies are actually doing to their lives. Thus, they are easily duped into voting for candidates who are going to make their lives worse.
Back in the day, New Deal Democrats would have been going to these people and explaining to them what’s really going on and how the federal government really can do something about it. Back in the day, people would have listened without the knee-jerk antipathy to “big gubmint” that years of right-wing propaganda have drummed into their heads.
Now, we can complain all day long about these people being idiots, but probably they’ve lived all their lives without ever having heard progressive/liberal arguments for government policies.
Over the past several years, time and time again progressives find themselves discussing how to reach people like this to educate them. No one ever comes up with a workable idea. Certainly, many are brainwashed beyond hope, but not everyone.
As I tried to explain to a commenter yesterday — years of voting and opinion poll patterns show that right-wing ideology is firmly entrenched in about 25 to 30 percent of the population. This seems to be a floor at which popularity for bad right-wing ideas or politicians does not go below, no matter what. There is no point even trying to talk to that group.
But the percentage of voters who self-identity as liberals or progressives is even smaller; maybe 20 percent. That leaves roughly half of U.S. voters who are not married to any particular ideology, although they may lean one way or another at times. And, certainly, many have been well trained to respond to the usual right-wing dog whistles and talking points. And they mostly self-identify as “conservatives.” But I’m sure you’ve also seen polls over the years that show many of these people support specific liberal ideas when they are not labeled “liberal.”
In all the discussion about what OWS should do next, I’m not seeing any consideration of this primordial problem. The OWSers may talk about representing the 99 percent and “everyday people,” but polls show a majority of Americans do not feel connected to OWS or the Tea Party, either.
Near identical majorities say neither movement represents their values — 57 percent for the Tea Party, and 56 percent for Occupy Wall Street.
A significant majority (eight in 10) believes the gap between rich and poor has widened during the past 20 years, a finding that held true across generational, religious and political lines. Nearly half of those polled believe the American Dream — the idea that if you work hard you’ll get ahead — once held true but no longer does. …
… A strong majority (69 percent) says increasing taxes on people who make at least $1 million a year is an appropriate way to decrease the budget deficit.
About the same proportion reject cutting federal money for social programs that help the poor (67 percent) or cutting federal funding for religious organizations that help the poor (66 percent).
OWSers would do well to spend some time reflecting on why their clever street theatrics have not mobilized more Americans, when a whopping majority of Americans appear to agree with OWS’s purpose.
A movement that could rally Americans behind economic justice issues would be a powerful thing. It could make a real difference. OWS is not going to do that unless it gives up its countercultural self-indulgences and gets serious about outreach. I’m not holding my breath.