Barb Caffrey's Blog

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Archive for September 13th, 2011

Compassion Strikes Out: People Cheer Hypothetical Death Example at R Debate

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I have now seen and heard it all: compassion has struck out.

Why do I say this?  Well, last night there was a strange occurrence where audience members watching the “Tea Party” Republican Debate in Tampa, FL, actually cheered the thought of someone dying young due to a lack of health care.  This was an awful occurrence, one that turned my stomach, and I have many things to say about it — but before I do, let me first set the stage in order to possibly understand the crowd’s behavior.

Rep. Ron Paul (R-TX) was asked a hypothetical question about a thirty-year-old man without health insurance; the moderator of the debate, Wolf Blitzer, asked whether or not Paul felt this man should get governmental help to pay for health care (as health care is extremely expensive in this country, and some working people — perhaps many working people — cannot afford to have health insurance due to high co-pays, pre-existing conditions, or other factors that raise the premiums beyond their ability to pay).  Paul, also a licensed medical doctor, was asked this question first because as a doctor, he should know the most about the health care system.

Paul’s answer was that private charities used to do the work and can and should do the work again; this is a very Libertarian philosophy that goes along with his lifetime viewpoint.  This answer wasn’t at all a surprise to me as a long-time political watcher as for the most part, Paul’s objections are made from a standpoint of long-held principle and he’s been eloquent on the subject before.

What was a surprise, and a most unwelcome one, were the wags in the crowd who shouted, “Yeah!” after cheering Paul’s answer.  Blitzer followed up with, “So you’d just let this man die?” and people cheered even louder.

Look.  I do not believe that the Republicans, as a whole, want people like me who are poor and do not have health insurance to “die quickly” as former Rep. Alan Grayson (D-FL) once said.  But I also agree with Grayson’s comments, made tonight on Keith Olbermann’s “Countdown” on Current TV, that the behavior of much of the crowd showed a sadistic streak that should not be tolerated.  (I’m using the term precisely: sadism is joy in other people’s pain, or at minimum, delight over other people’s pain.)

Now, does that mean that every member of the audience who cheered this hypothetical example of a thirty-year-old man not getting needed medical care are bad people?  Probably not; mob psychology may well have gotten to them, and some in that crowd may really not believe that the idea of a thirty-year-old without insurance should die is a good one after all.  (This is also called “get on the bandwagon psychology,” and is a known phenomenon in large groups.)

The main problem is that something like this, at what was billed as a “Tea Party debate,” makes everyone in the Tea Party look both unsympathetic and lacking in empathy.  I know that’s not true; one of my doctors has spoken at Tea Party rallies (she is against nationalized health care because she believes that it would severely weaken the overall standard of care) and is a compassionate person who volunteers her time to work with low-income people (myself included).  I have many other friends in the Tea Party movement across the nation who are good, caring, empathetic people; they may not believe that government should implement what they call “Obamacare” (the most recent health care bill), but their objection to it is principled and rational, not the nonsensical behavior of a bunch of creeps in a crowd who’d cheer for someone to die merely because he doesn’t have the money to pay for health care.

Olbermann had as another guest on his program Nicole D. Lamoureux, who is the executive director of the National Association of Free Clinics (to donate to this worthy program, go to — they do very fine work).  Lamoureux made a good point about mob psychology, made another good point about how some people seemingly would rather “take care of themselves” than anyone else, and said how upset she was in seeing that behavior.

What I would have added, had I the chance to speak with Ms. Lamoureux, is that some Republicans seem to behave like Florida Governor Rick Scott.  Scott has a minimal co-pay (something like $25) for himself and his family for operations and such (chump change), and for several of his immediate underlings, but much of the rest of state government have atrociously high co-pays (into the high hundreds or thousands) as Scott struck some sort of deal with the insurer.   This is a classic example of “I’ve got mine; the Devil take the hindmost,”* and is quintessentially the behavior of many hard right Rs in local, state and federal offices.

Once again: this does not mean the voters, who put people like Scott in office, are unfeeling and uncaring people.**  It doesn’t mean that all Tea Party members are as uncompassionate as those who cheered for this hypothetical man to die; it doesn’t even mean that all Tea Partiers in that particular audience last night felt that way.

But what this does mean is that the hard-right Rs have successfully made a class-based argument to some of their own voters — enough, they hope, to keep them in office.  The voters who trended R in 2010 are people who are working, who mostly have decent health insurance or believe they’ll be able to get it soon, and some don’t see that “there for but the grace of God goeth I.”  Nor do some of them see that this is unChristian or uncharitable behavior, even though such classic Biblical texts such as Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount make it clear that the poor, widowed, infirm (meaning sick and/or disabled) and elderly should be well-treated.  This is a practical approach as well as a compassionate one, because one day, you may be in one of those categories.  Where will you be if no one helps you out?

Look.  We have really high unemployment in this country — 9.1% nationally.   Millions of people are out of work.  Millions more are underemployed at best; millions more are retirees, who may have to go back into the workforce to make ends meet due to the down economy wiping out their savings, 401(k) plans, or entire retirement in the 2007-8 stock market crash.  All of these things mean that more people are using free clinics or charitable services than ever before, with fewer dollars going to support such endeavors because fewer people are working in order to help them out.

In other words, this is the time to be more compassionate, not less.

This is the time to care for your neighbor as yourself, because this economy is so fluid that even the best employees can get laid off tomorrow, lose their health insurance, and end up needing to go to a free clinic or using charitable services at local clinics in order to get the health care they need.

This is the time that we must pull together as a country.  Find ways to help people who need it get the proper health care, particularly with regards to health care prevention; it’s shameful that women cannot get Pap smears if they’re poor.   Which means that someone like me is more likely to get care only if and when she discovers cancer — is this right in the wealthiest nation in the world?  (God, I hope not.)

Most importantly of all, people need to be educated about this.  They need to understand that “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”  And that sometimes, paying for a low-income person’s health care is going to save the government money in the long run while allowing that person to fully recover, then resume paying taxes and funding the same services for someone else in need.

Maybe by doing all this, we won’t have any more instances of supposedly-educated people cheering the thought of anyone dying young due solely to a lack of health care, or lack of means.  Because the fact that anyone at all can do this in our country shows a streak of barbarism that I’d truly hoped we’d fully rooted out, and cheapens American citizens in the eyes of the world.


* Another way to say this is, “I’ve got mine, so to Hell with you.”  Keith Olbermann called this attitude by so-called Christians “more the work of Devil-worshippers,” and I completely agree.

** Scott narrowly won office in ’10, and may end up becoming a one-term Governor over things such as the health insurance debacle as what he did is deeply unpopular throughout Florida across all parties and incomes due to its hypocrisy.