Barb Caffrey's Blog

Writing the Elfyverse . . . and beyond

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. 

4 Responses

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  1. Well, I’m not sure if they’re uncaring or what have you, but, they are like Ostriches that stick their heads in the sand. I actually have conversation with a woman who claims that NO ONE in this country has ever died from lack of health coverage or lack of accessible health care. I don’t know if she is that naive or that dense… I have a friend who did die from complications of diabetes, because he couldn’t get his insulin needles to take his meds. This friend was a year younger than I.

    Anyway, this republican woman had the nerve to try to say that I should have helped him more. Well, hate to say, I can’t go to the doctor for him, nor sign up online for HIS medical equipment. But, when you don’t have enough food, you don’t pay for online services. So, he never learned how to use a computer. Anyway, it’s sad. And the republicans think our health care system is fine and that we should cut back on medicare as well as medicaid, and they think no one will be harmed from this. I beg to differ.


    September 14, 2011 at 1:41 am

    • Lika, I’m sad to hear about your friend who died from diabetes/lack of needles. That is sad and shocking and absolutely wrong in a country as rich as ours; as far as that Republican woman who is, as you said, quite naïve, she sounds like the type of person who will not learn unless and until it happens to her or her family. I’d pray for her enlightenment if I had any energy for that at all . . . but I’d rather pray for you, your family and your friends, most of whom need the help this Republican woman assumes is there as a matter of course.

      I hope you’re right that most of the people cheering in that audience were like ostriches rather than sadists. I do know that it’s sparked a necessary conversation about health care, what we don’t have, what we should have, what is right with our system and what is plain, flat wrong. I think not being able to get preventative care is wrong; that saves a lot more money in the long run than the initial, piddly outlay and it gives many people a chance at a better quality of life in the bargain. To me, that’s a win/win; that anyone could see that as a lose/lose because it somehow raises their taxes (when most people will never get close to the top 1% in the country, income-wise; why do we care so much about what happens to them when their tax rate is lower than it’s been since the 1950s and everyone else’s is higher?) is something I just do not understand.

      Barb Caffrey

      September 14, 2011 at 9:17 pm

  2. Look here guys. People would cheer if Rush Limbaugh were diagnosed with a month to live. This is a matter of power and control that some people want to make for others. Its at the heart of this democracy. Being able to use your power to make decisions that effect anothers life is quite simply how people fight back. The best way to fight something you dont support (ie healthcare for all) is to make policy that doesnt support it. The people cheering in the audience dont care about others and are willing to let many people die in order to bring about their world view (regardless of what that view is). This is an issue of power, not principal.


    September 23, 2011 at 10:15 pm

    • I agree with you that this is all about power. It also is about a lack of empathy that seems to be compounded due to the economy. In the 1930s, people pulled together and were more empathetic, not less — this is one of the many reasons we’re struggling now, that for whatever reason people seem far less empathetic now.

      Also, in the 30s, very wealthy people who’d driven the stock market into the ditch and lost lots of money felt terrible about what they’d done in the main — now, our version of those sorts of people feel entitled, or at minimum do not feel guilty about anything they may have done to cause trouble for millions with the 2007-8 stock market crisis/plunge. So the 30s millionaires had social consciousness, while it seems like the current millionaires and billionaires mostly don’t (with exceptions like Bill Gates and Warren Buffett and even, to a degree, the Koch Brothers, as those two give a great deal of money to the arts and other philanthropic efforts).

      I also think all of the media we have now actually gets in the way sometimes with regards to empathy. People don’t see others face to face; they talk with them via computer, or via telephone, or cell phone, or might even text (the last being by far the most impersonal form of communication ever invented). So the suffering people can be more easily ignored now, whereas in the 30s we had “Hoovervills” where people actually went to Washington, DC, and camped out in the public parks (many of them were veterans who’d been denied promised benefits).

      That doesn’t mean the media is somehow making us less empathetic; I think that’s going too far. But it does mean that because we can hold the world at one remove a little easier than before, it might explain why the very wealthy people seem so out of touch — because they don’t have to go out and see how most of the rest of us live, maybe they think the world is as easy for everyone as it is for them and all of our complaints about how awful the economy is amount to the phrase “let them eat cake” that was erroneously attributed to Marie Antoinette.

      At any rate, I think most of the reason why people cheer reprehensible things in public is due to the way people behave when they’re in a mob of people they don’t know; for some, their darkest impulses come out in a crowd and it’s always been that way, probably since the dawn of time (or at least the dawn of humanity).

      Barb Caffrey

      September 30, 2011 at 9:26 pm

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