Saturday, January 13, 2007

But for the Grace of God

Yesterday, Digby riffed on the passage in the House of the Medicare Prescription Drug Price Negotiation Act, noting that Rep. Dan Burton (R-IN) voted with the Democrats:
He did this because his wife died of breast cancer a few years ago after a long illness and he was personally exposed to the way the medical system works for average people when he would sit with his wife at the cancer center and listen to what the cancer patients said. Because his family was going through a medical crisis he understood why it was so stressful for people to be unable to afford prescriptions under such circumstances.

[Republicans] reflexively object to any government program until they are confronted personally with a situation that requires such intervention. They have no empathy for people in the abstract, always assuming that whomever is saying they are in need is a whining malcontent who could be just as healthy and self-sufficient as they are if they truly tried.


They have a stunted sense of empathy and an undeveloped ability to understand abstract concepts. It makes them unable to fashion any solutions to common problems, which they blame on "poor character" because they cannot visualize themselves ever being in a vulnerable or unlucky position through no fault of their own. Until it happens to them or someone they know, in which case they never question their philosophy as a whole but merely apply a special exemption to whichever particular problem or risk to which they have personally been exposed.
It is a theme echoed by Jacob Hacker in his book, The Great Risk Shift. Hacker expounds on how the right's "Personal Responsibility Crusade" has systematically cut the safety net from under middle-class Americans, exposing them to the highest levels of personal insecurity in decades.

That insecurity is wearing. A recent post on Daily Kos chronicles one middle-class family's encounter with capricious fate: "from HAVE to HAVE NOT in 24 hours". And while our stress levels climb, conservatives complain that silly, average Americans fail to notice and the mainstream media under-report the healthy, thriving, tax-cut driven Bush economy -- healthy, measured by GDP and other leading economic indicators.

The problem is, you can't eat GDP. You can't live in it. And you can't wear it.

Hacker describes the "ownership society" component of the Crusade as
"a highly coherent prescription that to the major changes in the economy and society that have promoted the widespread sense that we're on our own."
That sense, and the tendency on the right to promote that very idea as a conservative ideal, promted someone on the Net to dub it the "you're on your owenership society."

Psychologists Lloyd Free and Hadley Cantril once argued that Americans are "operational liberals" and "philosophical conservatives," Hacker notes, adding,
They want to have their welfare state cake and eat their free-market capitalism, too. But why not? If we are to be encouraged to invest in new skills, strong families, new jobs, and everything else that makes upward mobility possible, we need a broader umbrella of basic insurance, not a more tattered and narrow one. Back in 2003, President Bush said it was the job of government to provide "the economic environment in which risk-takers and entrepreneurs create jobs." Apparently, he thinks the only folks taking economic risks are the well off and corporations, not everyday Americans.
But of course. As Molly Ivins observed (speaking of Ross Perot in 1992), in Texas folks believe "the purpose of gummint is to create a healthy bidness climate."

Conversely, the Personal Responsibility Crusade believes everyday persons should go it alone. Under the theory of "moral hazard," Hacker writes, the insurance industry posits that, "Protecting people against risks reduces the the care people exercise in avoiding those risks." Conservatives took this even further. Helping people breeds dependency and weakness, undercutting self-reliance. Better for their moral development to cut people loose to sink or swim.

Hacker drew my attention when in a radio interview recently he said (roughly), "The whole premise of the 'ownership society' is that if you throw a lead weight to a drowning man, he'll have more incentive to swim."

No comments: