The XX Factor

Health Care Is All About Race (and Profits)

A couple of years ago, my very right-wing stepfather was giving me a ride from the airport, and he told me something I would have never thought he’d outright admit: He’d watched a documentary on TV that referenced a study that showed the inverse relationship between ethnic diversity and social welfare programs. “It seems,” he mused, “that those little European nations with high taxes where everyone’s on the dole are that way because everyone looks the same.”

I didn’t know how to respond, since I thought he was smart enough to see that this has personal implications-that he and everyone he knows that are opposed to social welfare spending might be, you know … racist . But I left that can of worms laying there unopened. I was glad he told me, since it really informed my view of the way the health care debate unfolded. I’ve been saying since at least the late spring that the right wing would completely lose it if a black president pushed through legislation that is, in their eyes, an attempt to funnel white people’s money to racial minorities. A few months ago, this theory tended to be treated like the ravings of a left-wing extremist. But now, you’re actually seeing mainstream left publications and even mainstream news stations like CNN outright admit it. The Republican response to health care reform is about tapping racist anger, anger that’s usually based in ignorance, too. As Michael Lind documents , it seems that the right wing actually believes America has something like a dole, and that illegal immigrants can get on it.

Then again, the racist tone of the backlash is hard to deny when the 9/12 protesters had signs that said ” Robbin’ for the Hood ” and “Señor Citizens Get Free Health Care/ Senior Citizens Can Drop Dead.”

Of course, the blatant race-baiting is coming from the Republican side of the aisle. The Democrats are using that level of nuttiness to smuggle in the idea that Americans should consider maintaining corporate profits for insurance companies a higher priority than our own health and well-being. If I die of some treatable but expensive disease, I suppose I should comfort myself by knowing that my death means that the returns for some very happy stockholders will be that much fatter this year. Perhaps that sort of comfort could be the 21st century version of the last rites?