Stories like this one fill me with so many conflicting emotions. Let's just start at the beginning, shall we?
SEWANEE, Tenn. - As Robin Layman, a mother of two who has major health troubles but no insurance, arrived at a free clinic here, she had a big personal stake in the Supreme Court's imminent decision on the new national health care law.
Not that she realized that. "What new law?" she said. "I've not heard anything about that."
Layman was hardly the only patient unaware that the law aims to help people like her, by expanding health insurance beginning in 2014. And this gets to the heart of the political dilemma for Democrats: Despite spending tremendous political capital to pass the law, the party is unlikely to win many votes from the law's future beneficiaries, most of whom live in Republican-dominated states in the South and West. In fact, many at the clinic said they don't vote at all.
Oh, lord have mercy. My knee-jerk reaction is to scream, "Pay some fucking attention, people! Christ on a cracker, what the hell is wrong with you?" But I already know the answer to that. It's not that they're too busy or lazy or uneducated to pay attention -- there may be an element of that, but that's not the crux of the issue.
The real problem is that these are people who have given up. They've decided -- with good reason -- that our institutions were not created for them. Those things like caring about who goes to Washington and what's happening in the news are for other people. Robin Layman has already been told she doesn't matter, so what's the point of civic crap like voting? What's it going to get her?
It's really hard to argue with that. Turn on any news broadcast -- Fox News, MSNBC, CNN, it doesn't matter -- and tell me who's talking about people like Robin Layman? No one. We had one presidential candidate in the past decade who did that, and he ended up being a scoundrel. The worst thing John Edwards did wasn't having a baby with his mistress, it was in bringing the plight of the working poor onto the national stage and then dropping it like a hot potato when he got tripped up by ambition and his penis.
You don't have to be Gandhi or Jesus Christ to care about the poor. Republicans never back down, they wear their toe-tapping, diaper-clad scandals like a badge of honor. I guess when you're out there beating the drum for the wealthy and powerful, you can get away with stuff like that.
The other thing I needed to say about this TNR story is that this isn't just a dilemma for Democrats. This is a dilemma for the nation. People like Robin Layman are not going away, regardless of what the Supreme Court does. They will still be there, sleeping in their cars at the po' folks clinic, hoping to finally get some professional care for the problem they've been putting off for months until it finally got so bad they couldn't ignore it any longer. They will continue to be a drag on the nation, not just economically but also socially and morally.
I find it enormously ironic that Tennessee would become a national poster child for our broken healthcare system. Healthcare is a really big business in Tennessee; a lot of people here have made a shit ton of money off of it. I'm not just talking about bazillionaires like the Frist family, or "supply side" guru Arthur Laffer, who serves on the board of a medical tourism company. It's not just U.S. Rep. Diane Black, whose husband owns a major drug testing company (where Bill Frist sits on the board. Cozy.) We're a big center for biotech and pharmaceutical companies, too.
If the healthcare industry is so important to Tennessee's economy, and so many of our political leaders and most prominent citizens are making bazillions of dollars off of it, how come so many of our citizens are left out in the cold when it comes to their healthcare needs? Just wondering.
I don't know how to make people care. I don't know how you make Sen. Lamar Alexander and Sen. Bob Corker care about the tens of thousands of uninsured people in this state. Until those folks start showing up and demanding some attention, the plutocrats and politicians won't care.
And I don't know how to motivate our poor, the people in the trenches who live our healthcare crisis day in and day out. I don't know how you get them to believe that they really can change the system, when that system has failed them so many times and in so many ways.
So we're left with a situation where raising taxes on millionaires by 3% is anathema, and the poor continue to be voiceless and ignored. The longer we wait, the more entrenched our broken system becomes, especially here in Tennessee where so many of our political leaders profit from exploiting a broken system.
I guess we'll just have to wait until the bodies start piling up outside the mansion gates and the problem can no longer be ignored. Not a very satisfying solution, is it?