The Republic of T.

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Tea Partiers: The (Distorted, Screaming) Face of Conservatism

This is one of those things you just have to see to believe. Chances are you’ve seen it posted elsewhere, but it bears replaying over and over and over again. Here’s the face of conservatism today, for ya — mocking and screaming at a man with Parkinson’s disease.

At an anti health reform rally in Columbus yesterday, Tea Partiers demonstrated why they should be taken seriously as a populist movement by heckling a man who carried a sign claiming he suffers from Parkinson’s.

A video shows the man sitting down in front of a group of protesters. “If you’re looking for a handout, you’re in the wrong part of town! Nothing for free here, you have to work for everything you get!” says one guy. Then, some khaki-clad dick saunters over, flings some money at the protester and smarmily says “I’ll pay for this guy. Here you go. Start a pot.” He circles back around to scream, “I’ll decide when to give you money!” Someone yells something about communism. Someone else screams, “No more handouts!!!”

If only the health bill created some sort of panels where experts could decide if diseased commie scum like this guy are deserving of care …

If you can stomach it, the video clip is after the jump.

I can only imagine what they’d have to say to someone like Jerome Mitchell a shy African-American teenager who , who was dropped by his health insurance company — Assurant Health, formerly Fortix — when it targeted policyholders with HIV to drop their coverage.

Previously undisclosed records from Mitchell’s case reveal that Fortis had a company policy of targeting policyholders with HIV. A computer program and algorithm targeted every policyholder recently diagnosed with HIV for an automatic fraud investigation, as the company searched for any pretext to revoke their policy. As was the case with Mitchell, their insurance policies often were canceled on erroneous information, the flimsiest of evidence, or for no good reason at all, according to the court documents and interviews with state and federal investigators.

The revelations come at a time when President Barack Obama, in his frantic push to rescue the administration’s health care plan, has stepped up his criticism of insurers. The U.S. House of Representatives is expected to vote later this week on an overhaul of the health system, which Obama has said is essential to do away with controversial and unpopular industry practices.

Insurance companies have long engaged in the practice of “rescission,” whereby they investigate policyholders shortly after they’ve been diagnosed with life-threatening illnesses. But government regulators and investigators who have overseen the actions of Assurant and other health insurance companies say it is unprecedented for a company to single out people with HIV.

Actually, we don’t have to guess what these folks would have to say to someone like Mitchell — who successfully sued his insurance company — because Andy Serwer already paraphrased it: they’d say he deserved it.

Jerome Mitchell, who successfully sued Fortis/Assurant to reinstate his coverage, learned he had HIV at 17. I’m sure there are some people who would argue that Mitchell shouldn’t have had premarital sex and that catching HIV and subsequently being denied coverage are the “deserved” consequences of his behavior.

Alternately, I suppose you could argue that people like Mitchell should be denied coverage because Nancy Pelosi wants to use a common Congressional procedure to help pass the health-reform bill. The first argument, while abhorrent, at least acknowledges some of the human consequences of failing to pass health-care legislation. The latter is petty beyond belief.

The latter is, indeed, petty. But unfortunately, it is not beyond belief. People who’d mock and ridicule an old man with Parkinson’s find it very easy to do so, especially after warming up on a motherless 11-year-old.

What’s that you say? It’s unfair to judge the Tea Party movement based on one video from a very, very small protest? OK. So, here’s more.

What’s that you say? Tea Partiers are independents? Not conservatives? Not Republicans? Steven M. applies the “Walks like a duck” rule pretty convincingly.

From an NPR story this morning about a rally against the health care bill at the Ohio office of an Ohio congresswoman (my transcript; audio only):

Nearby, 60-year-old Steve Krempasky says he’s been unemployed for two years. He’s a truck driver, but his wife works, so he’s got health insurance. He’s wearing a shirt that mimics that iconic silkscreened image of Barack Obama from the campaign, except this shirt features George W. Bush and the phrase “Miss Me Yet?”

Krempasky says he does miss the former president.

“Right now it appears that the government, especially the president, is not listening to what the people have to say.”

Look, it’s simple. Teabaggers are Republicans. “Independent” teabaggers are Republican-leaning independents. Nearly all of these people deeply admired George W. Bush as a steely-eyed rocket man fighting terr’ists and Democrats, and most of them never really stopped admiring him.

(Krempansky’s only half right. Congress and the administration are only half listening to “what the people have to say,” because the people are saying that they want reform and that this reform bill doesn’t go far enough.)

The Tea Baggers at this protest seem to have a near pathological, and perhaps even congenital, inability to put themselves in the shoes of the man suffering from Parkinson’s disease. They even appear to have a co-morbid inability to consider how their treatment of him might look to the camera. Either that, or they just don’t care if they appear to be heartless. (After reading about the progression of Parkinson’s disease, I can only imagine the effort it must have taken for this man to make it to the protest.) Never mind putting themselves in Jerome Mitchell’s shoes.

The irony is that many Tea Partiers may find themselves in exactly that position. A ProPublica post about Mitchell’s case notes that many insurance companies engage in “aggressive rescissions,” to rid themselves of policyholders whose illnesses and chronic, lifelong conditions cut into profit margins.

Stephanie Mencimer at Mother Jones notes that about 40% of the Tea Partiers are over 50, and after walking among them discovered many who would benefit from the very reform legislation they seek so desperately to defeat.

While Meckler was standing in front of the Cannon House office building forecasting a Tea Party explosion if a law should pass, Dale Chiusano, a resident of Bethesda, Maryland, sporting an “I choose liberty” sticker, walked up to me and started complaining that his health insurance company had kicked his 22-year-old daughter off the family plan during her senior year of college. Like so many tea partiers I’ve interviewed over the past year, Chiusano was already the beneficiary of government health care, having spent 30 years working for the federal government. Now retired, he still gets to keep his federal insurance plan, but he was outraged to discover that he had to “pay through your nose” to get his daughter a private plan during the gap between college and her first job.

I pointed out that the health care overhaul would have saved him a lot of money by allowing his daughter to stay on the family plan until she was 26, a fact he hadn’t known. Not that this information changed his mind — “you can’t have the federal government managing the family life!” — but people like Chiusano might feel differently once they see for themselves how the bill affects their pocketbooks.

Meckler claimed that the bill’s benefits were illusory. “Nobody will see any new insurance for four years, but they will see higher taxes,” he insisted. That’s incorrect: Many of the bill’s reforms will kick in almost immediately (PDF), including the provision allowing young people to stay on their parents’ insurance plans until age 26. Medicare recipients, who seem disproportionately represented in Tea Party rallies and town-hall meetings, will also see tremendous benefits right away.

The bill will end copays and deductible charges for preventive care, close the “donut hole” in Medicare’s prescription drug benefit (which forces the elderly to pay high out-of-pocket costs), and creates a $10 billion temporary fund to help offset the costs of insurance for people who retire before turning 65. That last benefit is likely to be a huge boon for Tea Party activists, but they’ll also benefit from provisions requiring insurance companies to cover everyone regardless of their preexisting conditions. Aging Tea Partiers are much likelier than young people to need such protection.

Without health care reform, some of those very protestors yelling and tossing money at this man — whose sign read “Got Parkinson’s? I do and you might. Thanks for your help” — might find themselves among the human consequences of a failure to pass health care reform.

What about the legislation itself–what does it accomplish? On a concrete level, it expands health insurance to as many as 30 million Americans who are currently not covered; on a symbolic one, it makes clear that the government–not the market–is responsible for healthcare. Those are no small achievements.

That may be the biggest handicap progressives have had in this health care reform debate. The number of uninsured Americans far outstrips the our individual capacity to reach into our wallets and offer a few dollars for the care they need, or even the ability of charitable organizations and community activism to extend coverage to all of the uninsured. Needless to say, the number of uninsured Americans far outstrips the will of private insurance to cover them vs. the will to increase their profits. For many progressives, then, the inclination to care about and the desire to do something about the millions of Americans without health care coverage ends up outweighing even opposition to a reform bill that is less than is should be and less that what Americans need.

Though I would never wish it on any of them, the very men who berated him and toss to dollars at him may yet develop Parkinson’s, which the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke says affects people over the age of 50. The man who said to him “You have to work for everything you get,” may very well find himself having trouble talking one day (as is common with Parkinson’s). Without health care reform, he might find himself no longer able to work or find work, after a lifetime of working for everything he got, and paying for insurance premiums.

The young man who reached into his wallet for money to toss at him may, 20 or 30 years from now, notice a tremor in his hands that progresses to trouble balancing and instability on his feet. (Which is probably why the reform supporter with Parkinson’s had to sit rather than stand in front of the Tea Partiers.) Those symptoms might also progress into difficulty chewing, swallowing and speaking. Never mind being able to work.

Both, if they developed Parkinson’s might find themselves among those who become severely disabled. They might find themselves among those whose condition outlasts their insurance companies’ ability to profit from covering them. They might find themselves among those whose illness makes them unable to work and thus afford the care they need, let alone meet basic needs like food and shelter.

If they do, chances are they won’t meet the guy they mocked and ridiculed that day, but I’d bet money that he’d treat them better than they treated him.

I truly hope they don’t develop Parkinson’s or any other illness or condition. But if they do, I want them to have the health care they need, even if they can’t afford it themselves. I’ll stand up to make sure that they have it. I’ll cast my vote for political leaders who will make sure they have it. I’ll even gladly pay more taxes to make sure they, every other Tea Party protestor out there that day, the man they ridiculed, and every other American has access to the quality, affordable medical that they need.

So, would the man who was the object of their derision that day. After all, that’s what he was doing.

In some ways, the faces of health care reform opposition and supporters were revealed in that moment captured by news cameras — two very different faces of America came nose to nose. Given that we all might someday need medical care we can’t afford, and that isn’t profitable to insurance companies, if you get sick which face of America would you rather see?

One Comment

  1. I have a really tough time trying to understand the failure of empathy displayed here. Do people really think this will never be them? Is it some kind of rabid self-defense mechanism at work or just pure cruelty?