By Lee A. Daniels
Some synonyms of the word “callous” are: heartless, unfeeling, unmerciful, cruel, and inhumane.
A mid-November poll by the Gallup organization asking Americans their views on expanding access to healthcare proves that in some cases, one can add the adjective “hypocritical” to that chain. And also the adjective “racist.”
The Gallup poll released Nov. 20 found that for the third consecutive year, a majority of Americans – 52 percent – asserted that it’s not the federal government’s duty to provide healthcare for all citizens. Only 45 percent of Americans say it should.
Given our current political climate, one might not think that surprising. But in fact, American majority opinion of the last three years on this issue represents a stark turnaround from that of the previous decade when Gallup first began polling on the topic. Then, from the year 2000 to 2006, a substantial majority supported the idea, climbing to a high-water mark of 69 percent in 2006. Two years later, however, that support had fallen to 54 percent on the way down to its present level. By contrast, opposition to the idea, which had sunk to a low of 28 percent in 2006, began sharply rising, reaching as high as 56 percent last year.
The Gallup survey doesn’t explore the reasons behind the stunning reversal. Nonetheless, it provides enough evidence for the primary cause of it to be obvious. For one thing, it offers this summary of what the statistics show: “Americans’ attitudes began to shift … just after Obama was elected … During this time Republicans and Independents became more likely to say universal healthcare was not the government’s responsibility, most probably in reaction to Obama’s campaign promise that he was going to attempt to do just that.”
On the one hand, that suggests an amazing mystery. When one presidential candidate promised and then, once in office, made good on his promise to take significant steps toward providing universal healthcare, a significant segment of Americans who, until then, had been in favor of it, turned against it.
What could account for that? The answer lies in two sets of statistics in the poll.
First, Gallup found that 70 percent of those who identified themselves as Democrats or generally “leaned” toward supporting Democrats were in favor of universal healthcare. But 75 percent of the Republicans or Republican “leaners” opposed the idea. Secondly, the poll shows that, while 66 percent of Americans of color support universal healthcare, 62 percent of Whites oppose the idea. Gallup said of this: “Even among the group of Americans aged 55 and older, many of whom have government-provided Medicare but who lean Republican politically, 58 percent say it is not the government’s responsibility to provide healthcare.”
Part of this, of course, may be the old-fashioned hypocrisy and callousness of the “I’ve got mine. I don’t want you to have yours” variety. But I suspect much – or most – of the sudden gap that appeared between the past rhetorical support and present-day actual support was stoked by the GOP politicians’ and conservative echo chamber’s continually screaming that the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) was just a “socialistic” power grab to rob Americans of their independence.
The spinning of such conspiracy theories found many willing listeners among the GOP base – a majority of whom still subscribe to the “Birther” claim that the president is foreign-born and thus ineligible for office or is the agent of a socialist/Muslim plot to take over the country.
But there’s also an attitude at work here that was succinctly captured in a Sept. 16 New York Times story about why many Kentucky voters say they’ve benefited substantially from Obamacare but express nothing but scorn for Obama himself.
The story cited one woman, a warehouse packer earning $9 an hour who had been uninsured for years but now, thanks to the act, is receiving treatment for high blood pressure and an autoimmune disorder. “I’m tickled to death with it,” she said. “It’s helped me out a bunch.” But the article went on to say that the woman “scowled at the mention of” the president’s name. “Nobody don’t care for nobody no more, and I think he’s got a lot to do with that,” she said, adding that she intended to vote for Senator Mitch McConnell, the Kentucky Republican who has long vowed to repeal the act.
That unwillingness of some Whites to credit Obama with enhancing their access to health care, and thus, improving the quality of their lives because they don’t want to feel “beholden” to any Black person is an attitude as old as American history itself. It’s a measure of its continued strength that today it gets applied to the nation’s first Black president, too.
Lee A. Daniels is a longtime journalist based in New York City. His latest book is Last Chance: The Political Threat to Black America.