Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Deamonte Driver is Dead and You Can Thank Bill Kristol

Hilzoy and Matt Yglesias both blog this horrifying story from the Washington Post:
Twelve-year-old Deamonte Driver died of a toothache Sunday.
A routine, $80
tooth extraction might have saved him.
If his mother had been insured.
If
his family had not lost its Medicaid.
If Medicaid dentists weren't so hard to
find.
If his mother hadn't been focused on getting a dentist for his brother,
who had six rotted teeth.
By the time Deamonte's own aching tooth got any
attention, the bacteria from the abscess had spread to his brain, doctors said.
After two operations and more than six weeks of hospital care, the Prince
George's County boy died.

Both Hilzoy and Matt try to be polite about this. Hilzoy says "We Can Do Better Than This" and "This should not happen in our country," and adds all sorts of useful explanations about why universal health care would help solve this. Matt says that while he "usually" tries "not to be the table-pounding kind of liberal, but on some level delivering everyone a basic standard of health care is a fairly simple moral imperative, and not really this big medico-economo-whatever question." Should not happen. Moral imperative. Right. Got it. We can all feel bad.

But the point is that this happened -- this has been happening, is happening every god damned day, and will continue to happen until we fracking fix it -- for a reason beyond the fact that we don't have universal health care in this country, unlike every other industrialized democracy in the world. And that has to do with why we don't have universal health care.

We don't have universal health care -- and Deamonte Driver is dead from a tooth infection -- because a lot of people have been fighting really fucking hard to make sure that we don't have it.

It's that simple.

Or, to be more specific: liberals have been fighting to try to ensure that American citizens do have universal health care; conservatives have been fighting to ensure that they don't.

Conservatives have been winning. So that people don't have health care who would otherwise have it. And some of those people are dying.

Including Deamonte Driver.

Sure, maybe liberals should have fought harder, or fought smarter, or whatever. Maybe Clinton's health care plan was an overly complex attempt at compromise, a pathetic attempt to throw bones to the insurance companies. Whatever. Because if the organized right hadn't been fighting this all along, we would have had universal health care in this country years ago -- maybe as long as six fucking decades ago when Truman -- yeah, Truman -- first proposed it.

People like to talk about morality because it sounds cleaner than politics, and it doesn't carry any blame. Saying it's a "moral imperative" is true, but it dodges the question of why we aren't doing it. And politics sounds so petty. You're just playing politics.

But to talk about "politics" like it is just some sort of fucking game ignores the fact that these policies have real implications for the lives of real people.

Including kids. Including kids like Deamonte.

If you invade a country for no good reason, and more than 600,000 people die, it's not just a political oops. It's a crime: the blood of those people is on your hands. And if you block universal health care, then all the people who die for lack of care are dead in part because of you.

Which brings me to William Kristol.

William Kristol, one of the most influential Republicans in the country, sent out a memo in 1993 on the forthcoming health care proposal. What he said was "that congressional Republicans should work to "kill" -- not amend -- the Clinton plan because it presents a real danger to the Republican future: Its passage will give the Democrats a lock on the crucial middle-class vote and revive the reputation of the party." (via)

Think about that. He said that Republicans should kill -- sight unseen, I should emphasize -- the bill. Not because he was opposed to what he said -- he hadn't seen it; he didn't know what it said. But because it would give Democrats an advantage.

Because it would make voters happy not to have to worry about getting sick without insurance. Because people actually want liberal programs, so we have to kill them with all sorts of redbaiting rhetoric lest they see that liberals are actually trying to improve their lives.

It's one thing to oppose these sorts of things because of some moral notion that implies that universal health care is wrong -- although the opponents of it have to justify the deaths it will cause, in the face that every other fucking industrialized nation on earth has a universal health care system without turning into some Bolshevik nightmare. But at least that's a principle. If your principle is that sick kids ought to die for lack of health care -- or, if not them, then at least their parents if their parents can't afford health care, or maybe even just their childless, out of work neighbor -- because this keeps us free, then fine. (Bush, who thinks we need less health insurance in this country -- that jobs that still offer workers insurance should be taxed for it, because their health care was excessive -- IIRC, "gold plated" was the term -- is an example of this.)

But to kill this bill-- to kill the people that killing the bill will inevitably kill -- for political advantage?

I'm sure if asked that William Kristol will say that, oh no, this was a terrible thing. Of course he didn't want Deamonte to die. Sure he'll say that: He's a pundit; pundits do that.

But when he sent that memo, he knew, he damn well fucking knew that people would fail to get health care because he was afraid that if they'd got it, they'd appreciate it and vote for the party that thinks they should have it. So he was willing to let people be sick -- willing to let people die -- so that the party that opposes universal health care wouldn't have their principles shown to be unpopular. So they could win election.

Now I'm sure people will accuse me of "playing politics" with Deamonte's death. But that's precisely the point. Politics isn't a game. Politics is life and death. It was politics -- the politics that blocks universal health care in this country -- that causes people to die would could live with basic, affordable, ordinary coverage. Accusing people of "playing politics" is just a way to avoid discussing the life and death issues that are really at stake.

When people are dying in easily preventable ways, we have to "play politics". Because it's politics that's killing them.

And if you don't want those people to die, you need to play politics. On the side that is trying to enact policies that will save them, rather than on the side that is successfully blocking policies that will save them. We're playing for their lives, and we're loosing. But at least our side is fighting to save them, rather than fighting to keep in place the system that's letting them die.

So raise a glass to Bill Kristol today -- a glass filled with the blood of the people he helped kill. Sure, people are getting sick, kids are getting sick, kids are dying, who could easily live. But he thought it was more important that the Republicans win the house.

Deamonte Driver is dead. And if Bill Kristol had the slightest shred of intellectual integrity, he would be dancing on his grave. Since he helped to bury him and all.

***

UPDATE:

"Don't blog angry" is good advice. But some topics seem to properly met only with anger. So that when I went and read the comments at the other place I posted this, I got angry all over again, and left the following reply to two of them. (The first I quote in my reply; the relevant part of the second is "...it is sad that someone died over a rotten tooth. But I sure as hell do not want to pay for that tooth or anyone else's... its called freedom." You can read the whole thing here if you like.)

***

Hugh Jass said: Do you actually believe that the mother could not come up with $80? I bet you, the house had cable, the mother had a cell phone, she played the lottery, they had more than one TV, a microwave, etc.

And blogger Fred Clark, from Slacktivist: David Kurtz at Talking Points Memo cites a statistic... "Sixteen million Americans live in "severe poverty," defined as individuals making less than $5,080 annually and families of four making less than $9,903." ... Try to imagine how you might make ends meet on $5,080 a year. That's $424 a month for rent, food, health care, clothing, utilities, transportation. On $424 a month, the ends cannot be made to meet. Try to imagine how you might make ends meet raising two children on $9,903 a year. That's about $825 a month. The ends cannot be made to meet. There are 16 million Americans living like this. That's the combined population of Chicago, Houston, Philadelphia, Phoenix, San Antonio, San Diego, Dallas, San Jose, New Hampshire and Vermont.

I don't know what the situation of the Driver family is. But believe that an American family couldn't come up with $80? Hell, yes.

If more people understood, viscerally, what poverty is, maybe we'd live in a different country. A country where people didn't express more emotion about paying for universal health care (like, to repeat, the citizens of every other industrialized nation in the world... I guess there's no "freedom" in Canada, New Zealand, England or France) then about a twelve year old kid dying because of a rotting tooth.

But as I said: some people are fighting for universal health care; some to prevent it. It's that simple.

3 comments:

SteveH said...

Thanks, you called it.

Jaye Ramsey Sutter said...

It isn't about one kid and $80. I know that it is, but to say that it is "mother's fault" is to absolve everyone else who really is at fault.

Bill Kristol and the other bastards who comfortably play politics--the sport of kings--with people's lives.

These let them eat cake, sell some bling, hock a DVD player people have never gone to bed hungry, have never--as my grandfather did--save his batteries to hear Roosevelt on the radio. My grandfathers were sharecroppers. What I learned from them is still true to today--either people care or they don't and they will not be persuaded.

Thank you for writing this. I wrote about it too and will like back here.

bill said...

Once I was without work and had my family covered by medicade. However same type of story did not have money to cover the doctor or prescription, and yes I wouldn't have had 80 dollars. Those days are gone but I never will forget the arogant doctors or the political system that let this happen. May the doctors and the Republicans in there self rightenous attitude all rot in hell for this kind of system. A little armed revolution every once in a while is not a bad thing I think