Because I have a careful social life, which sees me discuss parenting issues with liberals and politics with conservatives, I’ve never spoken with a true believer about Obamacare. Last night was my baptism in fire and, I have to say, staring into the maddened eyes of someone who sees Obamacare as a divine gift to the American people was an unnerving experience.
I went out to dinner with a group of people, some of whom I knew, and some of whom were spouses I hadn’t yet met. For the most part, the evening was delightful. Unfortunately, it ended on a sour note, when I unwittingly found myself speaking with an Obamacare fanatic.
I actually hadn’t planned on discussing politics, especially since I knew I was the only conservative in the bunch. Obamacare came up accidentally because a few of us — all middle-aged people with bad eyes — were talking about how expensive prescription glasses have become. Not unnaturally, this led to a discussion about the rising costs of medical care overall.
The initial discussion was about the perverse incentives of the insurance marketplace since WWII (separating consumers from providers so that consumers have no incentive to shop or bargain for lower prices); about the costs of more sophisticated medical treatments (it’s not only leeches any more); about high compensation for doctors (it’s justified by their training, but is all that training really necessary?); and about the fact that Medicare caps result in hospitals trying to recoup money by charging $100 for a box of Kleenex.
At this point, one of the spouses, whom I’ll call Tiny Tim, announced that Obamacare would correct all this. Everyone, he said, will get better insurance and better medical care, all for a lower price, and there will be no more uninsured. (Hmm…. Where have I heard that before?) I rained on his parade by saying that many of the uninsured were not lining up to buy insurance. Instead, those enrolled under Obamacare were often previously covered people who had been forced onto Obamacare when they lost their own insurance. (See my discussion about that issue here.) Moreover, those who did not qualify for subsidies were seeing substantial increases in their premiums and deductibles, caused in part by increasing medical costs.
At this point, I offered not a statistic but an example: I know a woman from one of my conservative groups. She’s single, self-employed, in her high 50s or low 60s, and was forced onto Obamacare at the end of 2013. When I saw her at a luncheon about three months ago, she was livid. She’d liked her old insurance, which was affordable and provided the coverage the wanted. Her new policy after she lost her old one doubled her premium and her deductible, and saw her paying for a lot of things she didn’t need or want (such as fertility treatments).
Somehow this anecdote enraged Tiny Tim. He drew himself up to his full height of 5’2″ (I am not exaggerating), tried to lean over the table to get into my face (something you can’t do when your short), shook his stubby little finger at me and, with spittle flying from his mouth, announced that I was a liar. “There is no such woman. You’re lying! Lying!” Let’s just say he failed to intimidate me.
When I insisted — truthfully — that there was such a woman, Tiny Tim next announced that she then must be the liar and, if not a liar, she is a moron. Why is she a moron? Tiny Tim, with no information whatsoever, had a ready answer: She’s a moron because this gal’s former insurance was garbage, and came complete with annual or lifetime caps that would ruin her when she became terribly ill. Garbage, he kept repeating in his shrill little voice.
Focusing tightly on my powerful belief in individual liberties, rather than on his bulging eyes, and spittle flecked lips, I replied that the gal is an intelligent, experienced career woman who bought this policy on the open market because it worked for her, and she could afford it. Tiny Tim could not be calmed. He screamed out again that she was a moron and had no idea what was good for her. Obamacare knows what’s good for her, he said, and is giving her the policy she needs, whether she’s smart enough to appreciate that or not.
In other words, cut through Tiny Tim’s angry, abusive hysteria and you suddenly find smug, arrogant Jonathan Gruber: Americans are stupid, can’t possibly know what they want or can afford, and must have a beneficent government force them to do things that they cannot afford and do not need because the government knows best.
Once Tiny Tim put his cards on the table, I was gearing up to make a cutting riposte, when I suddenly felt the ghost of my father at my shoulders. The one thing I share with my father, alav ha-shalom, is that when I get angry, I get really nasty, which means that, rather than focusing on the issue, I get personal — kind of like Tiny Tim was doing to me and to the woman he’d never met but knew, nevertheless, was a moron.
Unlike Tiny Tim, who seems to be all anger and no conscience, I always hate myself after I lapse into crude ad hominem attacks. Being nasty is not a way to win an argument, nor is it a way to gain either the respect of others or your own respect. I could feel that nastiness bubbling up in my, overwhelming logic, humor, assertiveness, and wit. So I left.
As I explained to my sister when I discussed the matter with her, Tiny Tim didn’t chase me away; my Dad’s ghost did, and I am thankful. Today I can look back on the interlude with amusement, rather than embarrassment and shame. I also look back on it with something approaching despair — Tiny Tim may have been emotionally defective, but he’s also America’s “power” class, insofar as he’s highly educated, holds an excellent job, makes a nice income. These attributes obviously lead him to believe himself better and smarter than the average American, and therefore well-equipped to deprive them of their liberty “for their own good.” Multiply him by all the other Americans who have emerged and are still emerging from our university systems, and we have a very big problem.