Late Monday afternoon the GOP revealed the makeshift framework of their health care bill and while it left many questions still to be answered it gave many unmistakable cues as to where the party’s head is at with American healthcare. There was little doubt after experts and analysts got their hands on the draft that the proposed bill would cost millions their coverage and dramatically destabilize the current insurance market. It took no time at all for Republican Reps to take to Twitter and the media to begin promoting and explaining the controversial changes they’d laid out. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) preferred a more interesting and poignant approach to the bill’s reveal though when he took a moment to advise Americans on how they could potentially afford health insurance under the new plan. Here’s Chaffetz on CNN’s New Day:
“Americans have choices—and they’ve got to make a choice, so maybe rather than getting that new iPhone that they just love and they want to go spend hundreds of dollars on that, maybe they should invest in their own health care.”
Firstly, it goes without saying that Chaffetz point and example are incredibly stupid and unrealistic. Going out today and purchasing the iPhone 7 is going to set you back somewhere in the $600 – $800 range at most if you bought it on the spot. Compare that cost to the fact that as of 2015 the average cost of a family’s health insurance coverage was $6,422 for the year out-of-pocket. So to Chaffetz’s point, if you skip out on that new iPhone this year and so do your kids whom you presumably bought an additional 6 iPhones for then yes, it about covers your health insurance that year – almost.
However, the idiocy of one Utah representative aside, Chaffetz’s appearance on Tuesday did speak to a more systemic problem within the GOP that has been a trend for decades – the distrust and contempt that they hold for America’s poor.
Like most representatives Jason Chaffetz does not need to pass on the iPhone 7 to be able to afford his health insurance. In fact, Jason Chaffetz can probably afford to buy his entire extended family new cell phones this year and every year because Jason Chaffetz has lived his life right. As a former public relations employee for pyramid scheme “Nu Skin” Chaffetz has had no problem enriching himself off the hopes and dreams of others. Now as a member of the house of representatives Chaffetz continues to enjoy a relatively comfortable life and in the collective consciousness of the GOP this is what it means to be an American. People like Jason struggle to understand how anyone could have a problem with the healthcare system in America because they themselves don’t have a problem with the healthcare system in America and they are the template by which they judge us all.
The fury and anger expressed in GOP town hall meetings over the past month caught many in the party by surprise and their resentful and defensive rebukes of outraged constituents was their own ignorant worldview in full display. To them, the frustration seems foreign and misplaced because if you cannot afford health insurance the problem is not with the system, the problem is with you. In the worldview of the modern GOP to be poor in America is a personal failure and shortcoming of the individual and the responsibility rests solely on that individual.
So when we see Jason Chaffetz come on CNN and explain to Americans that maybe they need to stop buying cell phones to pay for their health insurance it comes from a place of baffling, outlandish ignorance. In Chaffetz’s mind he’s offering sound advice for stupid, incompetent peasants to rectify their own mistakes and his assumption is that surely, if you are struggling to afford health insurance, you must be doing something wrong. The idea that poverty may be a matter of circumstance, misfortune or systemic inclination is simply unacceptable and impossible to the GOP establishment.
This is what makes Chaffetz’s comments so dangerous and insidious. He is fully aware that what he’s saying is stupid and insultingly simple but he also inherently assumes that anyone his statements apply to is themselves, stupid and in need of simple advice. More importantly, any complaints or frustrations can be easily dismissed as symptoms of the character flaws and personal failings that made the aggrieved parties poor or unable to afford their health coverage in the first place. It’s this narrow template of self-confirming superiority that allows the GOP to perpetually fuck over the most vulnerable of America’s citizens while also assuring them that it’s their own fault.
Ultimately this is the sisyphean task that Americans face in trying to work with the GOP to address healthcare in the United States. We have ample evidence, voices and examples with which to make our case but the case we’re making – in their minds – is exactly what we deserve.