If America were an all-white country, we would have had universal health care decades ago. Even though cancer, heart disease, and diabetes are color-blind, conservative whites have consistently opposed expanded health care access because many whites would rather be sick than share a waiting room with African Americans. It’s as true now with GOP politicians like U.S. Senate candidate Josh Hawley, U.S. Rep. Mike Bost, and U.S. Rep. Ann Wagner as it was under Harry Truman.
In 1947, intrigued by the national health care systems of World War II allies Britain, France, and Canada, Truman proposed a national health care system for the United States, to be administered by federally funded hospitals. But conservative Dixiecrats from the Old Confederacy killed the plan because it would have meant, under federal anti-discrimination guidelines, that black and white patients would have been treated side-by-side.
When the brand-new Medicare system came along in 1966, U.S. Sen. John Stennis almost shoved through an amendment that would have allowed states to give federal Medicare money to legally segregated hospitals. That move failed, but the following year, a white physician, Dr. Jean Cowsert, was assassinated in Mobile, Alabama because she demanded that hospital admissions under Medicare be based solely on medical need, not on race.
Race has always colored the views of conservative whites when it comes to universal access to health care. A mammoth 2015 study by Cornell Medical Center in New York and the University of Maine found that the primary predictor as to whether someone opposes universal health care is racial prejudice. It found that the prime driver for opposing universal health care was that “pimps, welfare queens, thugs” or any other euphemism for black people, would get a “free ride” on the tax dollars of “hard-working (white) people.”
When Obamacare was being debated in Congress in 2009, opposition to the Affordable Care Act by the Tea Party and other right-wing activists was ostensibly because of Big Government. But the real reason was never far below the surface, and it occasionally popped into the daylight, as when conservative flamethrower Glenn Beck said on Fox News in July 2009, “Everything that is getting pushed through this Congress, including the health care bill, are transforming America. And they are all driven by President Obama’s thinking on one idea – reparations.”
In the minds of the right-wing commentariat and their minions, the Affordable Care Act wasn’t about reforming a for-profit healthcare system driven by money and not medicine; it was about masses of unworthy African Americans demanding free health care, to be paid for by the oppressed, hard-working, virtuous white man. It was John Stennis all over again, this time in high-definition.
But a funny thing happened on the way to the new Nat Turner Rebellion. Millions of Americans, black and white, discovered that while Obamacare was an imperfect mess in many ways, it contained some provisions that almost everyone loved. And at the top of the list was the ACA’s requirement that insurance companies no longer deny coverage to people with pre-existing medical conditions.
Nine years after Beck’s vein-bulging reparations rant, Republicans who have spent the better part of a decade trying to nuke Obamacare and its pre-existing conditions coverage find themselves in the position of the guy who murdered his parents and then threw himself on the mercy of the court because he was an orphan. After spending years trying to get rid of the pre-existing conditions coverage mandate, all of them are suddenly in favor of keeping it.
The front runner in the “who are you going to believe, me or your lying eyes?” sweepstakes is Missouri Attorney General Josh Hawley. Hawley, the GOP Senate candidate on November 6, filed a lawsuit as attorney general (along with 16 other Republican AG’s), demanding that all of the ACA, including pre-existing conditions coverage, be declared illegal. His lawsuit, with his name firmly attached, is still active.
But in both a Senatorial debate and in TV ads, Hawley insists that he’s all in favor of keeping pre-existing conditions coverage, that his wife has a pre-existing condition, and hey, believe my TV spots, not the lawsuit I’ve filed. Hawley, of course, is lying.
So is U.S. Rep. Mike Bost, the Republican congressman whose 12th Congressional District includes East St. Louis and Belleville, but also runs down to the Ohio River and covers over a dozen white, rural, conservative Southern Illinois counties. Bost voted to repeal Obamacare and the pre-existing conditions coverage, and yet tweeted last month, “Since day one in Congress, I’ve been clear that we must protect individuals with pre-existing conditions.”
Bost, charitably, is confused. Uncharitably, he’s a liar. He’s even scrubbed his official website, which in 2016 said, “Obamacare is more than a broken website. The website was just the tip of the iceberg.” That’s now gone from his website, replaced with “Mike believes Southern Illinoisans should have the right to make their own health care choices.”
The biggest bait-and-switch, though, may belong to GOP U.S. Rep. Ann Wagner, representing the 2nd Missouri Congressional District in the St. Louis County suburbs. Along with several other panicked Republicans in the House, Wagner is co-sponsoring the Pre-Existing Conditions Protection Act. Since Wagner voted four times to repeal the ACA, including pre-existing conditions coverage, and appeared on C-SPAN screeching “Freedom!” after voting to ok the Trump “replacement” for Obamacare, Wagner either underwent a conversion worthy of Saul of Tarsus on the road to Damascus, or she saw the polls and dove for cover. Or maybe, more simply put, she’s lying.
Across the country, Republicans like Wagner, Bost, and Hawley were glad to go along with the racist anti-ACA dog whistles because they played well with their rural white, or suburban white flight, constituents. But often as not, reality has a liberal bias. And the reality is they are now twisted themselves into political pretzels, denying that they spent years trying to get rid of the coverage they now claim to support.
They’re all lying.
Charles Jaco is a journalist, author, and activist. Follow him on Twitter at @charlesjaco1.