The U.S House of Representatives has once again voted to repeal all or parts of the Affordable Care Act (ACA, Obamacare) ... for the 40th time. Many of the people leading this effort come from the South, my home. There is no chance of repeal, so what is going on?
There is a strange tendency on the part of affluent ... and even not so affluent ... Southerners to believe that their health care (and their family's) will somehow be provided if they work hard and live right. And, that the "system" will somehow take care of everyone else.
As a rural, Southern Republican and two-term former County Commissioner, I never fail to be amazed by some of the local people who tell me that they hate "Obamacare."
Folks like the former truck driver, in his early 50s and on Social Security disability, who gets his care via Medicare. This fellow went bankrupt a decade ago because he was unable to pay for his child's medical bills. He was out of work at the time and without insurance. Inconceivably, he thinks that Obamacare is socialism and that everyone should take personal responsibility for their own insurance. Really?
Or, the elderly gentleman who gets his care from VA and Medicare, but thinks that the government ought to get out of the health care business.
In 2009, when the Affordable Care Act (ACA, Obamacare) was being debated in Congress, he and I had breakfast with our then Congressman (no longer in office). This veteran told him that national health insurance is unconstitutional, a dubious "fact" that he no doubt picked up from his only source of national news, right wing talk radio. This person also stopped going to our local American Legion when it was finally integrated. I guess black vets are not good enough for him.
This strange attitude is typified by the Facebook posting that I received this week from another Southern man: "I support helping the needy. I oppose funding the lazy." Translated, this means "if I do not know you, you are one of the lazy folks getting my tax money, especially if you are brown or black." And, this view forms the basis of much of the opposition to the ACA.
People who know these men describe them as good, church-going people. So, why don't they open up and see the light? Why do they say, in effect, "do not confuse me with the facts, I have made up my mind"?
I personally believe that much of this goes back to the Nixonian "Southern Strategy" of the 1970s, pushed to new depths by Reagan and others. This strategy essentially dictated that the Republican Party would write off the black vote. The GOP would appeal to the worst aspects of the white southern electorate, hinting (and sometimes outright saying) that the basic cause of many of their troubles is racial preference due to the federal government favoring minorities.
Reagan may have looked like a gentle grandfatherly figure, but he opened his 1980 campaign for the presidency with a "states rights" speech given near Philadelphia, Miss., the site of the widely publicized 1964 murders of three civil rights workers. One of the best known events in the civil rights era, the murder of young men/boys attempting to register black voters, the symbolism was not lost on the Southern powers that be or white voters.
This has been combined with a purposeful misreading of scripture. Instead of trying to help the down-trodden as Jesus advocated, many populist Southern politicians have chosen to preach about select portions of the Bible, while ignoring others.
My North Georgia Congressman is a physician best known for saying: "All that stuff I was taught about evolution and embryology and the Big Bang Theory, all that is lies straight from the pit of Hell." The Congressman also worries about abortion, voting against even Republican anti-abortion bills because they provide exceptions for endangering the health of the mother, rape and incest.
At the same time, he does not want to take care of these fetuses after they are born to poor women, many minority. He is against virtually every social and health care program run by the government, including the ACA which if fully implemented will provide health care coverage for tens of millions of poor Americans.
What can we do to end the ills of the divisive, racist "Southern Strategy"? As Southerners, it is up to each of us to point out racist, demagogic tendencies in our elected officials and opinion leaders.
It is up to each of us to look at our fellow human beings with compassion and not contempt based on race or class. And, that includes getting health care for the less fortunate.
Jack Bernard is a former chairman of the Jasper County, Ga., Republican Party. He had written columns for newspapers throughout the South. Before retiring he was a senior health care executive.