Voting Against Interest

I read an article today on Wonkblog and again I’m astounded by how much government aid the red states consume, yet still keep voting with the conservatives who want no to extremely small government.  This doesn’t quite compute for me.

The story that got me thinking today is one talking about the fantastic deal the Medicaid expansion portion of the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) is that so many red state governors want to, in effect, shaft their own citizens by turning down the sweet deal the federal government is offering.  This, because anything Obama does is bad.

Over the coming weeks and months, there’s going to be a new event in the Republican Party’s ongoing “No, I’m the most anti-Obamacare!” contest: refusing to participate in the law’s proposed Medicaid expansion. So far, the governors of FloridaSouth Carolina and Louisiana have already promised to do exactly that.

Ignore them. The deal the federal government is offering states on Medicaid is too good to refuse. And that’s particularly true for the red states. If Mitt Romney loses the election and Republicans lose their chance to repeal the Affordable Care Act, they’re going to end up participating in the law. They can’t afford not to.

Medicaid is jointly administered between states and the federal government, and the states are given considerable leeway to set eligibility rules. Texas covers only working adults up to 26 percent of the poverty line. The poverty line for an individual is $11,170. So, you could be a single person making $3,000 a year and you’re still not poor enough to qualify for Medicaid in Texas. That’s part of the reason Texas has the highest uninsured rate in the nation.

Massachusetts, by contrast, covers working adults up to 133 percent of the poverty line — partly due to a former governor whose name rhymes with Schmitt Schmomney. It’s a big reason it has the lowest uninsured rate in the nation.

I realize that Ezra Klein says to ignore the promises to refuse federal Medicaid money, but it’s hard to ignore those promises without wondering why those governors feel secure enough politically to say those kinds of things without fearing the loss of a lot of votes.

Why do the red states keep voting against their clear economic interest?  And why are they so happy to keep taking the blue states’ tax dollars that are paid into the government they say they hate?  The blue states are happy (ish) to pay those tax dollars, though, and are happy to help those less fortunate than themselves.  Why are the blue states reviled?

Some of it, no doubt, is the Fox News Effect.  People who are rightly angry at the status quo are told what to be angry about.  Over and over and over.  And they end up believing it.

By the end of my stint as a hired Fox News–watcher, my takeaway was, first, that the Democrats invented corruption.

Second, regardless of different formats or different anchors, whatever else was going on in the world of news, each show featured the same big story. When I watched, it was the growing controversy about Solyndra.

How do the news people at Fox know what the big story of the day is? you might ask. They just look at the earlier Fox News shows. If they flag it, it must be important. Anyway, by the time the night is finished, it will be the big story. In fact, by the next day, or sooner, it goes viral, showing up on other networks and in the newspapers. Opinion-makers elsewhere are reluctant not to use it for fear of being judged “out of touch.”

How does Fox get its big story of the day? Several ways. I remember one coup regarding the Department of Agriculture official who gave a speech that made her seem racist. A video excerpt had fallen into Fox’s hands over the transom, as they say, and by the end of the day of repetition on Fox and elsewhere the official had been fired. That was enterprising investigative journalism at its finest.

When the whole speech was played, however, it turned out that the fired official actually had been making a strong civil rights statement. Somebody had performed a contextectomy. It was a clear violation of the Geneva Convention on TV Journalism, which calls for telling the whole truth, not just half or a quarter.

How could that story have gotten legs? It wasn’t true. Yes, but the more you repeat something on TV, the truer it becomes.

Third, I learned how people are Foxified: it comes from watching too much Fox News over a period of time. They fall asleep watching reruns of O’Reilly and Hannity, starting at 11 or midnight. Instead of turning into a cockroach like the guy in the Kafka story, they wake up as a right-wing ideologue, or as we progressives call them, nuts.

Now I understand what Ailes and his diabolical mind-benders are up to. At the Fox News Channel, they treat the news as a script. A more apt slogan than “Fair & Balanced” would be “Fox News—Based on a True Story.”

The BBC says that people in red states resent having solutions force-fed to them.  This sounds plausible to me.

It might be tempting to put the whole thing down to what the historian Richard Hofstadter back in the 1960s called “the paranoid style” of American politics, in which God, guns and race get mixed into a toxic stew of resentment at anything coming out of Washington.

But that would be a mistake.

If people vote against their own interests, it is not because they do not understand what is in their interest or have not yet had it properly explained to them.

They do it because they resent having their interests decided for them by politicians who think they know best.

There is nothing voters hate more than having things explained to them as though they were idiots.

As the saying goes, in politics, when you are explaining, you are losing.

It’s clear that health care reform is the right thing for the country.  It’s also true that trying to help the poor is the proper thing to do.  I — and other liberals — think that this is a role for government.  I think we all agree that people should pull themselves up by their own bootstraps, but so many people don’t have bootstraps to pull themselves up by.

The red states keep getting redder — that’s where the bulk of the tea party is coming from. Fox News keeps on going on with its version of the facts and people keep buying it.

I don’t know how the Democrats get around that.  It’s obviously a messaging problem, one that the Democrats are going to have to solve.  I would suggest that Democrats make the Republicans feel like it’s their idea, but with healthcare reform, the Democrats used a Republican idea!  So how is this solved?

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4 comments
  1. Alan said:

    The teapublican politicians, and Fox News both play to the same mentality, the brain of a fifteen year old. Fox presents news stories in a way that bring up reflexes that a person who is not used to thinking through a story will have. They go after the primal urges of those people. It seems that some folks brains just stop growing in adolescence. For instance that kid, Johnathan Krohn, who had the conservatives in the palm of his hand four years ago. He was only thirteen, but he spoke their language and they loved him. Now that he’s older, he has rejected the right wing nuts. http://www.politico.com/news/stories/0712/78068.html

    • Deanna said:

      It’s kind of insidious, what Fox News is doing. And all the more frightening because of it. I’m seeing it happen with someone I care about very much. That person is quite intelligent, too, but she watches Fox News and the level of her criticism, her hatred, almost, has greatly increased. She’s always been Republican — socially more liberal, but conservative fiscally — but that’s changed lately.

      I think I’ll write more about Fox News as we go along this year.

      Thanks for that link, Alan. I hadn’t remembered this kid. But he seems like someone who was exposed to limited ideas when he was younger, but has now expanded his intake and is learning how things are. He says as much in the piece. I can imagine that conservatives don’t like that!

      • Alan said:

        People can be quite intelligent, yet be very emotionally immature and react from a gut instinct. I have a brother like that. He has a Masters degree, but believes the most ignorant things he is told by Fox News. He spent his adolescent years away at a Catholic seminary. I believe that is why he never learned to think through something on his own. Being able to repeat what you are told by a teacher does not teach you how to think. It teaches you how to pass a test.

  2. Deanna said:

    I agree fully, Alan. I want my son to learn facts, but I also want him to learn how to think. That’s the real value of education.

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