In the wake of the let him die
episode of the last Republican debate, in which the audience took it upon themselves to go where even Ron Paul himself would not, advocating for the death of someone who was sick if they had no insurance that would pay for their treatment, the story of Ron Paul's 2008 campaign chairman has been getting increased attention. Deservedly so, for it is a similar case, and even by itself perhaps accounts for Paul's own moment of hesitation on the matter
Back in 2008, Kent Snyder — Paul's former campaign chairman — died of complications from pneumonia. Like the man in Blitzer's example, the 49-year-old Snyder was relatively young and seemingly healthy* when the illness struck. He was also uninsured. When he died on June 26, 2008, two weeks after Paul withdrew his first bid for the presidency, his hospital costs amounted to $400,000. The bill was handed to Snyder's surviving mother, who was incapable of paying. Friends launched a website to solicit donations.
According to the Wall Street Journal's 2008 story on his death, Snyder was more than just a strategic ally: He was the only reason Paul thought he ever had a shot at the presidency in the first place.
Kent Snyder raised over $19 million for Ron Paul, but could not afford insurance for himself because of a preexisting condition. After his death, efforts by friends to assist with the medical bills (Ron Paul's suggested solution in response to the debate question, you may recall) raised about $35,000 in donations, less than 10 percent of what was needed.
Paul is himself a doctor, as he reminds us from time to time. I can only presume, or at least hope, that it was either that oath or Paul's firsthand experience with the death of an uninsured friend that led him to at least hedge, on live television, when asked if the uninsured should die. I like to think that I saw a bit of shock in his expression, when the audience lustily cheered for exactly that, but it may only have been wishful thinking on my part.
What is more certain is that whatever Paul's experiences, it did not change his opinions very much, and I think that is noteworthy. When Wolf Blitzer asked him if the uninsured should die, Paul hedged, but he still maintained that medical care was the responsibility of the sick, and not the rest of society. He stated, explicitly, that such individuals should look to their communities and churches for help, even with firsthand experience at what an effort to raise $400,000 for even the most well connected of people actually looks like, in practice.
I think most people know how such efforts go, in fact. For a long time, a solitary glass jar sat on the counter of our local convenience store, seeking donations towards the medical expenses of a much-loved longtime resident whose own unexpected tragedy had left an impossible financial burden. Barbecues, church socials, yard sales, bake sales or whatever else can be cobbled together; a town of any size will have something like that every weekend, if you follow the flyers or the signs, all dedicated towards raising just a few hundred dollars here and there to put a dent in the hundreds of thousands needed. Cancer, heart disease, or an accident; a husband, a mother, a child, a best friend. You cannot live in America without seeing it. So does it work? Do churches contribute a hundred thousand, here and there? When was the last bake sale you attended that raised $50,000? The last yard sale? Just how much change can fit in a glass jar on a countertop, once you count it all up?
Why are there all these Americans around us who cannot pay those bills, no matter how many bake sales they attend, no matter how many times the collection plate is passed around at their church?
To his credit, Paul did not say a sick person should be left to die, if they showed up at the hospital unable to pay. That was left to the audience. I am sure the audience, too, had seen the same jars on the same countertops time and time again, but on them it made no impact. I am sure a good portion of them attended church on Sunday, and perhaps heard a plea for a sick member of the congregation that had stopped attending church suddenly, and there may have been talk about transplants or rehabilitation or family, and perhaps they gave $10 and felt a sense of satisfaction in it, and a clean conscience.
We are not socialists, here in America. We are not like all the first world countries in Europe or Asia that believe caring for citizens in need is the duty of a government and its people, and not just a whim to be met sporadically according to our moods. We are religious, and our religion dictates that we will help only who we want, when we want, and the others can either die or be reduced to lifelong poverty. That will still grand us a clean conscience, it seems: We can show up for church on Sunday, then go to a political debate during the week and shout for the poor and the sick die already, rather than pay a penny to save them.
That is what I find so cold in Ron Paul, and in the other freedom-lovers that share the stage with him, and especially in those members of America that they so feverishly wish to cater to. They can see that their solution does not work: The evidence is in every town, every day, but it still does not matter to them. They will poke their fingers out at you, and lecture on how churches or friends or neighbors will take care of it all; if you note that churches and friends and neighbors have never, ever been able to take care of it all, they will scoff, and mutter something about freedom; if you press them on what freedom means in such a context you will, eventually, come back around to the darkest response, which is let them die.
It is cold, and dark, and miserable, and mean, and tribal, and cruel.
It never ceases to amaze me, the emotions that we will wrap up in a flag and call patriotic if it suits us. A large swath of America is made up of very cruel people, people who value their own self-indulgence over the welfare of their neighbors, and they seem uniformly to be the most pompous in their exhortations of both patriotism and godliness. They are here to defend the nation from monsters who would parcel out a modicum of support to all citizens, and not just ones they personally know of or approve of: If they help their fellow man, they want to see the person grovel for it a bit, and helping an anonymous soul is deemed not just a pointless exercise but an insult to their very freedom.
Let them die does not make a very good slogan for a bumper sticker, and so even true believers tend to shade it a bit. But even in the boldest, cruelest state, it will be applauded.