November 14, 2009

Big Bellies & Small Minds

If I decide to eat an entire box of chocolates and get sick from it, I can blame you for it and expect you to do something about it. I’m American, after all. (Photo by HA! Designs/Artbyheather via Flickr Free Use Photos)

During student dismissal at my school, I’m in charge of patrolling the parking lot crosswalk to make sure that no one speeds or runs over any children. It’s sad but yes, a position such as this became necessary because many parents don’t feel that they should have to drive slowly through our school parking lot, even though small children are walking back and forth. In fact, last year I witnessed two parents attempt to drag-race each other through the parking lot to see who could get to the stop sign first.

A few days ago I noticed that one of our parents was sporting a brand new, very large, very detailed (very expensive) tattoo. The tattoo was made in memory of her fiancé, who was killed in a fire about a year ago.

What bothered me about the situation wasn’t that immediately after her fiancé was killed, local businesses put out collection jars for her. She would then check each jar three or four times a day to see how much money was there. Not only that, but she acted as if we (those who donated) owed her whatever we donated. (And yes, I initially donated $5 as part of a district-wide casual dress day.)

She’s also on welfare. She’s not on welfare because she can’t work; she’s opted to go on welfare because she’d rather not work. Thus, we see her at the school several times a day just hanging out, driving around, or dropping her other children (she has three and appears to have one on the way) off for a daycare program which is provided for low-income and no-income families.

I’m mentioning this situation because apparently I’m not the only one who is fed up with seeing able-bodied Americans take advantage of other able-bodied Americans simply because they think that they’re entitled to do so. They have the idea that their fellow able-bodied—and responsible—Americans owe them.

While perusing my local newspaper, I came across this letter-to-the-editor from Dr. Starner Jones, which was reprinted from the August 29, 2009, edition of the Clarion Ledger in Jackson, Mississippi:
Dear Sirs:

During my last night’s shift in the ER, I had the pleasure of evaluating a patient with a shiny new gold tooth, multiple elaborate tattoos, a very expensive brand of tennis shoes and a new cellular telephone equipped with her favorite R&B tune for a ring tone.

Glancing over the chart, one could not help noticing her payer status: Medicaid.

She smokes more than one costly pack of cigarettes every day and, somehow, still has money to buy beer. And our President expects me to pay for this woman’s health care?

Our nation’s health care crisis is not a shortage of quality hospitals, doctors or nurses. It is a crisis of culture—a culture in which it is perfectly acceptable to spend money on vices while refusing to take care of one’s self or, heaven forbid, purchase health insurance.

A culture that thinks I can do whatever I want to because someone else will always take care of me.

Life is really not that hard. Most of us reap what we sow.¹
Even though I was pleased to see such a comment made, given that I’ve been angered by seeing irresponsible behavior rewarded on a regular basis only because the number of irresponsible people is increasing on a generational basis (and given that numbers equal votes in the eyes of politicians who are both incumbents and candidates), I wasn’t shocked to see a few people—people who have the entitlement mentality—take offense to the doctor’s suggestion that people take some responsibility for their own behavior.

Those people, however, didn’t want to actually debate that aspect of the issue. That would, no doubt, show them for who they really are. Instead, they choose to spin the issue into class warfare and yes, even racism. Those who have responded went so far as to ignore the main idea of the letter (providing for irresponsible people) and have attempted to entirely reconstruct the issue into something which it isn’t.

For instance, this letter-to-the-editor was written in the Clarion Ledger in response to the letter from the doctor:
I’ve been stewing about an Aug. 23 letter to the editor (“Why Pay for the Care of the Careless?”) in which Dr. Starner Jones questioned the worth of a patient to receive Medicaid because of her gold tooth, tattoos, R&B ring tone on a new cell phone, cigarette-smoking and beer-drinking.

This kind of personal attack is nothing new with the hateful rhetoric of late. But it’s a real slippery slope when one questions whether another human merits support for health care because of appearances and choices. There are a lot of folks in this state who make less-than-perfect choices about finances and health. We are the poorest, fattest state, after all.

We need to turn off our TVs and radios and do our own research on health care reform. All the Fox-fed and MSNBC-led masses are out spewing the same language the pundits are using.

Look at entities who, bottom line, want to raise their ratings and celebrity, not facilitate a meaningful or productive discourse.

This country deserves more. Read the health care reform bill. And learn the real issues of our entire community. We’re all Americans.

This is no “us vs. them” issue. We are all in this together.

Jennifer Sigrest
I especially enjoyed reading this response because Ms. Sigrest undertakes a rather common move in modern-day “debates”: when you can’t argue against what is in front of you, spin the story.

In this case, Ms. Sigrest is unhappy with Dr. Jones’ view, but instead of attacking his main idea—that of being upset with able-bodied citizens taking advantage of their neighbors because they hold an entitlement mentality—she spins the situation into that of “personal attacks” and “hateful rhetoric.” (Then again, perhaps some people think that expecting others to be responsible is a form of “personal attacks” and “hate.”)

Contrary to what Ms. Sigrest says, the doctor does not question a person’s “merits” because she has undertaken avoidable irresponsible behavior; he questions why we—as taxpayers—should have to collectively finance the procedures to combat the avoidable irresponsible behavior. There’s no doubt that Ms. Sigrest wouldn’t want to debate that side of the issue, as it wouldn’t look too good to openly defend irresponsibility.

Her conclusion is not surprisingly devoid of substance: let’s come together because we’re all Americans.

Well, of course we’re all Americans. We’re not going to debate a political topic from Turkey or Brazil, are we? We’re debating a national entitlement mentality and the nation is the United States.

But her point is that of hoping that if we’re all Americans, we must all agree in an effort to be united. (This sounds like the same rhetoric that we heard when the PATRIOT Act was being pushed under the Bush/Cheney regime, doesn’t it?) If we’re truly united, we’ll agree with her; if we disagree, we’re no doubt treasonous and we support an “us versus them” mindset.

As an aside, what’s truly ironic in the response is that the “us versus them” mentality, which Sigrest is vehemently against, is actually the basis for healthcare reform in the first place: the have-nots are waging a war against the haves.

She is not alone in her approach, however. A comment left on the Website shows that some folks are even attempting to make the debate one about race. A person named TL writes:
Jones should be ashamed of his apparent bigotry which should have no place in the medical field. You took an oath but must have forgotten that part of your reason for wanting to be a doctor. So it would seem that you are far more concerned about the financial aspect. Since we are on the subject of vises, you forgot to mention the one that plagues most people in this country according to statistics…overweight fat people are also at a health risk. So would that be considered in your estimation of the people who deserve health care. That would certainly preclude most folks from your idea of people who take care of themselves. My waistline has never changed since High School..31″ so i say this to all you people who thank Jones for his bravery in speaking up…check your waistline…if you are fat…then perhaps you should consider going on a diet before you mouth off!!!…. These comments smack of the perfect Arryan Race…look what happened to Hitler.³
The teacher in me wanted to correct the spelling and punctuation errors, but I opted to leave the comment in tact to best illustrate the critic’s mental prowess. Regardless, you can see the feeble approach: when you can’t actually debate the issue, change the issue. If things get really bad, throw Hitler’s name in. It’s kind of like how right-wingers will throw in the word “communist” if all else fails. This time, the leftists hope that class warfare and Nazism create a little bit of smoke on the mirror of healthcare reform.

Discussion and discourse will continue to be a problem in this country given that some people are unable to actually extract the main idea from paragraphs as well as debate the real issues at hand.


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