Looks like the new Media Village talking point has been distributed: Americans don’t deserve a decent health care system because we are disgusting fat pigs.
There’s a point (around 3:00) in the MSNBC clip John posted earlier where Taibbi talks about America’s relatively high infant mortality rate and low life expectancy, and Maria Bartiromo interrupts to snarl, “We’re OBESE!” with the same combination of loathing & denunciation that a televangelist would use for “We have sinned!” Bartiromo, of course, is not obese — her television contract is based on her meeting certain standards of attractiveness, and I’m sure it includes clauses covering the personal trainers, gym memberships, nutritionists, and whatever other outside assistance is required to keep Bartiromo up to those standards. But the rest of us, well, how can we expect our babies to stay alive if we insist on being willfully, knowingly “obese”?
Then, in the WSJ op-ed John linked later in the evening, anesthesiologist and anti-happiness crusader Dr. Ronald Dworkin complains that Obama’s threatened health reforms will drive skilled professionals like himself out of the medical business, because taxes are too high and Medicare compensation is too low and frankly, smart people don’t want to work that hard. Also, “Americans have grown very fat. This complicates anesthesia tremendously. Putting in IVs, spinals and epidurals is harder. Inserting breathing tubes is much more dangerous. “ True enough, but then, he’s getting paid somewhere north of $300k a year to deal with those complicated fat people. “Quality of care will inevitably decline. That decline will come first in obstetrics… “ Go away, fat people, or the laboring mothers and their babies will suffer!
Granted: Being too fat is a genuine medical problem. Obesity, or the yo-yo dieting too often connected with obesity, leads to higher rates of heart disease, diabetes, joint problems, yada yada yada. But it’s also a very “resistant” Medical Issue, with roots in everything from genetics to modern suburban planning to the way industrial agriculture is subsidized by tax dollars but local farmers markets are not. In modern America, for all these reasons and more, it often costs more to be thin than to be fat. And it sure costs more to stay healthy, so — more and more often — poor Americans are fatter and less “fit” than wealthy Americans. It does not seem coincidental that one of the memes leaking upwards from the anti-reform astroturf has become “America’s medical system hasn’t failed American citizens — American citizens have failed its medical system.”
Us fatties are using up too much health care, taking up too much room in the emergency rooms, just like we take up too much airline seat space and use too many resources to fill our swollen gullets and cover our bloated hides. And women, of course, are particularly susceptible to this kind of guilt-tripping. Feminist, post-feminist or anti-feminist, some very large percentage of all American women, whatever their actual medical BMI, will always have to fight an inner voice suggesting that we could stand to lose a few (more) pounds. There is nothing so unfeminine as taking up too much space, using up ‘more than one’s share’, attracting too much attention.
After World War II, American economists decided that in order to keep unemployment at an appropriate level, the women who’d been “enticed” into paid employment while “their men” were overseas needed to be sent back to the kitchen and the nursery. A deliberate part of this campaign was the argument, repeated at every level of the media from the radio soap operas to the Harvard Business School research journals, that “bored housewives” and “novelty-seeking co-eds” who insisted on keeping their high-paying office or technical jobs, or demanded slots at the better universities, were “taking jobs away from the heads of households (men), who wouldn’t be able to feed their families”. All the old reliable anti-womanist slogans were also revived (‘career girls’ were unattractive, sterile, neurotic spinsters who couldn’t ‘get a man’, probably because of their sexual abnormalities), but this new meme really sold. Any woman who wanted a job more interesting or better-paid than retail clerk or primary-school teacher was a selfish, self-centered, unpatriotic monster who didn’t mind taking food out of the mouths of starving children. This re-branding worked so well that by the mid-1960s, even women who “had no choice but to work” — women who were themselves heads-of-household — often felt compelled to wear their “excuses” like a badge, or a mark of shame.
Today, American economists are facing a new re-structuring of a nationwide industry, the health-care system, that uses almost one dollar out of every five available. Our current system works very well for the top economic tier, less well and far more expensively for the middle (voting) tiers, and badly / catastrophically for the expanding bottom layer. Suddenly, out of every media outlet, from the morning talk shows to the political blogs to the Wall Street Journal, comes a new slogan: Americans get less health for more dollars than any other industrialized nation because we don’t deserve good health. We haven’t earned it, and if we insist on using it anyway, we’ll be depriving other, more needy fellow citizens of their fair share. And the mark of our selfish unworthiness is that we’re fat. Any good citizen, especially any woman, who “knows” that she should be eating better and exercising more (if only there were more hours in a day, or she could afford a gym membership, or vegetables weren’t more expensive than mac’n’cheez) gets the subliminal message: She can’t afford a mammogram, much less treatment for breast cancer, not because the World’s Best Health Care System is broken, but because she’s selfish even to want such luxuries when she hasn’t earned them.