Thursday, October 16, 2008
If you want to know why Barack Obama is poised to win this election, it's because of circumstances like this:
To monitor the multiple sclerosis attacking Ann Pietrangelo's central nervous system, her doctor recommends an annual MRI. Last year, the 49-year-old Winchester, Va., woman had to pay a $3,000 co-payment to get the imaging done.
This year, she's skipping the test. Even with insurance, it's more than her budget can tolerate, especially with the roller coaster on Wall Street devouring her retirement savings.
"I'm doing everything I can to avoid going to the doctor," she said.
From Park Avenue dental offices to the Arlington Free Clinic, the global economic crunch is forcing a growing number of Americans to scale back on medical care. Consumers are attempting their own form of triage, pushing off seemingly less-urgent services in the hope that their financial health will improve. But the danger, say physicians, is that the short-term savings may translate into more severe long-term health implications [...]
Nationwide, the number of consumers who went without a prescription, tapped into retirement savings to pay for health care or skipped a doctor visit for themselves or a child has risen since last year, according to a survey released this summer by the Rockefeller Foundation and Time magazine. One-quarter of the 2,000 respondents, for example, said they had decided not to see a doctor because of cost in 2008, up from 18 percent the year before. Ten percent said they did not take a child to the doctor for the same reason.
This is about more than just the subject of health care, which even the head of the Congressional Budget Office agrees must be dealt with as soon as possible or it'll threaten the entire federal budget and make the financial bailout look like the give-a-penny take-a-penny tray. But indeed you could have chosen any topic that the vast majority of Americans interface with. Their wages haven't gone up, their gas prices are still twice as much as they were before, their food costs are higher, the student loans for their children are a crushing burden, the jobs are scarce and aren't much more promising than service-sector McJobs, their credit cards are full, their home prices (if they're lucky enough to own one) are falling and they owe more on their houses and cars than they're worth, and their quality of life, between commutes, carrying two or three jobs to get by, etc., is, to put it mildly, in the crapper. They aren't making it. The American dream that's been sold to them for decades is dead. And it's been that way for a while.
And yet our profoundly stupid political discourse continues to focus on the aspirational class and small businessmen and the methods to trickle wealth down. And they use these insane shibboleths, icons that stand in for human beings who have actual struggles, to make it seem like there's any respect left for the common man. The common man has been kicked. He's been punched. He's laying on the side of the road. And he doesn't give a damn about someone screeching about a $900 tax increase.
Joe the Plumber, or whoever the fuck he is, means nothing. Neither does the media conception of white working-class voters. They are absurd caricatures, disconnected from any truth and really just pawns in the depressing reality show that has become politics. The more we look at some sideshow, the more muzzled the truly voiceless in this society become. For all the faults of the Democratic Party, there is finally a recognition this year that people vote, not pastiches or sketches but hundreds of millions of people, and maybe, just this once, we ought to pay attention to what the hell they are going through.