Blog on the Run: Reloaded

Tuesday, September 22, 2009 9:31 pm

Race and health care

In the comments to this post, a commenter and I kind of got into it a little over the notion of race as a factor in opposition to Obama’s policies. (To recap, I think it’s behind some but by no means all that opposition. The commenter claimed that people were claiming ALL opposition to Obama was prompted by racism, something neither I nor anyone else I know of has claimed.)

Jimmy Carter also said race is behind some of the opposition, too. Now, two researchers are saying it’s actually worse than that:

Our research favors Carter’s interpretation and adds some hard data to the debate. In fact, the partisan divide today is even more troubling than if it was driven by race alone.

Americans’ views of political issues and their partisan attachments are being increasingly shaped by gut-level worldviews. On one side of many issues are those who see the world in terms of hierarchy, think about problems in black and white terms, and struggle to tolerate difference. On the other are those who favor independence over hierarchy, shades of gray over black-white distinctions, and diversity over sameness.

We call this dividing line an authoritarian one, and we find that what side of the line people fall on explains their positions on a wide ranging set of issues, including race, immigration, gay rights, civil liberties, and terrorism. This is because what lies behind these preferences is a larger difference in worldview, where people understand reality in starkly different ways. This, in turn, leads to rancorous and irreconcilable-seeming political conflicts.

As evidence of the link between health care and racial attitudes, we analyzed survey data gathered in late 2008. The survey asked people whether they favored a government run health insurance plan, a system like we have now, or something in between. It also asked four questions about how people feel about blacks.

Taken together the four items form a measure of what scholars call racial resentment. We find an extraordinarily strong correlation between racial resentment of blacks and opposition to health care reform.

Among whites with above average racial resentment, only 19 percent favored fundamental health care reforms and 57 percent favored the present system. Among those who have below average racial resentment, more than twice as many (45 percent) favored government run health care and less than half as many (25 percent) favored the status quo.

No such relationship between racial attitudes and opinions on health care existed in the mid-1990s during the Clinton effort.

Comments dday over at Digby’s place:

What these professors are really probing is the lizard brain, the tribal identifiers that often bubble to the surface, in unguarded moments, as racism. It’s almost too neat and simple to simply call it racial in intent. It goes much deeper to a visceral resentment, a put-upon persecution complex, this constant paranoia that someone else is getting a better deal, and that such inequity can form the basis of all the nation’s problems. It’s purely an emotional release to explain whatever personal failings or lack of compassion already exists. That this frequently codes racially is a symptom of the relationship between race and class, as well as the other longtime signifiers of identity that have been hard-wired into our brains for centuries.

And as we know, anything hard-wired into our brains is quite easy to overcome. Just ask the abstinence movement.

So, while there certainly are a lot of people who oppose current health-care reform on what they may feel, and what actually may be, a rational basis (and I have problems with it myself), there also are a lot who reflexively oppose it because they reflexively oppose giving … well, anything to anybody who’s not them or like them.


  1. The Left’s obsession with race would be sort of humorous if it were not so destructive. Here we have a couple college professors, one of whom is a government employee (Weiler), no doubt spending money from a government grant to do a study of the correlation between racial attitudes and health care reform attitudes. Now, only a left-wing kook would pose as the three alternatives a government insurance plan, what we have now, or something in-between. Anyone who took that survey and didn’t answer “none of the above” is automatically an idiot. The correct answer is a free-market health care system; in other words, something close to what existed before government totally screwed up our health care system by creating Medicare and Medicaid, subsidizing health insurance you get at work but not health insurance you buy yourself, state insurance regulation that requires coverages, driving insurance premiums through the roof, and letting tort law get into the state it is in. What has brought our health care system to the brink of disaster is the notion that people have a right to health care paid for at someone else’s involuntary expense. Every aspect of Obamacare just goes further in that same direction.
    This entire effort by the Left to tar opposition to Obama’s policies with the epithet of racism is nothing more than a vicious ad-hominem attack by people who would rather call names than deal with the arguments being placed before them.

    Comment by Eric Hill — Wednesday, September 23, 2009 1:43 am @ 1:43 am

  2. OK, Eric, presented with some hard evidence, you dismiss the researchers, whose work has been peer-reviewed as “left-wing kooks.” That tells me something.

    So how ’bout you deal with this argument: We’ve got closer to the kind of health-care system for which you advocate than any other Western industrialized democracy, and yet by all the standard measures of health-care quality, we spend twice per capita what other countries spend for results that are just dismal in comparison. Hell, Cuba’s health-care system is better than ours. And in the U.S., the VA health-care system is by many objective criteria superior to any other form of health care available to Americans (see “Best Care Anywhere: Why VA Health Care is Better Than Yours,” by Phillip Longman).

    Further, I invite you to explain in objective terms how Medicare and Medicaid “totally screwed up our health-care system” when, before their creation, many of our poor and elderly were far worse off than they are today.

    Comment by Lex — Wednesday, September 23, 2009 6:15 am @ 6:15 am

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