In Florida, we’ve been swamped with dueling videos. Video one depicts activist Cara Jennings yelling at Gov. Rick Scott, calling him a name, shaming him for being rich.
Video two depicts Scott shooting back in an attack ad, insulting Jennings’ character, providing his stock answer for everything while skirting the issue at hand.
Cue the banjos.
Both clips went viral quickly — and they don’t call it “viral” for nothing. They’re both fairly symptomatic of the American epidemic, “civilititis,” a disease characterized by painful inflammation, which completely takes over the spirited-but-peaceful-dialogue functions of our body politic.
There’s a better way to have this argument. And we’ll get to that. For those who might have been living under a rock last week, here’s the political autopsy:
In video one, when Scott ignored Jennings’ questions about refusing to expand Medicaid and to provide funding for Planned Parenthood, she called him an “a**hole.” She then proceeded to tear him a proverbial new one by publicly shaming him. Poorer people depend on programs like Obamacare, she said, and women depend on services provided by Planned Parenthood. She then attacked him for being rich.
Scott gave his pat response: “I’ve created a million jobs.” (Never mind that Florida was riding the wave of general national economic recovery under President Barack Obama.) The governor left without his coffee.
He then took a golden opportunity to choose the high road, and blew it.
Instead, he sunk to Jennings’ level of name-calling and ad hominem attacks while sidestepping the issues. He labeled her a “latte-liberal.” Then he accused her of feeling entitled to “public assistance,” which is not only an ad hominem attack, it’s untrue, if not for Jennings, then in the context of expanding Medicaid for working people who don’t make enough to afford health insurance. Working people, by definition, work for a living.
The governor’s ubiquitous answer about job creation raises the following questions:
How well do these jobs pay? (Give us the median, not the average.) What kind of benefits do workers earn? Which companies have hired people? Companies like Starbucks and Costco, which have good reputations for treating their workers well? Or companies like Walmart, which depend on gross corporate welfare in the form of food stamps and Medicaid to run their stores?
And how many jobs would Medicaid expansion for working people create? How might worker productivity be enhanced with more accessible health care for all?
How much might insured workers save on their insurance bills if they weren’t subsidizing poorly delivered, too-little-too-late, free health care in emergency rooms? Could we restore true emergency care again, or will our ERs continue to act as walk-in flu clinics, with tragic consequences?
It’s too bad neither Jennings nor Scott had the benefit of learning from Cathy Cobb, my guidance counselor at George Washington Carver Sixth Grade Center here in Jacksonville. Her presentation to my class on “why name-calling is always wrong” will stick with me forever.
It’s too bad, too, that they might have both missed the day in eighth-grade civics when the teacher covered Weaver’s hierarchy of argument, which fits nicely on an easy-to-read pyramid chart. Name-calling is at the bottom. Ad hominem attacks aren’t much farther up.
Let’s see if we can climb a little higher. Smart people at The Brookings Institution have noted that the American economy has changed forever. Globalization, technology and automation have been changing the American jobs landscape for the past four decades. Without debating the merits of trickle-down, economic neoliberalism, we’re left with geographical pockets of less-than-vibrant recovery from the Great Recession, and people are hurting.
Talk about job-creation doesn’t help people whose jobs don’t pay enough to afford health care. Neither does blaming the sinking middle class for years of policies that have ignored them, and permitted our highways, bridges, schools, and neighborhoods to crumble.
Equal opportunity cannot be restricted to the failed economic policies that benefit only the so-called “job-creators.” And we can no longer afford to pretend that government has no appropriate role to play in the economy.
When our bridges fall down, how will employees get to work? When the schools fall down, who will educate the workforce? As consumers stop spending, who’s going to buy all the stuff at Walmart?
Equal opportunity demands equal access — to the nation’s infrastructure, to quality education, and yes, to health care.
We’ve already implicitly decided that universal access to health care is valuable — we don’t turn people away at emergency rooms for being poor. We just haven’t mastered the art of paying for it efficiently.
Medicaid expansion for working people is a good option. How many of Florida’s 1 million jobholders would benefit from it?
Could we sit down and talk? Meet me in Gainesville, Gov. Scott. But let’s go to Emiliano’s instead, where we can sit outside and enjoy the sunshine and the best coffee in Florida. It’s bound to help cure our civilititis.
Julie Delegal, a University of Florida alumna, is a contributor for Folio Weekly, Jacksonville’s alternative weekly, and writes for the family business, Delegal Law Offices. She lives in Jacksonville, Florida.