‘Go be a grown up’

‘GO BE A GROWN UP’…. Rep. Lynn Jenkins (R) of Kansas has, all of a sudden, started making quite a name for herself. Last week, the far-right lawmaker said she hopes to see a “great white hope” step up to defeat President Obama and congressional Democrats. Now a clip is making the rounds with Jenkins sharing her thoughts on the plight of the uninsured.

In this clip, taken at a July town hall meeting, Jenkins is confronted by a constituent named Elizabeth Smith — a full-time waitress with two young kids. Smith’s employer doesn’t provide insurance, and she can’t afford private coverage. Smith’s not looking for a handout; she’s looking for an affordable choice.

“I want an option that I can pay for,” Smith told her representative. “I work. I pay my bills. I’m not a burden on the state. I pay my taxes. So why can’t I get an affordable option? Why are you against that?”

Jenkins responds, literally chuckling at the question, “A government-run program is going to subsidize not only yours but everybody in this room. So I’m not sure what we’re talking about here.”

Jenkins went on to tell Smith that “people should be given the opportunity to take care of themselves with a refund, or an advanceable [sic] tax credit, to go be a grown-up and go buy the insurance.”

Be a grown-up“? The taxpaying constituent Jenkins was blithely dismissing works full time and takes care of two young kids. She is a “grown-up.” Indeed, tens of millions of Americans are lacking coverage — some due to pre-existing conditions, some because their insurers dropped them through rescission, some because they can’t afford it — and it’s not because they haven’t “grown up.”

I’m trying to remember the last time I saw a member of Congress take such a condescending attitude towards struggling American families. Nothing comes to mind.

Later, Smith explained she hasn’t been able to take her two-year-old son to a doctor in 21 months, except for emergency room visits for ear infections. “I am frustrated,” she said. “In a functioning, civil society, people take care of each other.”

I keep wondering if there might be one game-changing moment in the debate, a turning point in which one person stands up and becomes a symbol for the larger cause. That’s probably not realistic, though I thought we might have seen such a moment recently when Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) callously rejected the concerns of a woman whose husband is a brain-injury victim. It got a little attention, but in general, people didn’t care.

Maybe Elizabeth Smith’s plight will gain more traction? She doesn’t want charity; she wants an affordable choice for her and her family. Democrats want to give her one. And yet, here we have at least one Republican lawmaker who finds the idea of giving struggling families a choice laugh-out-loud funny. Indeed, she’d like to see Americans who can’t afford coverage do more to “go be a grown-up.”