The effects of an extraordinary con

THE EFFECTS OF AN EXTRAORDINARY CON…. The NYT had an interesting report yesterday about the kinds of folks who are becoming Tea Party activists, in part because of the difficult economic conditions. The piece noted that during the Great Depression, middle-class families mobilized in the hopes of getting additional support from the government and a stronger safety net.

Now, of course, we’re seeing some middle-class people mobilizing for the exact opposite — they’re drowning, but they’ve been convinced that if the life-preserver comes from the government, they don’t want it.

Reader D.D. sent me this article from the Dallas Morning News about how the Affordable Care Act would affect a variety of local families, all of whom have had difficulties with either their health care, their economic conditions, or both. One family, in particular, stood out.

Amy Townsend, 38, of Hurst was preparing last week for yet another round of treatments in her battle against breast cancer.

In addition to steeling herself for possible side effects, she and husband Jesse, 43, were preparing for the possibility that they might have to pay hundreds of dollars, up front, before radiation treatment can begin.

With both Amy and Jesse unemployed, the family buys health insurance through COBRA with a $5,500 yearly maximum for out-of-pocket expenses — a threshold the family has not yet met. COBRA coverage generally lasts up to 18 months.

“We’ve got to come up with some money for next week,” she said.

Though she still faces medical bills, Amy said she was against the health care act, fearing so-called death panels and government inefficiency. [emphasis added]

To be clear, I’m not picking on the Townsend family here. Amy Townsend is fighting a terrible disease, and she and her family are facing awful circumstances that I can scarcely imagine. The Townsends and people like them are one of the reasons the American Cancer Society endorsed the Democratic health care reform proposal so enthusiastically — it stands to help folks like this who really need it.

But that’s what makes the response all the more fascinating. Amy Townsend appears to have heard the right-wing propaganda, and seems inclined to believe it. “Every government program,” she told the paper, “none of them work very well.”

The Townsend family is, however, currently getting by on unemployment benefits (a government program), and is holding onto some coverage through COBRA (another government program), which they can afford thanks to federal subsidies (through another government program).

The point isn’t to mock the Townsends or to question their judgment. The point is to appreciate the power of conservative political rhetoric in 2010. Many of those who stand to benefit from a stronger safety net have been led to believe they want a weaker one. Many of those who’ll finally be able to get better care under a health care system that’s been screwing them over have been convinced that they won’t, or can’t, benefit from reform.

And as a political matter, this poses an incredible challenge for Democrats. Here’s a party that identified a problem burdening millions of families, and worked diligently to approve a solution, only to find some of those they’re helping declare their opposition to the life-preserver.

The Democratic challenge is straightforward: convince folks like Amy Townsend that they just successfully fought like hell to give her a hand when she and her family need it.