A Reminder of the Heartlessness at the Root of Republican Politics

The toughest job I ever had was when I worked at a children’s home in the Los Angeles area. It meant working with little ones who had been so abused that they had been removed from their homes and placed in foster care—where the adults in their life failed them once again. The children’s home was the last stop for children our society is willing to throw away.

One day was particularly difficult. A little six-year-old boy fell while playing on the jungle gym and hurt his arm. When I took him to the infirmary (which wasn’t staffed by medical personnel) we decided that it probably wasn’t a serious injury and simply put him to bed while he whimpered in pain. When things didn’t improve the next day, he was taken to the emergency room, where he was diagnosed with a broken arm. Not only did he get a cast, he was admitted to the hospital to keep it in traction.

Thirty years later, I still feel the gut-punch of shame over what we put that little guy through because of our negligence. This story triggered that shame once again.

A Republican congressman outlined the way he would like to see the health care system operate if Obamacare is repealed, as GOP lawmakers are promising. It is a brave new world in which parents would wait and think about it before bringing in their sick or injured kids for costly treatments.

The example Rep. Bill Huizenga (R-MI) gave in an interview with MLive.com was from his own experience when he waited until the morning after to take his youngest son to the doctor with an injured arm, because he did not want to waste money on an expensive emergency room visit. The arm, it turned out, was broken.

“We weren’t sure what was going on. It was in the evening, so I splinted it up and we wrapped it up, and the decision was, okay, do we go to the ER? We thought it was a sprain, but weren’t sure,” Huizenga said, adding that he and his wife “took every precaution and decided to go in the next morning.”

“When it [comes to] those type of things, do you keep your child home from school and take him the next morning to the doctor because of a cold or a flu, versus take him into the emergency room? If you don’t have a cost difference, you’ll make different decisions,” he said.

The point Rep. Huizenga makes is that if parents had to pay more out of their own pockets for health care, they might think twice before taking their children to the emergency room to find out if they have a broken arm. It’s hard for me to figure out how to react to that rationally because it is so incredibly inhumane. When a child is suffering, to simply say that we’ll wait until tomorrow to deal with it because that will cost less is not only stone-cold heartless. Avoiding having to make a decision like that is one of the reasons why we have health insurance in the first place.

I don’t know how many of Rep. Huizenga’s Republican colleagues would agree with him on this. But to the extent that they do, it gives little reason to assume that they’ll give a damn about how many people are hurt by the repeal of Obamacare.

What is clear is that House Speaker Paul Ryan is usually better at covering up his own heartlessness. But some of you might remember when he made this case for getting rid of things like school lunch programs.

The left is making a big mistake here. What they’re offering people is a full stomach and an empty soul. The American people want more than that. This reminds me of a story I heard from Eloise Anderson. She serves in the cabinet of my buddy, Governor Scott Walker. She once met a young boy from a very poor family, and every day at school, he would get a free lunch from a government program. He told Eloise he didn’t want a free lunch. He wanted his own lunch, one in a brown-paper bag just like the other kids. He wanted one, he said, because he knew a kid with a brown-paper bag had someone who cared for him. This is what the left does not understand.

Of course it turns out that Ryan didn’t check the facts and the story he told is untrue. But the point he was making is that feeding hungry children gives them an empty soul. It breaks my heart that so many of the children like the ones I worked with thirty years ago don’t have someone at home to make them lunch in a brown paper bag. The point of a story like that should be that children deserve someone at home who cares for them – not that we should add to their pain by not feeding them at school.

I’m sure that people like Huizenga and Ryan rationalize all of this in their Randian minds as the correct political positioning. But there are times when the inhumanity and heartlessness of Republicans like them is overwhelming.

Nancy LeTourneau

Nancy LeTourneau is a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly.