Apples And Oranges

by James Kirchick | August 12, 2009

Ed Kilgore has a puzzling article on our website today, in which he compares opponents of the president's health care plan to anti-gay bigots.

Kilgore begins by arguing that the real motivation of most people who oppose gay marriage is that they just don't like gay people. But because "dehumanizing gay people isn't as generally acceptable as it used to be," you don't hear them making arguments invoking personal distaste for homosexuality (at least as much as you used to). In other words, gay marriage opponents mask their disgust for gays by discussing the issue with language like "saving traditional marriage" and "protecting religious freedom." While I believe that it is possible to oppose gay marriage and to do so for non-bigoted reasons, this is a fair point.

But then Kilgore takes this dynamic to the health care debate, where he argues that a similar disgust for "the beneficiaries of Obama's polices lurks," "Right Beneath the Surface," as his article is entitled. I don't doubt that there are opponents of the president's plan who just don't like poor people or ethnic minorities, who would presumably benefit disproportionately from it. Yet Kilgore's evidence for this supposedly widespread sentiment is awfully thin. The examples he provides of this barely-suppressed selfishness and bigotry are a woman at a town hall who shouted, "I shouldn't have to pay for your health care!" to a disabled person (a rude gesture to be sure, but hardly an unreasonable sentiment), and ABC News' John Stossel, who called the plan, "a form of expensive, taxpayer-funded welfare." These individuals are, in Kilgore's eyes, comparable to those who think that gays are immoral and unworthy of the same rights as straights. Sorry, but that's an awfully big jump to take. 

"Whether we are talking about gay marriage, government-backed mortgages, or health care reform," Kilgore writes, "there may well be a strongly dynamic relationship right now between privately held feelings of strong disdain for the purported beneficiaries of Obama's agenda, and some of the wilder arguments being made publicly to attack it." Or, it could just be that opponents of Obama's plan are satisfied with their health care (like most Americans) and skeptical of a massive overhaul of the system for fear that it will reduce quality, lengthen waiting times for critical procedures, and dramatically increase deficits. I'm no expert on health care, and these concerns may be invalid. But I'd rather we debate these arguments on the merits as opposed to accusing the people espousing them of barely-concealed bigotry.

--James Kirchick

Source URL: http://www.newrepublic.com//blog/the-plank/apples-and-oranges