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Randy's Ramblings: Working class heroes invisible to Obamacare opponents

I think it has something to do with my dad being the shipping clerk at the Duncan Yo-Yo factory, and then operating wood lathes for the companies that followed after the yo-yo craze ended and the Duncans left town.

Or maybe it was the stories my mother told of her second-generation Swedish immigrant family scratching out a living in the marshes, woods and meadows north of Milaca, Minnesota.

As a young woman, she worked as a domestic for wealthy Minneapolis families, and later took a job at the Strutwear Knitting Co. plant at the corner of Sixth Street and 11th Avenue in Minneapolis. The building was the site of a bitter 32-week strike in 1935, prior my mother’s arrival. The building’s still there next to the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome, which it will outlive.

I’m working class at heart and – no use fooling myself – in reality.

That’s why this war on the Affordable Care Act hits a nerve in me.

I know people for whom the medical bill invokes just as much fear as the illness they need treated.

Some just don’t go to the doctor. They strap on a drugstore knee wrap and wait tables, enduring the pain. Without health insurance, the therapy or surgery they need to bring relief is unattainable.

According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, a leading private health policy research organization, 47 million people in the United States under the age of 65 didn’t have health insurance in 2012.

Six in 10 of those people lived in households that had at least one full-time worker. Another 16 percent had a part-time worker in the family.

Most uninsured workers are self-employed or work for small businesses that are less likely to offer health benefits, the Kaiser Foundation says. Low-wage workers who are offered coverage often can’t afford to pay their share of the premiums, especially for family coverage.

People who have lost their jobs, account for about 30 percent of the uninsured.

Corporations have outsourced living-wage manufacturing jobs, and to the extent that they’ve been replaced, it’s often been with low-wage, no-benefit service employment.

The Kaiser Foundation adds that the number of uninsured people rose steadily throughout most of the past decade because of decreasing employer-sponsored insurance coverage and rising health care costs. The 2008 recession made the situation worse.

But to many people, these low-wage and unemployed workers are either invisible or undeserving.

I heard it again at the end of Congressman Sean Duffy’s Sept. 5 listening session in Hudson. A woman who appeared to be of Medicare and Social Security age said it might sound bad, but health care isn’t a right.

The statement always seems strange coming from a member of the pro-life party.

The irony of it is that the true deadbeats – to the extent that they exist – do receive free government medical care. It’s people trying to provide for themselves who are left wanting.

Duffy, by the way, tried to caution his supporters at the listening session that shutting down the government in an effort to defund the Affordable Care Act would be a loser – politically and tactically.

His preferred approach, he said, was to delay its implementation, and then kill it off a piece at a time.

“I want to inflict as much pain as possible,” he said regarding the law, apparently unaware that his actions would have the same effect on the uninsured.

He became indignant over the suggestion that Republicans don’t care about the poor. But he didn’t offer any meaningful ideas for insuring them – just a double-down on the trickle-down.

While Duffy had misgivings about the shutdown going in, he seems to be fully on board now. The former reality TV star has appeared numerous times on TV news networks – including FOX and MSNBC – supporting the Republican stand.

The Republican reaction to passage of the law wasn’t a surprise. Lord knows, the doomsday warnings about socialized medicine have been with us since Harry Truman’s fledgling effort to extend health insurance to the working poor of his day.

The enduring belligerence and anger over the law – to the point where people are willing to take down the government and crash the economy is confounding, however.

The Affordable Care Act has been the law of the land for three and a half years now, adopted in March 2010 when the Democrats controlled both houses of Congress and occupied the White House.

In 2012, Republican Mitt Romney made repeal of the law a chief promise of his presidential campaign, joined by virtually all the Republican congressional candidates. They thought they had a winner, and reacted in bitter disbelief when President Obama was re-elected by a healthy margin and the Democrats picked up seats in both the Senate and the House.

All the more amazing, Romney ran against a health care program he signed into law as governor of Massachusetts. The idea of the individual mandate was birthed in the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank, and promoted by Newt Gingrich, the speaker of the House the last time the Republicans shut down the government.

It isn’t just low-income people who benefit from the Affordable Care Act, either. If you’ve got money and a pre-existing condition like cancer or heart disease that prevents you from buying insurance on the open market – it’s wealth protection. The same goes for entrepreneurs.

Then there are the people who were living the American dream and lost their jobs, followed by their insurance, their health, their money, their house and their dignity. CNBC has reported that nearly 2 million people will file for bankruptcy this year because of unpaid medical bills.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. is remembered for saying, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”

Through the magic of the Internet, I’ve learned that King was restating a belief of Theodore Parker, a 19th century Unitarian minister and abolitionist.

“Look at the facts of the world. You see a continual and progressive triumph of the right. I do not pretend to understand the moral universe, the arc is long, my eye reaches but little ways … But from what I see, I am sure it bends towards justice,” Parker wrote in collection of sermons published in 1857. “Things refuse to be mismanaged long. Jefferson trembled when he thought of slavery and remembered that God is just. Ere long all America will tremble.”

I hope King and Parker were right. I hope we’re moving toward justice.

Randy Hanson

Randy Hanson has reported for the Star-Observer since 1997. He came to Hudson after 11 years with the Inter-County Leader at Frederic, and eight years of teaching social studies. He’s a graduate of UW-Eau Claire.

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