RURAL ROUTES/Margot Ford McMillen

Expect Voters to Think?

It’s taking me a while to adjust to the latest election results here in Missouri. My husband reacted much faster. “We’re moving to Canada,” he said.

He says that after nearly every election.

But we stay, and now we’re one of the test cases for the results of the question, “Shall the statutes be amended to deny the government authority to penalize citizens for refusing to purchase private health insurance or infringe upon the right to offer or accept direct payment for lawful health care services?”

Voters that said no thought they were voting on a translation like: “Whoa, Nellie! We need to really understand the US Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act does before we opt out.”

Voters that said yes to Missouri’s Heatlthcare Freedom Act (ain’t that a great title?) thought the “Shall the …” question could be translated “Take America Back!”

Indeed, we got the mailings from both Ds and Rs. Some I won’t dignify by repeating, but the quotable said, “Stand up to President Obama! Fight for our Families! Stop the Bailouts! Protect Our Rights!”

I was in the capitol the day when the anti-Obamacare movement started here. I heard panicky crowds stomping as legislators said that we’d be assigned doctors and have to wait for service, pay for death panels to decide if Granny was a goner, and, worst of all, live in a place where our tax dollars pay for abortions. I heard it, but I didn’t believe it would stick. I certainly didn’t believe the legislature would get this on the ballot within three months of the end of session, before there could really be thoughtful debate and discussion.

In fact, I was in the capitol that day to support a proposal to raise corporate taxes on chemical companies. Taxpayers cover the costs of cleanup, and water users pay for new additives to filter the water, but the corporate tax rate in Missouri is lower than any other state. If those anti-bailout guys had thought about it, they’d have helped on our issue.

But thoughtfulness — that’s too much to expect in this electrically charged and rechargeable society. With an app on a portable phone that spins the globe to reveal the latest military uprising, mass murder, kidnapping, plane crash, forest fire, a catastrophe every second, we can’t be expected to sit down, read, and think about an entire health care plan. We’ll just take it from the radio announcer, try to remember what he said, and bellow it back at our family.

One of my politico friends, a much smarter observer than I, says the “Shall …” sentence won’t change anything, but that this election is the shape of things to come. In every election from now on, there will be a divisive and incendiary issue to get voters to the polls. Indeed, there’s already an initiative on the ballot for November that will bring out the angry ones. The plan isn’t to settle things, but to elect for one side or the other the most reckless politicians.

I’m accustomed to the language of the pissed-off Missourian. He’s an insecure and fickle fellow, recovering from one wound after another. When he feels threatened, he bolts a flag to the front gate of the house or the bed of the pickup truck. After 9/11, the flag was Old Glory. When Obama was nominated, it was the stars and bars, rebel flag. When the federal health care plan passed, somebody sold a bale of Missouri flags to flap proudly in the breeze. The flags are code for that old fervor for state’s rights, Missouri’s excuse for the Civil War.

Wars are never over, dear reader. The residual issues stick around for generations, popping up at the slightest whisper of the old words. Wars, especially the civil kind, are passed from parent to child, and that’s good reason to stay out of them.

At best, passing Proposition C means that the US and Missouri’s attorney general will be in court for a good many years, lawyers dithering over whether the long question (“Shall the,” etc.) really means anything and whether a state can ignore a federal program. It means Missouri will miss chances to participate in the design of the system, which will take a good long time. It means millions spent in tax money at a time when our services, educational programs, prisons are all being sold to the highest bidder and rented back with the payment of tax dollars by us.

At worst, our passage of Prop C could mean loss of funds for preventive care, and for clinics in rural communities. It could mean that we’ll live in a state where insurance companies can still cancel or turn down insurance on the basis of pre-existing conditions.

At the very worst, it could mean that the entire federal system goes down, state by state, as scared people vote against the plan.

Canada’s looking better with every election.

Margot Ford McMillen farms and teaches English at a college in Fulton, Mo. Email:

From The Progressive Populist, September 1, 2010

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