A Brief Rant – Read a Book, Joe Wilon

I didn’t watch Obama’s speech last night, partially because I was passed out sick (those parasites take a long time to die), partially because I’m already convinced that whatever Obama pushes is the best feasible option for health care reform, and partially because I’m sickened by the prospect of what that “best feasible option” likely actually is. Like everyone else, though, I’ve been following last night’s “big news,” which is, of course, Congressman Joe Wilson’s verbal outburst, telling Obama “You lie!” when the President announced his plan wouldn’t cover undocumented immigrants. While I’ve been trying all morning to share a few choice thoughts with Mr. Wilson, his website appears to have crashed from high traffic, so in an effort at mental catharsis I am posting them here.

I am not – repeat, not – particularly offended that a congressman would have the audacity to heckle a sitting President during a speech to Congress. While the sheer lunacy of Republicans (calling healthcare reform Nazism, for example) puts this sentiment to the test, I generally believe that we shouldn’t overly resign ourselves to respectful, silent awe of our leaders. I rather prefer the British model, where the Prime Minister has to stand weekly and be badgered from all angles and all issues, decorum be damned.

No, what annoys me far more is the moral inconsistency and factual inaccuracy that underlie the position behind Wilson’s verbal expulsion. I’ll deal with the former first. Even if we accept that undocumented aliens are “criminals,” does that really exclude them from health care? After all, we provide health care to those we incarcerate and (at least, supposedly) even provide health care to “illegal enemy combatants” and prisoners of war. While I shudder to think of how Wilson would respond to this point—frankly, I imagine it’s more likely he would say “no” to health care for all the aforementioned groups—I think that our particular obsession with not giving health care to immigrants is a bit out of line with our general social consensus about health care being a right for all.

Of course, the crux of the issue is the Republican terror that offering health care to immigrants will create an incentive for them to come here, breaking the law (something no one worries about with members of the Taliban). While I personally find this argument to be stupid beyond all reason, a cursory engagement with some “facts” would probably be more helpful for Wilson than to hear me tell him he’s an idiot. First off, coming to the United States is physically very challenging and dangerous, which is why nearly anyone who has looked at the demographic composition of undocumented immigrants has discovered that they are generally young, healthy individuals, despite sensationalized reports of migrants carrying tuberculosis and AIDS into the United States.* Most importantly, migrants simply do not come to the United States to take advantage of social services: a statistically negligible proportion of migrants in one study reported interest in tapping health care or welfare benefits as their motivation for coming to the U.S.** Migrants come to work, plain and simple, and tend to keep their heads down otherwise (part of why their crime rate – when immigration violations are factored out – is also low).

Once Wilson’s website is back up, I’ll send this along. Of course, none of these arguments—particularly the ones I am supporting using social science research—have any significance in the public debate. I’m okay with screaming at a wall, if the alternative is to be silent, though.

*Doug Massey, 2002, “Beyond Smoke and Mirrors.”
**Berk, Marc, Claudia Schur, Leo Chavez and Martin Frankel, 2000, “Health Care Use Among Undocumented Latino Immigrants.”

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