Today the Supreme Court will begin to hear a constitutional challenge to the Affordable Care Act. I don’t know how to talk about this without coming across as unbearably self-righteous, but mainly I just want to know that someone else knows what I’m talking about! Here’s the situation.
The ACA is what is making my family’s life tolerable right now. My husband and I are both self-employed, and even when one or the other of us worked for some company that offered employer-sponsored insurance, we couldn’t afford it. So, except for me when I was pregnant, we both went for nearly two decades without health insurance, and therefore with very little health care. This meant we always had the choice between risking bodily or financial ruin. We got away with it, more or less, because we were young. Now we are both 45, and the ACA, and the expanded Medicaid it funded in our state, came along just in time to save our bacon as we begin the long downhill slide into decrepitude.
So I am following these hearings with fatalistic interest — interest because the decrepitude is speeding up, and fatalistic because there is nothing I can do about what the court decides. If the ACA is found unconstitutional and repealed, all I can do is petition my state reps to work out something else. That’s not nothing, but it’s not much.
Here’s the part I’m having trouble conveying without sounding crazy. Several of my more liberal friends openly insisted that I oppose the nomination of Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court specifically because they believed she would certainly favor ACA repeal. They made it clear that I was doing something bad to vulnerable people by not taking a stand against Barrett. And never mind that there was literally nothing I could do to change the course of events — and that events were by no means set in stone. The question of whether or not the ACA is constitutional was deemed irrelevant on the grounds that it’s very hard to be poor; and the fact that I know what it’s like to be poor just made my point of view more offensive in their eyes. I offended them just by not being personally angry at Amy.
I have a confession to make: I think the ACA is unconstitutional. Or it may be. I don’t really know, because I am a housewife who knows how to type, and those are my qualifications to speak on the topic of constitutional law. I very much hope our legislators find a way, with or without Barrett, to keep the ACA in place. I hope the courts decide it is constitutional, or that they can preserve the constitutional part that is useful to poor people. But I also hope that Supreme Court justices see it as their job to figure out whether something is constitutional or not! I’m really attached to this idea!
There is no power on earth or under heaven that will keep you from instructing me, in the comments, about why I’m wrong about constitutional law, so go ‘head. But that’s not really my point. My first point is that I would never vote for a president based solely on the likelihood that he will appoint a judge who is likely to make a decision that I think will benefit me. This is partly because there are too many variables in play, and I’d much rather vote based on things that are indisputable, rather than things that are hypothetical.
But my primary point is that that every adult should vote against his self interest from time to time, and I will never stop being dumbfounded at how many people can’t accept this as normal, everyday virtuous American behavior. When I say, “I think so-and-so will happen, and that will likely hurt me, but thus-and-such is indisputably true, so I’m going to proceed based on that,” people look at me like I’m some kind of moron, and the want to argue with me that so-and-so will be BAD for me, BAD, you see. But I don’t make all my decisions on whether they will be bad for me or not, because I am not a psychopath.
Don’t think I’m saying it’s only liberals who make these arguments. Conservatives do the exact same thing, just for different issues, and they’re just as baffled that I would ever vote for someone who has promised to do something that might hurt me.
Am I missing something? Didn’t it used to be a quintessentially American thing that we cared about what was right, even if it wasn’t personally good for us? Didn’t there used to be such a thing as ideals that are separate from self-interest? Or am I laboring under some kind of penumbra of American Catholic masochism, wherein things that are hard and unpleasant automatically seem more virtuous? Or what?
I already know that I’m some kind of impossibly starry-eyed idealist because I still care about the separation of powers. Whatever. All I know is people I used to respect are straight up making arguments like “This vote is necessary to protect my stocks” or “I heavily depend on the coal industry, so I’m proud to give him my vote.”
Don’t misunderstand. I get making compromises. I can’t remember the last time I went through a day without making compromises, political and otherwise. But I don’t get being okay with it. I don’t get pretending like it’s not a compromise. Making compromises should make you unhappy, either because it hurts your conscience or it hurts your bottom line. Voting should make you unhappy! Why aren’t more of you people unhappy? That’s what gets me.
Maybe we really should be restricting who gets to vote — not based on land ownership or bank accounts or education, but based on your ability to even consider voting against your own self interest. Maybe voter registration should be designed like one of those wretched social experiments they perform on kids: You can eat this piece of candy now, or you can give two pieces of candy to your mommy. Except your mommy is the constitution, and the candy is your self-respect.
Listen, whatever party you belong to is going to screw you over eventually, because that is what parties do. If you think your party is going to always help you out all the time, that’s a sign you’ve become an absolute amoeba, and have simply learned how to brainwash your own self into believing good is bad. Voting against your self-interest is like swallowing something prickly because you’ve been gorging on pudding so long, you’re in danger of forgetting how to chew. Snap out of it! Especially if you make a big deal about honoring the founding fathers. It’s as if people think the point of democracy is so everyone gets their chance to be their very own King George III.
Voting against your self-interest reminds you that no system will save you. The constitution won’t save you, either. But at least it’s something outside of yourself. You do remember there’s something outside yourself, right?
Remember the scene in The Silver Chair, when Puddleglum stamped on the witch’s fire, and the children woke right up? He broke the spell partly because the magic fire was out, but also partly because the room now smelled like burnt Puddleglum. That’s what democracy should smell like: A nice, pungent stink of self-sacrificial burning flesh, that breaks the trance and reminds us we’re not in paradise here and never will be. More Puddleglum, please.