September 22, 2020

Joe Rogers: Optimists vs. pessimists

Psychological theories abound on why conservatives and liberals think differently.

One, for example, holds that conservatives are more intuitive, and liberals more analytical.

Another contends that “conservatives tend to see the world as dangerous and threatening, whereas liberals generally see society as a place of safety and cooperation.”

My theory is simpler: Conservatives are pessimists. Liberals are optimists.

Take health care insurance. It’s been on my mind of late, for various reasons. One is that much of the non-Russia news out of Washington has been about feckless Republican efforts to “repeal and replace” Obamacare.

Maybe I shouldn’t be so harsh. They’ve only had seven years to come up with a plan.

Another reason is that, as of the publication date of this column, I am 339 days away from qualifying for Medicare, the federal health insurance plan primarily for those 65 and older.

Here’s my thought on that: I shouldn’t have to wait. Nobody should. The most equitable approach to health coverage would be to extend Medicare to all ages.

So I posed a simple question to my friends who oppose doing that:

Why?

Responses were not surprising, and fell into several broad categories:

  1. Health care is not a proper role for government.

“Folks should take care of themselves, not depend on government,” as one fellow put it. As it happens, that fellow is on Medicare, but he noted that he had paid for that right (which I assume he opposes) through payroll deductions. That points to another objection:

  1. It wouldn’t be fair.

“Since I have paid into it since I was 17 years old I plan to take full advantage in a couple of years,” one woman said. “However, I don’t think that someone who isn’t old enough to have paid in much should be able to tap into it.”

Then there was the ineptitude argument:

  1. Government couldn’t be trusted to administer the program.

“Bureaucratic incompetence, waste, fraud and abuse as part of a government program are slam-dunk guarantees,” said another fellow, who characterized Medicare as “failing.”

Hmmm. Sounds vaguely familiar…

None of the criticism, as I said, surprised me. I have a lot of conservative friends, and they do not hold the government in high esteem. As pessimists, they expect the worst from it, and consistently vote for politicians who reliably prove them right.

Their arguments all come down to this: bad things would result.

And it’s true, extending Medicare for all would not be without myriad complications, even if the political forces were in place to give it a try. And I concede they are not, though support seems to be growing, beyond just Bernie Sanders.

Another (easy) concession: As long as there is a Republican congressional majority, Medicare-for-all is about as likely as Jane Fonda on the Supreme Court.

But this is where my optimism kicks in: Pendulums swing in both directions and a reversal will come.

Pretty much every other developed country has some sort of national health coverage, pays less per capita than we do, and gets better health results.

We have a start in the right direction with Medicare. It just needs some adjusting.

It’ll happen. I’m optimistic.

 

Joe Rogers worked for The Clarion-Ledger, The Tennessean and The New York Times. He can be reached at jrogink@gmail.com or on Twitter @jrogink.