Early Friday morning, John McCain, Susan Collins, and Lisa Murkowski killed a last-ditch and particularly troublesome attempt to repeal Obamacare. And though they deserve credit for their votes, it’s a mistake to anoint them heroes. We are setting the bar abysmally low if making the only sane, humane choice is considered heroic; and these senators have not shown that they are allies in the fight to expand the American safety net—in fact, quite the opposite.
Obamacare’s real saviors have been dragged out of wheelchairs, arrested, and assaulted for weeks. They are, as you would expect, the people who stand to lose the most if Obamacare is repealed. They are people with disabilities: activists associated with ADAPT, and the unaffiliated individuals and carers who came forward to share their experiences and to demand better from the GOP.
Disability rights activists are accustomed to radical direct action. They used activism to pass the Americans with Disabilities Act and to achieve greater parity in public life—at institutions like Gallaudet University, for example, which despite being a school for the deaf and hard-of-hearing did not have a deaf president until students staged a week-long protest in 1988. And throughout this year’s health care debate, people with disabilities worked with able-bodied activists to stage the sort of spectacle necessary to cut through the endless spectacle produced by Donald Trump’s White House. They’ve made it much more difficult for so-called “moderate Republicans” to carry out Mitch McConnell’s latest assault on health care.
It is difficult to overstate the stakes of this fight. People already die needless deaths in this country because they cannot afford health care access—and that’s with Obamacare on the books. The New York Post reports that last night in New York City, a couple jumped to their deaths because they could no longer bear health care costs:
“Patricia and I had everything in life,” the note read as it touched on the couple’s “financial spiral” and how “we can not live with” the “financial reality.”
The source added that a line of the note contained words to the effect: “’We both have medical issues, we just can’t afford the health care.’”
They left two children behind. Meanwhile, political theater churns on. It is tempting to elevate heroes from the muck. But the real heroes were outside the Capitol, waiting, while John McCain urged reporters to “watch the show” he had prepared.