March 11, 2010

My generation, part 2

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , at 10:59 pm by chavisory

During the 2008 primary campaigns, one of the things that swayed me severely away from Hillary Clinton and towards Obama was what I perceived as a really pernicious and mean spirited anti-youth bias in her rhetoric and campaigning.  I tell this anecdote a lot, so forgive me if you’ve heard this particular complaint…In 2006, I was in Juilliard’s stage management internship, and also working opening shifts at Starbucks to make ends meet.  So here’s how my days would go: I woke up at 3:30 AM, caught the 4:00 train downtown, my shift started at 4:45 and ended at 1:00 PM.  I got a venti almond mocha on my way out and went straight to the school, caught a half hour nap at my desk and then finished up the previous day’s paperwork and e-mails before rehearsals started at 4:00 PM.  Got home around 11:00 PM if lucky.  Did it again the next day.

Anyway, on my Starbucks lunch break on one of these days (which occurred around 9:30 or 10:00 AM, when you’ve started a shift before 5:00), I read in the paper something that Clinton had said in her speech to the US Chamber of Commerce:

“We have a lot of kids who don’t know what work means.  They think work is a 4-letter word.”

I had worked a 20-hour day, on the day that she said that.

During a campaign speech at Rhode Island College, she sneered:

“Now, I could stand up here and say, ‘Let’s just get everybody together. Let’s get unified. The sky will open. The light will come down. Celestial choirs will be singing, and everyone will know we should do the right thing and the world will be perfect.’  Maybe I’ve just lived a little long, but I have no illusions about how hard this is going to be.”

It was a blatantly nasty attack both on Obama’s relative youth, and on the hope of his younger supporters that the political environment could ever actually be made better.  Oh, those stupid kids, they think we’ll just sprinkle some fairy dust and it’ll be all better.

It continued, and continues, through the health care debate.  In favor of the individual mandate that was the centerpiece of both Romney and Clinton’s plans, and of the current Senate health insurance bill (I refuse to call it a health care reform bill), the utterly predominant argument is that “young healthy people think they’re invincible and they just won’t buy insurance unless they’re compelled to.”

Salon.com did it here, and even Obama picked up Clinton’s rhetoric in this speech last year on health care reform.
“Now, even if we provide these affordable options, there may be those — especially the young and the healthy — who still want to take the risk and go without coverage….The problem is, such irresponsible behavior costs all the rest of us money.”

It’s one of my biggest disappointments in Obama so far, that he’s adopted this viewpoint with no apparent thought about what he’s actually saying about the young voters who fought for him.
No one in the media questions this; they just say it.  It’s gospel.  I haven’t heard anyone in Congress dare to contradict it.
But it’s false, and it’s bigotry.
Everyone, and I mean everyone, of roughly my age in my work and social circles, is perfectly, glaringly aware of the financial havoc that a medical emergency or prolonged illness could make of their lives.  If they have reasonably affordable insurance through their employer, they’re thankful, and if they don’t, then they’re jealous.   A lot of us don’t have insurance because we’re freelancers and fall into the income black hole wherein individual insurance is totally unaffordable but we make too much to qualify for the state’s low-income plan, and rely on other sources of affordable care (there are several clinics here which offer care on a sliding fee scale, a couple of the major hospitals do, and one clinic which provides basic/preventative care for professional performing artists for free).  But I have never, never, heard anyone in my age bracket say “yeah, you know, I just don’t think I need insurance.  I’m young and healthy.”
We know perfectly well that we’re playing Russian roulette.  We know what the risks are.  But we don’t have a lot of better options.  We are being blamed for being selfish, greedy, and shortsighted, for acting in the only way we can afford to because of economic circumstances that we did not create.
Nobody says that maybe young adults aren’t buying health insurance because decent plans are unaffordable or their employment is insecure.  It must just be that we don’t know what’s good for us.
So, our elected leaders and policy makers think this way about us, and they have no qualms about asserting it, with no fact-based backup, without really knowing anything about the lives we’re trying to lead.  It’s casually acceptable among politicians and the media to bash young adults for political gain–to make these kinds of insulting and baseless statements with no support and no challenge.  What other group would they find it okay to talk about this way?
What are our chances of having our interests fairly represented, when this view of us is taken for granted?
And how did it get this way, from the excitement and high expectations for the “Class of 2000” when we were kindergarteners, to the almost unchallenged assumption that we’re the careless, cheapskate, selfish dimwits depicted in the health care debate?  What happened?
{To be continued}
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4 Comments »

  1. Catherine said,

    Preach it, girl.

  2. MinaMinaMina said,

    This makes me very angry. As a (fairly) young parent who has only recently become responsible for another life (yeah, no big deal, right?) I am appalled that they would base such statements on ASSUMPTION. When I was single, working full-time and had the opportunity to purchase medical benefits through my employer, the bottom-line was not whether I WANTED to get health insurance or not, it was CAN I AFFORD THIS??? Even as a single individual, I was keenly aware of how important it was to have medical insurance. Albeit, I was still very naive as to HOW medical insurance policies were applied and copays and deductibles and such worked, I still understood that if I could afford it working 40 hours a week at $7.27/hr that I would definitely make the sacrifice.

    The problem is NOT that we are cheapskates. The problem is healthcare costs are unbelievable to start with! I have lost jobs and gotten that dreadful COBRA rights letter, only to find that, not only had I just lost my job AND my medical benefits, AND my 401k, but if I wanted to continue my medical benefits, it would cost me almost 3X’s what I was paying. I have not seen a COBRA letter offer me premiums under $700/mo. What individual on unemployment (if I was lucky I qualified for unemployment) can afford that??

    The entire healthcare system needs to be debunked for all the things that are wrong with it. We, the YOUNG individuals, are not the problem, lo! how rebellious young adolescent as it sounds, but, rather the entire system is the problem. This perception that we are irresponsible and reckless with our health is simply a perception. That does not mean it is true.

  3. Emma said,

    Maybe they’re using this point on purpose so the fence-sitters will see what a flimsy argument it is and be more likely to come to the side of medical insurance reform.

  4. chavisory said,

    Mina–what makes me really mystified is not that so many people say these things without thinking, since I’m pretty sure every generation tends to think the younger one is clueless and hopelessly coddled. It’s that they get away with it without question. No one from our generation speaks up to contradict them. Are we just not paying attention? Do we have so little faith that anyone will listen? Have too many of us internalized the insults so much that we actually believe them, or just don’t even hear them anymore?

    And your relatively young parenthood makes another great point–I think these politicians and talking heads are working off a stereotype of a 20-something, single, childless, well-educated and comfortably employed person who’d rather spend their money on going out every night and buying flat-screen TV’s than on health insurance they won’t use. But a HUGE proportion of people my age are PARENTS! I didn’t even realize until I got on facebook, because people in my rough social milieu and profession in NYC tend to marry and start families MUCH later, largely because of the oppressive cost of living here. I was stunned, though I shouldn’t have been, at how many of our high school classmates are already parents. Historically speaking, you’re NOT relatively young for parenthood; you’re perfectly average. But that’s not being acknowledged in the health care debate–that lots of the “healthy young people” being accused of just not thinking they need health insurance are not flighty young singles without a care in the world, but PARENTS!


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