Think Progress has a couple of posts up today about Republican politicians, when directly asked if they think President Obama is a socialist, admitting that he’s, you know, not. House Minority Leader John Boehner’s interview is especially telling:
GREGORY: Do you really think the President is a socialist?
BOEHNER: Listen, when you begin to look at how much they want to grow government, you can call it whatever you want, but the fact is —
GREGORY: What do you call it though?
BOEHNER: This is unsustainable. We’re broke.
GREGORY: That’s fine. Do you think the President is a socialist?
The tone with which Boehner says “no” is, to my ear, exasperation: of course we all know that the President of the United States is not actually a socialist. But it serves the Republican party to spread the lie that he is, because they count on two things: 1) People not knowing what “socialist” means, and 2) Never being asked point blank if they think it’s true. These factors are intertwined: the idea is, anyone informed enough to know that Obama isn’t a socialist won’t bother asking point blank, because we (where “we” includes the lying politicians) all know it’s not true. The people who don’t know that won’t ask, either, because they assume they are not being taken for a ride by the people who give them their news. When asked, point blank, by someone who’d normally fall in the “us” category, Boehner has no choice: he has to answer no.
This connection might be tenuous, but stay with me. Fatshionista’s Lesley (who, let’s face it, is a total rock star when it comes to being both pithy and right) wrote an awesomely spot-on post today about health care and personal responsibility, in which she, too, suggests we quit the bullshit and ask, point blank, what people really mean:
In fact, I have a better idea, one that would likewise save the industry quite a bit of money in healthcare costs.
Let’s just punish all sick people.
Should healthcare only be made available to the virtuous and conventionally-attractive among us? Or to people who aren’t poor and who can therefore afford such things as quality food and gym memberships? Would you argue that only people who are well-educated, or people who are Christian, or people who are able-bodied should get full insurance coverage? Should healthcare only be offered to people who have never failed to report a symptom that resulted in a late diagnosis of a treatable disease? Is healthcare only for people who get themselves screened for breast cancer or colon cancer or prostate cancer at the appropriate ages and as often as recommended?
Is healthcare only for the physically perfect and morally pure?
These questions are a natural extension of the suggestion to restrict the coverage and punish the millions of Americans who qualify as being under that questionable umbrella of “obesity”, for having no self control or discipline, because this argument’s proponents also tend to accept the fallacy that fatness is easily enough managed with a little motivation. And what the “charge fat people more!” comments really come down to, in plain English, is people expressing that they don’t want to pay for certain people’s healthcare because they just don’t like those people.
I know some people get angry when we talk here about debunking stereotypes about fat people, because it tends (especially for the fatphobic people who toss around those stereotypes easily) to spawn discussions about good fatties and bad fatties, or regular fatties and “really fat” fatties — and if we’re fighting for the civil rights of all fat people, then why do we need to say “Most fat people aren’t like X,” when we believe it would be okay if they were? The fact is, we’re very sympathetic to that line of thinking; we are achingly aware of the fact that every time we say “Most fat people don’t eat five pizzas a day,” there is probably someone out there thinking, “Well, how many pizzas do I get to eat before I count as a bad fatty, Miss Most Fatties Aren’t So Bad?”
But what today’s various posts about socialism and health care and fat have reminded me is that it is next to useless to debate with someone who doesn’t share your terms, who doesn’t mean the same thing by “socialism” or “obese” that you do. Why do Republican politicians work so hard to spread the idea that Obama is a socialist? Because to a lot of people, “socialist” is a slur, even though to a lot of other people, it’s a legitimate political philosophy that, in fact, still influences geopolitics. To some people, “fat” is a horrible insult, and they’ll do anything to convince you (and themselves) that they don’t really mean you, or you’re chubby but you’re not obese, or what have you. Here is a list of some things that some people would categorize as offensive slurs, but which I don’t mind being used to describe me from a friendly party:
Here’s a list of some words that I still can’t believe are used as insults, because the conditions they describe are not self-evidently negative to me:
As in, I can’t imagine that everyone who uses those words as insults has actually thought through what they’re saying. Don’t get me wrong; there are people out there who trade in absolute hatred, and who get off on the power they have to demean others. I’m not talking about those people here. I’m talking, instead, about people who may not realize their own privilege or how soaked their language is with it. I’m talking about the people who say “That’s so retarded” and when I say “You know, my brother is retarded,” they apologize because they never thought about who they mean when they say that. I’m talking about people who say “Fat people are going to drop dead any second,” and when you say “Even this fat person? And this one?” they realize they were picturing the archetypal Headless Fatty*. The people who claim that the obesity epidemic (booga x 2) is ruining all our lives, and you say “This obesity epidemic?” they say “Shut up, those people aren’t even fat.” There are people out there who are open to the idea that Words Mean Things, and that they might not know everything already.
I don’t think being a socialist is a bad thing. But I also don’t think that President Obama is a socialist. Those are two things that both need debunking, and I don’t think their debunkings have to be mutually exclusive. Disingenuous people are taking advantage of widespread misconceptions and prejudices and using them to argue something they wouldn’t dare say out loud** if asked point blank: (socialism is un-American) + (Obama is a secret socialist) = “Obama is not a real American.” When they are asked, point blank, about their premises, by someone who knows what they’re trying to do, their logic unravels.
People who argue that fatties are all sick*** and deserving of the death they brought on themselves by eating so many baby donuts are relying on the undercurrents of fatphobia and ableism that aren’t always visible to people who have certain privileges. But when you ask, as Lesley does, “So do you think we should punish sick people?” — well, god help us, but I’d like to think that some of them would answer “No.”
*Who, of course, is still not guaranteed to drop dead from being fat.
**Well, some of them.
***That’s why it’s “morbidly” obese, after all!