Lamar Alexander says something really racist even by GOP standards

This week, Lamar Alexander (R-TN) — apparently unsatisfied with the GOP’s moderate steps of submerging the healthcare debate into a pit of hysterical accusations and blatant lies — upped his game and launched into a risible rant about Medicaid being a “Medical ghetto.” You know, to spice up things. Because, as Jed says, “what would a healthcare debate be without some good ol’ fashioned race-baiting from the GOP?”

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If one can fight through the horror house of latent and overt racism jam-packed into Alexander’s statement, another new obstacle of ignorance emerges. Sure, the Senator was probably using race-related language to portray Medicaid as another welfare program exploited by black people, and he later suggested Democrats want to steal from grandmothers to give the spoils to — you guessed it — more black people. But there’s even more stupidity here.

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Not only is it apparent that the Senator has no interaction with black folk on a daily basis, but it also doesn’t seem like he understands that poor people (of all colors) rely on Medicaid, and without it, they would be in real trouble. More than ever, Americans need government assistance not because they’re lazy, but because they’re working harder for less, and healthcare is unaffordable to millions of them.

It is estimated that approximately 60 percent of poor Americans are not covered by Medicaid. Blacks made up less than 30 percent of all Medicaid recipients, and only 28 percent of blacks received Medicaid (U.S. Bureau of the Census 1995). But rather than work to expand coverage to help 50 million uninsured Americans, or prevent the 45,000 annual deaths linked to lack of insurance, Alexander criticizes the meager safety net provided to an estimated 40 percent of poor Americans.

Basically, the system is broken, and while Alexander spouts venom from his podium, and desperately tries to divert the nation’s attention to the latest red herring, the City on the Hill’s infrastructure crumbles behind him.

The Senator paints a pretty grim picture of a post-apocalyptic America after the government “[dumps] 15 million low income Americans into a Medical Ghetto called Medicaid that none of us, or any of our families would ever want to be a part of for our health care.”

What Alexander either doesn’t know, or refuses to say, is that millions of Americans would love to have government-provided healthcare. They just don’t qualify for it, or it doesn’t cover all of their needs.

For example, a few hours before Alexander’s remarks, thousands of Arkansans convened at the Statehouse Convention Center for a mass free health clinic, the first of its kind in Little Rock.

The clinic, organized by the National Association of Free Clinics, aimed to serve more than 1,225 Arkansans. As of 5:30 p.m. more than 800 people had been seen by nurses and doctors, according to Nicole Lamoreaux, executive director of the Association.

But perhaps this display of poor, desperate people seeking free medical attention isn’t enough to sway the good Senator’s anti-Medicaid stance. Perhaps he requires a local example.

This summer, Remote Area Medical, a non-profit, volunteer relief corps dedicated to providing free health care, dental care, eye care, veterinary services, and technical and educational assistance to people in remote areas of the United States and the world, set up a free health clinic at Cocke County High School in East Tennessee.

Though registration would not officially start until Friday, and the doors would not open until Saturday, pre-registration had already filled up by Thursday, and the sessions were full (with a waiting list) before the clinic was ready to see patients.

This kind of turn-out isn’t unusual, Stan Brock, the founder of RAM told me by phone on his way to the high school.

We’re probably going to see people in the 700-800 range, which for us is a small turnout. At our larger clinics, we’ll give out 1500 numbers to patients during the course of the night because they come and they wait all night for these services. At the end of a weekend, we will have seen several thousand people. We’ve got one coming up in Los Angeles in eight days, and my guess if that there we’ll probably see many thousands of people by the time we’re finished there.

And yet the state’s leadership, Alexander, depicts government assistance as some kind of unseemly burden — a “medical ghetto” — that poor people are better without. I’d love to see the Senator convince the 700-800 people, who turned out for this one small health clinic, that they’re better off without an expansion of Medicare, or Medicaid.

But that’s just one clinic. Surely, the whole state can’t be full of poor, desperate people, right? (h/t Jill)

Let’s get into the deets: 25% of the people of Tennessee are in TennCare which is TN’s Medicaid program — it’s one of the highest percentages in the nation.

Poor people are dying because they can’t afford healthcare, and the GOP’s only answer to the desperate cries from their constituents is to play more games with unbearably trite rhetorical tricks.

However, credit where credit is due. Alexander is right about one thing: Americans are currently living in a medical ghetto. Except, this one was built by private insurance companies and upheld by the government.


  1. rocketboy

    Ms. Kilkenny,
    Isn’t seeing the word Ghetto, and only seeing non-whites in your minds eye, racist in itself? Do you know if Mr. Alexander specifically intended to only refer to non-whites, or does he have a history of actual (not interpreted) racist behaviors?

    You may not agree with his characterization of publicly funded health care, but to call him a racist because of how you interpreted his words, is a rather terrible assumption.

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