Budget Director Mick Mulvaney addresses an audience Thursday. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)
In the last few days, among the shotgun approach to trying to distract people from the utter mess that the 45th President has created, one of the most wonderful comments — and I say that with the deepest sarcasm — is the comment made by Mick Mulvaney in Palo Alto. Mulvaney was asked by an audience member at Stanford University’s Light Forum if he agreed with the “Jimmy Kimmel” test, that “no family should be denied medical care, emergency or otherwise, because they can’t afford it.”
As reported by the Washington Examiner:
He said the debate centered on whether others should pay the burden of paying for someone’s healthcare.
“That doesn’t mean we should take care of the person who sits at home, eats poorly and gets diabetes. Is that the same thing as Jimmy Kimmel’s kid? I don’t think that it is.”
Ah, yes. The concept of ‘good sickness’ vs ‘bad sickness.’ The ‘good cripple’ vs the ‘bad cripple.’ The pious and the undeserving. The righteous and the damned. What an American concept.
The immediate response of most of us is to respond with why our particular illness doesn’t count as one of the ‘bad’ illnesses, that what happened to us doesn’t count, that we deserve health care. While that is an understandable response, it is absolutely the wrong one, and it plays directly into the narrative being perpetuated by people like Mulvaney, that there are good sick people and bad sick people, and the good sick people, the ones who are sick only by no fault of their own, are the only ones whose health care is truly deserved.
The author, being both a good cripple and a bad cripple at the same time.
What’s stunning about this is not that the dialogue is happening, or that the idea is being repeated over and over again, that only the good sick people deserve care. What’s stunning is how blatant the statements of good vs bad are becoming. Usually, the language is a little more coded, a little less fatphobic — or if it is fatphobic, it’s coded in concern, that we’re concerned about your life expectancy — but the Trump presidency and all of the people involved in the administration have simply abandoned all coded language. Here we are: good vs bad, and — hint. sooner or later, all of us are going to somehow end up on the “bad” list.
This is a constant conversation in the disability community: we cannot allow ourselves to be divided into the ‘good cripples’ and ‘bad cripples.’ I am not a ‘good cripple’ because my celiac is genetic any more than I am a ‘bad cripple’ because I pushed myself into prediabetes during the time when I was waiting for spinal surgery by eating lots of junk food and not getting any exercise. All of us become Schroedinger’s Cripple, then, and our lives become open to investigation in the name of determining whether or not we ‘deserve’ health care. Did we eat too much junk food? Too much delivery? Did we not walk our recommended steps in a day? Did we sleep too much? Then we get into justifications: but I worked eleven hours that day, trying to afford my student loan payments. But hypersomnia is a side effect of my celiac.
It is not an accounting from which any of us would emerge worthy, ever.
The willingness of humans to say ‘but I’m not like those bad fatties/bad cripples’ when these conversations come up is very understandable — it’s a sort of flinch reflex, guarding against an overt attack — but we cannot ever accept that line of thinking. If we allow it to start, the moral reasons for denying healthcare to Americans for one reason or another will not stop. If the insurance industry has proven one thing, ever, in the entirety of their existence, it is that they will consistently look for reasons to deny care. We cannot give them another set of reasons, and we cannot collude with them.
There is no such thing as a ‘good’ sick person, one who doesn’t deserve it due to some sort of moral cleanliness that makes their illness only tragic. That’s because there is no such thing as a ‘bad’ sick person, either. There are only people who are sick or injured. The literally Puritanical ideal of disease as a punishment for sin/not taking care of yourself/same thing is not a thing we can feed into as part of our response to this.
The answer to someone like Mulvaney is “it doesn’t matter why someone got sick. What matters is that they’re sick, and a sick human being deserves to be taken care of, regardless of why they are sick. We refuse to be divided into good cripples and bad cripples. We all deserve care.”