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I want to strangle stupid people who say stupid things about Obamacare

I want to strangle stupid people who say stupid things about Obamacare

Write for Advice

Dear Reader,

Right now I’m writing this column here on my own site on Tuesdays and Thursdays. You can bookmark to always find it. I’ll announce it on Facebook and Twitter whenever it goes up, and we’ll send out an email newsletter about it, too. Might miss a day or two here and there but that’s the schedule.

Since I left Salon some people have asked how they can contribute to see the column continue here on Norma and I are trying to figure all that stuff out. Your patience is appreciated as we weigh the options. We have plans. They’re just taking some time to work out.

Also, let’s not forget, I’m a writer, for heaven’s sake, and also a musician, so I’m enjoying my relative unemployment even though I’m probably not supposed to. I am also working all the time on other stuff that doesn’t pay money, just like the old days. Plucking my guitar, messing around with poems, etc.

So here’s the letter, something we can probably all relate to in some fashion:



Dear Cary,

I know that you overcame a health crisis of your own not long ago and I congratulate you on your valiant fight! Over the past decade, my husband Kevin and I have had several health issues including two back surgeries and a hip replacement for him and an emergency appendectomy and broken foot for me along with several smaller, but still costly illnesses. My husband lost his advertising job after Sept. 11 at 51 years old and we’ve been doing everything we can to right our ship. Unfortunately, between a significant loss of income and HUGE medical bills, we went through all of our retirement savings (~a quarter of a million dollars) before going through bankruptcy. We are down, but we are definitely not OUT!  We are regretful, but not full of self-pity. We are extremely focused on rebuilding.

My question for you is how can I keep from completely losing my shit when someone (usually at my office) makes a negative comment about Obamacare? It happened again last week and I blasted a coworker and shrieked, “DON’T YOU DARE BLAME IT ON OBAMACARE!!! I WENT THROUGH BANKRUPTCY ON GEORGE-BUSH-DOESN’T-GIVE-A-RAT’S-ASS-CARE.”

How can I either walk away or provide a cogent argument without sounding like an angry nut? I’d like to come up with something having to do with “What kind of a country do we want to be?” but I can’t stop seething long enough to sound reasonable.

Thank you, Cary.

Broke But Not Down

Dear Broke But Not Down,

Imagine somebody says something stupid and insulting and you’re about to scream but instead you say to the person, “Could I please have a minute of your time? In private.” And the person looks at you and goes, “Right now?” or maybe, “What for?” or just, “Whaaa?”

And you say, “Now would be fine. In private.”

I love to imagine this scene. It would play out all different ways for different groups. Like if it was a group of men, or a mixed group, or all women. If it was men it might be like asking a guy to step outside. But you just stick to the script. You just say, “Could I please have a minute of your time? In private.”

Now, maybe when the person says, “Why?” you say, “Once we are alone together and can talk in private, you will know why.” This introduces some mystery and suspense, making the person perhaps a tad curious. It’s less threatening than saying, “Because I want to beat your ass in private where there are no witnesses.”

In any case, if the person agrees, you go, together, to an empty conference room or outside on the street or to a cafe.

And while you are walking to this place you calm down just a little bit but you maintain your focus on the emotional energy that has been unleashed. And you maintain your focus on your own personal experience. For that is what is important here: to regain your equilibrium and some sense of personal validation by relating your personal experience and being heard. You’re not going to change any political opinions necessarily but you’re going to make a connection with another person. Now, this person may not like you. You can’t control that. But by taking this action, you have the upper hand, morally speaking. You get to do this. You get to be heard. You get your moment.

Or maybe instead of agreeing to meet with you in private the person says something insulting, like, “No, you cannot have a minute of my time,” or just something vaguely dismissive like, “Not now, maybe later.”

Now that would be a crucial moment, because people would be looking at you to see how you respond. Without preparation, you might not have anything to say back to that. But if you were prepared, you could say this:

“I will be in touch, and we will have some time together, and I am looking forward to our conversation.”

And then you walk away before the other person can say something to you that you would have no comeback for. You’ve stated that you and that person are going to meet in private and that’s that. You have the upper hand because you have stated a fact. And you’re out of there. And a question lingers in the air.

So, either right now, or eventually, you have a private chat with this person who said this thing.

In this private chat, you begin by saying that you were upset by this person’s words. You avoid saying that the person is a dumb shit or that her political beliefs are naive and uninformed. You just say that her words were hurtful to you because of your own personal experience, and then you ask if you can relate that personal experience. You tell what it was like to be forced into bankruptcy by medical bills.

You don’t ask the person to change her views. You just relate what it is like to be forced into bankruptcy by medical bills.

Because here is the thing about hearing a person’s story: If we are merely listening to someone’s story, we are not required to make political sense of it. We do not have to rebut it or try to fit it into our scheme. We can simply acknowledge the truth of it, and the truth of it is not about policy; the truth of it is emotional: Here is what happened to a person because of the lack of medical insurance.

Let’s think for a minute about why might it be so insulting to you that this person would say what she said. Can it be partly because what she touched on was not a matter of policy but a matter of personal hurt? Let’s say you’ve been through the Gulf War and you were wounded and I start going on about what a stupid, unjust war it was. You might agree with me in principle about the the war but still feel hurt and offended because it was your war; you went through that war and got blown up in it and that’s what’s real for you. So what I might say about it would feel like a transgression. It would feel like I don’t know what I’m talking about, because for you, that war is about your injury.

In the same way, the issue of health insurance is about what it feels like to be ruined financially. As with the person who went to a war he might not have believed in, you did what you thought was right. You didn’t shirk. You paid, just as a person who goes to war goes to war because that is the honorable action. So to hear others make political hay of it is personally offensive.

Perhaps in a private setting, if you tell your story, something like that might get across to this person. You did the right thing and were screwed, and scarred, and left with feelings of abandonment and betrayal.

There’s a larger picture here, too, in which all but the very richest of us have been abandoned and betrayed by our country. Our soldiers, our women, our working people, our minorities, our artists, our writers, our intellectuals, our students, all of us have been hoodwinked by a system of government and business geared to profit, not to the protection and care of its citizens. We all carry some anger and resentment and feelings of betrayal about this.

Still, sometimes you just want to hit a person who says something stupid about Obama and Obamacare. And why not? Is that such a terribly wrong thing to feel? Is it so terribly wrong to want to say, “You, motherfucker, just don’t know what the fuck you’re talking about!”? Is it so terrible to want to say, “You, motherfucker, are a fucking idiot!”?

Well, especially in a work environment, it’s preferable to count to ten. But not to just let it go unchallenged. Make an appointment in public to challenge it in private. Make time with the person where we can tell our story, so there is some understanding between us about why we feel as we do.

And by telling this person, you might have some influence on this person’s future political thinking. For our political attitudes are shaped by emotion. If you can touch someone with your own personal experience, you have a chance to change their political calculations regardless of what they may outwardly profess because, having once felt something, we cannot unfeel it. Some are better than others at shutting out feeling that conflict with their beliefs, but feelings are powerful. They can change lives. They can change opinions.

Then, having told your story, having thanked the person for hearing you out, you might also think to yourself, I can tell that story pretty well. I could put this story on the Internet. I could write an article about this. In that way you might indeed have some influence on policy.

And then, finally, after all this, you could always go to a martial arts class and beat and kick the shit out of some inanimate object and pretend it is this person.

Write for Advice




  1. Your personal story is the most powerful tool you have to create change. On the Obama campaign we actually had “how to tell your personal story” trainings, and those stories helped secure victory as we spent months talking to people on the phone and on their doorsteps. Tell your story to everyone who will listen!

  2. I have this problem too, except the person who says stupid stuff is my boss’s husband. And when I say to him, “ok, I’m going to have to pull the plug on this conversation because we’re never going to agree and I don’t want to get into an argument,” his response is that “you’re going to pull the plug because you can’t defend your positions”… At which point I unleash myself on him and he doesn’t even know what the word “austerity” means and likes to call me a socialist because to him that equals nazi. Oh and once he sent a copy of some article that compared Obama to the nazis to work with his wife and SHE GAVE IT TO ME! At work! Even funnier his daughter uses food stamps and is unable to pay her extensive medical bills … And really, why bother arguing? There is no such thing with the FOX newsers. Then again, even though he had no clue what I was even talking about (I ended my speech with a bit about ‘I don’t want my kids to grow up in a world where we all hide out in hovels and shoot at anyone who looks different than us. We can do better than that.’), it did feel kind of good to come unglued. Calm didn’t work with that one. And now my boss has finally instructed her husband to not talk politics with me. Also, FYI, maybe I could try to turn my boss in for all the crazy shit she does, but they wouldn’t fire her, and she would hate me. And then I’d never get her job when she retires…

  3. I unreservedly love all aspects of your advice on this one, Cary.

    On healthcare… and insurance…
    I come from a medical dynasty. Three generations of doctors in the family : father, husband, and son. (No, I’m not a doctor. Just hang around with them.)
    Like other things in our society addicted to technology, the cost of healthcare has skyrocketed, as we have perfected more and more expensive techniques to find, treat (and even create ?) illness.
    Healthcare has created an enormous bubble.
    Because we want to live healthily.. forever.
    Is this.. realistic, I ask ?
    I think not.
    Does this sound abstract to you ?
    Maybe. But abstract things can be every bit as.. real as other things.
    Will we collectively manage to break our addiction to expensive gadgets that promise to allow us to live forever ?
    Stay tuned for an upcoming episode.
    Incidentally, French medicine is not socialized medicine.
    European countries’ health care systems arose out of a particular historical context and all of our health care systems are different. It is a longstanding American myth that European healthcare is ideal, and socialized, in the best of all possible worlds. Under continuing American… colonization (among other reasons), this is no longer the case.
    To a certain extent, we ALL live in socialist countries. Health insurance is a socialist idea. But any kind of insurance is basically SOCIAList.
    Paying out of your own pocket is NOT socialist…

  4. Cary, are you getting rid of the advice column? Say it ain’t so !

  5. Calm and rational conversation is good. However I believe that many privileged people simply Do Not Care if the poor, the black, the disabled etc perish. There is a limit to what calm discussion can achieve with such people.

  6. Great advice to engage the other person privately. I’m a German citizen, living in the States for 36 yrs. I don’t dare become an American citizen though I care for this country a great deal. I’m self-employed and pay close to a thousand dollars for health insurance for my husband and I. I can’t afford to become an American because if I ever get really sick, I need to be able to go to Germany for my healthcare needs to avoid bankruptcy. It’s surreal. This country’s business and leadership has become surreal. I encourage everyone of us to become leaders in our own right and to challenge the prevailing conditions of exploitation, dishonesty, manipulation and oppression in our daily lives. If not even the President can overcome the special interest, then it is truly only the people who can save us from the rich and powerful who are as hooked on money and power as a junkie is on crack. Let’s ask ourselves daily, what can I do right now to intervene, because IMHO that’s what it will take–millions of micro interventions. We have addicts running the world. No addict has ever lain the syringe down without some help. Let;s help them with our actions, purchasing habits, and voices.

    • Just as an aside, India Holden, I thought I’d mention that in the UK, there appears to be a relatively-recent rule that if a British person is out of the country for a period of time – it’s quite a short period of time, maybe 3 months – then they can’t come back and get treatment on the NHS right away. I have read that some UK citizens have been banned from getting treatment on the NHS because they were simply away on a volunteer project in another part of the world, or away studying at a foreign university for a semester – some people who moved to other countries for their retirement years also have had some trouble, I think. I read those articles about 2 years ago. I don’t know if maybe that practice has been loosened up now (though it probably hasn’t – if anything, Cameron’s government continues to tighten up access to the NHS), and I don’t know if it’s similar in other EU countries or not, but you might want to stay abreast of developments in Germany’s health service regulations in case your “Plan B” of returning to Germany if you needed extensive or expensive medical treatment stops being an option because you have lived out of the country for so long.

  7. This is the essence of it. on top of the completely terrifying medical events that landed BBND in the “health care system” they lost their insurance and almost everything else. Health insurance is not meant to insure that you will be forever healthy, it is there to protect from catastrophic financial loss WHEN one of these health events happens. It is ENOUGH to deal with an illness physically and emotionally and to NAVIGATE the health care system without the fear of losing everything you’ve worked for. Everyone should have an opportunity to get health insurance.

  8. Dear LW, I’m so sorry for what you’ve been through, and I so relate to your question. I like Cary’s answer in the abstract, but the people I deal with who bash “Obamacare” (god, I hate that name- it’s the Affordable Care Act, damn it!) really aren’t looking for facts or stories. They get their information from the likes of Glenn Beck and Bill O’Reilly and Sean Hannity. My husband has just gone through a catastrophic illness, and his insurance ran out in August. By the time it ran out, we had racked up almost a million dollars in medical charges. He can no longer work and is uninsurable now. I was lucky enough to be able to find insurance through the state by officially retiring from a school district where I used to work which has helped to cover the next $100,000 we racked up in September and October for high tech procedures he needed. It was pure luck that I discovered the coverage, and was pretty scary leading up to it. Some days I think my head will explode when I hear the ignorant talking points otherwise intelligent people spout as fact. It’s disgraceful that we we are even having a “debate” in this country about affordable health care. There’s a book called “The Healing of America” by T.R. Reid that looks at healthcare in Germany, England, France, Canada and Japan (and Taiwan and Switzerland who are making the transition to more affordable care). It’s a great read (really!), and has a lot of facts about socialized medicine that are great to have at your fingertips when you just can’t stand what someone’s saying about how great our system is the way it is.

    For me, I have decided not engage the bashers anymore. It’s galling to hear them, but it just makes me more upset to argue with them. Good luck to you and your husband.

    • I have opinions on the Affordable Health care Act that I have gleaned from facts and speculations received from sources other than Faux news. I dont like the cut and dried- WHAT AN IDIOT YOU ARE” dismissals because I dont think the health care act as it stands will benefit all Americans. There needs to be some changes and tweaks, starting with accessibility thru web site,and moving into affordability for single working class people like myself. I have never had health insurance, and cannot afford the premium I am signed up for starting Jan 1- I just cannot afford an extra $317 expense every month. It takes directly out of my 400 gas and food budget. This is my reality, and so I am not thrilled. I am glad for all those that the new care plan can help, and hope it is able to be more helpful to me someday.

      • Indeed, there are a lot of problems with the ACA and how it’s been rolled out, and I say that in disappointment and concern, even though I completely agree with the initial spirit of it, the actual intention that I assume was behind it, years ago.
        One of the most appalling issues is that in 25 states, adults who earn at or below the poverty line wage are prevented from getting any healthcare help AT ALL if they happen to be childless.
        How can it be anyone’s idea of fair or helpful to exclude these vulnerable, poor people just because they do not have children?
        How is it right that childless adults who earn from 100-400% of the poverty level wage get government subsidies, sometimes very substantial subsidies, towards their health insurance, but those who earn 99% or less of poverty level get NOTHING, not even Medicaid, in 25 of our states?
        Who is speaking up for these people? There was an uproar when some middle-class people had their insurance policies cancelled even though they had wanted to keep those policies, and the President called an emergency news conference about that situation, yet millions and millions of poor childless adults in 25 of the states are just being told, “You can get no help at all. Not even Medicaid. Perhaps you can try to find a charity clinic in your area.”
        How can it be that living one mile across a state border in one direction versus living a mile in another direction can be a matter of life or death for childless poor people who have no healthcare at all right now? Are these people not all Americans, equal citizens to those in the other 25 states?
        If the Supreme Court thinks that states can individually decide to tell those people to go jump in a lake (and basically, to go suffer and possibly die), then why can’t there be an emergency executive order to form a special national insurance group that is covered by the ACA and which consists of the adult, childless people earning less than 100% poverty level in those 25 states? There was a last-minute executive order that said that insurance companies didn’t, after all, have to cancel non-ACA-conforming plans that people wanted to keep (though of course, many of the companies didn’t bring them back, it was too late).
        Why is receiving basic medical care based on whether the adult person who is living in poverty has had a child or not? Is this the sort of family-planning incentive that young poor people in those 25 states should be given?

  9. In this world there are not enough assets to give full expression to everyone’s desires.
    There is a natural ‘panel’ called one’s capacities: (monetary, connections, family, etc)
    Otherwise, it’s Communism, in all its glory: “To each according to his ability, to each according to his need…. but behold how high is the need of the rulers!

    • What the hell does that have to do with universal healthcare? I’m asking as someone who lives in a capitalist country that already has universal healthcare.

      BTW, that’s not a definition of Communism — that’s just how Ayn Rand defined socialism in Atlas Shrugged.

    • > In this world there are not enough assets to give full expression to everyone’s desires.

      Yeah, but there’s certainly enough money in the United States to pay for health care for everyone. They do it fine in countries that are a lot less rich than the US.

      This idea that decent health care is impossible is simply self-delusion of the worst type.

    • I live in Britain and have a potentially fatal autoimmune disorder. It’s called wegener’s granulomatosis. Look it up. Especially the pictures.
      Without the NHS I would be dead. By the time I was diagnosed I was already almost completely deaf, couldn’t stand up alone from arthritis and muscle wastage, and had such bad gum disease I couldn’t eat solids. I lost over 20 pounds and was not overweight to start with.
      Right now I am 100% fine. This cost thousands of pounds of money neither myself nor my family have. If my disease relapses I will be fine again because the NHS has my back.

      So: shut the hell up, unless you seriously want to tell me that I deserve to suffer and die for being poor?

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