Middle Class Is Not a Virtue

If you haven’t already, you’ll soon be seeing this Jezebel piece: “Woman Who Attacked ObamaCare Apologizes After Breast Cancer Diagnosis.” Schadenfreude makes good copy, even if the title is a bit off.

“ObamaCare” should really read “Obama.” She just didn’t think he was doing enough for the middle class, so she got all disillusioned and bitter and…blah. She defaced her “Hope” bumper sticker. Her and Obama? They’re good now, though. She’s gonna get a new bumper sticker.

But that’s not what I want to talk about. You see, all the stuff about being disappointed in Obama for a little while–that all happens at the end of the letter. The first half is stuff like this:

I found out three weeks ago I have cancer. I’m 49 years old, have been married for almost 20 years and have two kids. My husband has his own small computer business, and I run a small nonprofit in the San Fernando Valley. I am also an artist. Money is tight, and we don’t spend it frivolously. We’re just ordinary, middle-class people, making an honest living, raising great kids and participating in our community, the kids’ schools and church.

We’re good people, and we work hard. But we haven’t been able to afford health insurance for more than two years. And now I have third-stage breast cancer and am facing months of expensive treatment.


Although there have been a few people who judged us harshly, most people have been understanding about how this could happen to us. That’s given me the courage to “out” myself and my family in hopes that it will educate people who are still lucky enough to have health insurance and view people like my family as irresponsible. We’re not. What I want people to understand is that, if this could happen to us, it could happen to anybody.

Stomp on it. Kill it. Burn it with fire. And by “it,” I mean this middle class pretension of virtue. “Oh. Woe is me! I have done everything right, and I am still not rewarded with the keys to the castle!”

If you are fortunate enough to still be employed and have insurance through your employers, you may feel insulated from the sufferings of people like me right now. But things can change abruptly. If you still have a good job with insurance, that doesn’t mean that you’re better than me, more deserving than me or smarter than me. It just means that you are luckier. And access to healthcare shouldn’t depend on luck.

Hey, you know what? It shouldn’t depend on having gotten a good enough roll of the dice early in life to have been able to call yourself “good people” who “work hard” either. Or to have been born to parents who can. “It can happen to anybody” means it has been happening, to more people than you’ve ever stopped to consider.

And if you didn’t know what Obamacare did, it’s because all that participation was narrowly focused on your own community and school and church and didn’t bother to look beyond those like you. The preexisting condition provisions were one of the most important and lauded features of the bill. Let my friend Beatrix tell you how important they were, in this video from two years ago, before the bill passed:

So if you want to tell me how virtuous you are, and how undeserving of having been scared about lacking insurance, don’t tell me how you’ve done everything that people tell you should get you rewarded. Don’t tell me how you’ve met all the expectations for the promises that have always been meant to keep you from asking for more for us all.

Tell me instead that you paid attention to something as large and important as health care reform. Tell me you took the time to understand things you never thought could affect you. Tell me you were a good citizen, if you’re looking for my sympathy.

Or just skip the bit where you try to make yourself look deserving. Just tell me you have breast cancer and need help. That should be all you or anyone needs.

Middle Class Is Not a Virtue

15 thoughts on “Middle Class Is Not a Virtue

  1. 2

    Righteous rant! Perfectly said.

    Unfortunately, the teabaggers continue with the ‘I got mine, fuck you.’ Of course, that tune changes when they get sick and need insurance too, but don’t expect any introspection before then.

  2. 4

    I just showed this article to one of my medical school classmates, and he insisted that it was still their fault for not having health insurance. In his opinion not having health insurance is stupid, and arguing that you can’t afford it is always a lie. It’s their fault for having a house that’s too big, too many cars, sending their kids to private school, etc.

    How best to get through to people like this? He’s a big Ayn Rand fan, if you couldn’t tell.

  3. 5

    @Igakusei. There is nothing you can say. I ended an argument once with someone spouting off the same kind of sociopathic autoritarian nonsense by asking him how old he was…

    “how old are you?”


    ” If you are 47 and cannot see what is blatently wrong with your position on ALL levels, there is nothing I can do to make you see that.”

    we tend to see sociopathy as a binary thing, Either one is or isn’t one. I see no reason not to think that sociopathy lies along a continuum.

  4. 6

    Yeah. He always brings it back around by asking me why I think I should be robbed to pay for someone else’s misfortune or irresponsibility. I feel like I can still solve that from a purely selfish perspective by saying that I would want such a safety net if something like that ever happened to me, so therefore I support building it for others.

    The world isn’t even remotely fair, so why don’t we try to actually make it a little more fair instead of pretending that it already is?

  5. 7

    For Igakusei: Why the hell is your classmate in medical school to begin with if he has that attitude? We don’t need more people like him in the profession. What little you have said about him indicates to me that he would violate the Hippocratic Oath right out of school. Hopefully his attitudes will change and become more compassionate as you go through school, but without a major live-changing event (like, oh I don’t know, finding out someone in your family has life-threatening cancer or any other debilitating health event), it probably won’t happen. And it sounds like he would blame the patient.

    By the by, I did not have any of the “excuses” your friend speaks of when I found out I had stage 4 colorectal cancer at 31. The doctors were never able to figure out why I had it at such a young age (yes, it is partly genetic, but they still couldn’t figure out why it developed so early). I think maybe I got it to bring arrogant doctors down a peg…but that could just be me. I would fire your classmate within the first 5 minutes of consultation.

    I was lucky that I was poor and didn’t have a permanent job (I was working temp at the time), and that I was able to get into a low-cost community clinic when my cancer was found. Otherwise, I would not be alive. I was very lucky I fell into the category I fell into so that I could get government assistance for treatment at the time (a year later and I would be dead, as the MN State Legislature cut funding for Health and Human Services the next session – Thanks T-Paw!). NO ONE should have to be in that position – of feeling worthless because you can’t afford insurance, of feeling less than worthless when you need to go fill out forms to prove that you do indeed need help. Of knowing that for the rest of your life – which will be longer now since the tumor was taken out and you have that live-saving colostomy that you’ll have to get expensive equipment to maintain for the rest of your longer life which you can’t afford without insurance – you will always need to have affordable, yet comprehensive, insurance because you now have a pre-existing condition and cannot live without insurance. (Sorry, kind of high-jacked it with my own story – there are many more out there in the world).

  6. 8


    “He always brings it back around by asking me why I think I should be robbed to pay for someone else’s misfortune or irresponsibility.”

    It’s all in how you tell the story, isn’t it?
    Telling the story in terms theft instead of in terms of sharing allows the the Randians to feel self-righteous as they destroy the fabric of the society which allows them the freedom to be so solipsistic.

    Individualism is a myth which does not serve humanity well. We are a social species and we deeply need each other.

  7. 10

    Thanks for all the replies!

    To be fair to my friend and classmate, his own story reads like an Ayn Rand book. Poor family, uneducated parents, lots of hard work and discipline, top 15% in medical school, etc. He’s a good guy, so I’m holding out hope that his views will mature next year when he starts facing real patients with real problems.

  8. 11

    @10. Your friend sounds like a real prick. The way he weaves the narrative of his poor uneducated parents into his very own success story. How big of him to escape the burdens of his family.

  9. 14

    The part of the story that is left out is why health insurance and health care is expensive, why one cannot insure against preexisting conditions, and why we get

    The answer in every case, government intervention caused the problem, and the correction response is to remove that government intervention. Those ignorant of good economics just can’t do the math.

    I recommend “The Excluded Americans: Homelessness and Housing Policy” by William Tucker for those who which to start their path to enlightenment. The economic laws the government has been trying to break in housing that resulted in the homelessnes problem are quite similar to the ones the government tries to break in health care. With analogous results.

    The government just needs to stop trying to violate the laws of economics. Laws that are as real as any law of physices. You walk off a cliff and you fall. You establish a price control and you get a shortage. It is that simple.

    There are ways to resolve these problems that don’t involve attempts to square the circle and thus cause more harm than one initially set out to resolve.

  10. 15

    The emphasis on middle class can also be taken as a warning to others who hold her former opinions – ‘you think you are safe, but it can happen to you too’ as well as a defense against the arguments of those who (like her in the past) are blaming people for being impoverished by health crises – ‘yes, I did exactly that and what good did it do?’

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