Dennis Myers: A look at the personalization of criticism of Republicans like Dean Heller

A few days ago, Las Vegas resident Laura Packard was thrown out of a Libre Forum at Palace Station at which U.S. Sen. Dean Heller was answering questions from the public.

He was reading a question from Packard when she stood to elaborate on her written question, whereupon security officers ejected her from the meeting. Packard is a small business owner who said she has stage four Hodgkin’s lymphoma and health insurance through an Affordable Care Act (ACA) exchange.

Heller’s office said it was the Palace Station security who removed Packard from the meeting, but Heller saw it happen and did not intervene. She was there to question the senator about the ACA.

In June, Packard wrote an article for U.S. News and World Report titled “Save Obamacare, Save My Life.” In it, she wrote in part:

“This is not an academic question for me, because I am undergoing chemotherapy right now. I may need radiation after, or if this fails, immunotherapy. Will I be able to get affordable insurance next year, or will I die? … I get so tired day to day, and then I can’t sleep at night. … And then every other week, my body gets pumped full of poison. But that is all minor in comparison to the pain of knowing my senator, Dean Heller, is one of 52 Republicans choosing between saving my life and those of tens of thousands of other Americans like me, versus a tax cut for rich people.”

At the Palace Station meeting, Packard told Heller, “Why are you voting for me to lose my health care? Without it, I will die.”

Readers have probably seen this kind of verbiage before.

In letters to the editor, some people have personalized the issue, portraying Heller as hurting specific individuals. After a man named Richard Holley posted a threatening note at one of Sen. Heller’s district offices, a reader (under the pen name “S3Evans”) posted this comment in a Reno newspaper: “It’s interesting that Heller can threaten to kill Holley by canceling his health care but Holley can’t return the threat. Heller, and those in the GOP that voted for the skinny repeal, have found a great way to ensure re-election – kill off those who can’t afford health care, leaving only the wealthy to vote.”

Of course, Heller never threatened to kill Holley.

Nor does Heller – or, presumably, any sensible policymaker – decide how to vote on a health care program based on how it will affect Laura Packard or any other individual patient.

An eastern lobby group called the Alliance for Health Care Security ran broadcast advertisements aimed at Heller in Nevada earlier this year that portrayed an unnamed person saying, “If I lose my health care, it’s going to be a big problem for me and my family.”

Heller and members of Congress create programs and policy. They do not aim specific consequences at specific individuals, and the way Democrats and lobby groups have encouraged this kind of thing is despicable.

If a city councilmember votes to close one of seven fire stations, should a homeowner whose house burns down blame the councilmember?

If a legislator votes for a measure regulating landlord/tenant matters, should tenants who are evicted blame that legislator?

The Democratic line that the aftermath of repealing the ACA would be apocalyptic is simply nonsense, but it does encourage this personalization of criticism of Republicans like Heller.

We had a health care system before the ACA. If someone like Laura Packard had contracted a cancer five years before the ACA was enacted, there would have been an array of programs to aid her, and presumably they will still be there if the ACA is repealed. This includes Medicaid, which was expanded by the ACA but nevertheless preceded it.

And the implication of much Democratic rhetoric that only the ACA can provide good health care is equally nonsensical. When he was Senate Democratic leader, Nevada’s Harry Reid said that changes in the ACA would be a good idea.

Granted, Republicans’ vagueness on what they want to replace ACA with has not made it easy to believe that their program is superior, but the Democratic claim that THEIR program is better than any alternative is also, after seven years of the public’s experience with it, hard to accept.

It’s what there is, but it is in no way irreplaceable.

Dennis Myers is an award-winning journalist who has reported on Nevada’s capital, government and politics for several decades. He has also served as Nevada’s chief deputy secretary of state.

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