There is a painfully online kerfuffle currently going on because Sen. Kamala Harris tweeted this:
and then a top Bernie Sanders staffer tweeted this:
and then a bunch of other people tweeted things like this:
As it happens, Harris was echoing a tweet from Joe Biden, the man who could very well make her his vice presidential candidate:
OK, those are all the relevant facts.
It is obviously horrible that Kamala Harris lost her mother to cancer. I have lost multiple family members to cancer. I know how awful it is. I am not going to litigate the specific issue of whether or not it is mean to tweet about Kamala Harris in this way if you work for Bernie Sanders. There is a pandemic happening, and I do not have the strength to dive into those waters. But, in a general sense, I am puzzled as to why it’s seen as illegitimate to ask Kamala Harris or Joe Biden—two people who could easily become the vice president and president of the United States, respectively—to account for an ethical framework which rejects charging people money if they have the coronavirus but supports charging people money if they have cancer, or any other disease.
This is not just a legitimate question. It’s one of the most basic and pressing questions that exists in American life right now. Why should we accept a system that charges you for one form of illness but not for another? Why should we accept the idea that anyone should ever have to pay for the crime of getting sick? Why, when current events are brutally highlighting the failure of our healthcare system, is it considered out of bounds to point that out?
If, like Joe Biden, you fervently back our current system, but float the idea that “nobody should have to pay” for coronavirus-related healthcare, what does that mean? What if you’ve lost your job and your insurance? How does that work? Is there an end date? What’s the point at which people who have been getting free treatment have to start paying again? What if coronavirus triggers another illness? Is that illness free too, or does it cost? And, once again, how can you morally justify the notion that it is an outrage to charge someone money for one illness but proper and right to do so for a different one? If you’re Kamala Harris, and you’ve endorsed Joe Biden and are supporting his political program, well, same questions.
“We’re in a crisis” is not a sufficient answer to these issues; we’re always in a crisis when it comes to American healthcare. And, I’m sorry, but personal loss does not mean you get a free pass. Every family everywhere in America deals with grief and sadness; the issue is that some also deal with medical bankruptcy that destroys them.
It’s not off-limits to ask about these things. It’s actually really important! The core moral problem with American healthcare is that it picks and chooses and ruthlessly discriminates. We are being shown, right now, why that system is so disgusting and incapable. The people who have told us that it is a system worth preserving and protecting need to explain how they can possibly justify that, even if it’s uncomfortable to do so.