Over at NC Policy Watch, Rob Schofield makes an interesting pitch in an attempt to connect the lack of Medicaid expansion in North Carolina to Jim Crow segregation in the Deep South. He starts off by citing a new book titled “Hattiesburg: An American City in Black and White” penned by UNC-Chapel Hill professor William Sturkey. Having lived in Mississippi for a long time and studied the civil rights movement there, I’m very familiar with Hattiesburg and that topic. Indeed, the past racial violence and turmoil that occurred around Hattiesburg and the surrounding counties were at times ugly and fierce. Sturkey’s book looks to be a worthwhile contribution to the civil rights genre, but I was perplexed by Schofield’s leaps to tie Hattiesburg’s violent and racist past to the lack of Medicaid expansion.
Here’s how he explains it:
About a third of the way through the book, however, Sturkey relates a truly remarkable and tragically telling anecdote from the Great Depression that rings eerily familiar in 2019.
It seems that in 1931 – a time in which, of course, people of all races were suffering mightily – the national Red Cross provided a grant to the local branch for emergency aid to people in need. The grant specified that it was to be used for the purpose of distributing goods to poor families “without food, clothing and fuel.” The Red Cross’s Mississippi field representative pledged that “no hungry person will go unfed” and that “no family needing food, clothing, medical supplies or fuel will go unattended in Forrest County.” (Hattiesburg is located in Forrest County, which is named after the notorious slave trader, Confederate general and, later, KKK founder, Nathan Bedford Forrest).
While the relief effort got off to a promising start with the Red Cross providing aid to some 500 families, there soon arose a problem that the reader can likely guess at: the city’s white power structure found itself at odds with the Red Cross over the fact that the charity was, pursuant to national policy, serving families of all races. Among other complaints, the United Daughters of the Confederacy protested to the Mayor’s office that the group’s members found it “embarrassing” to see “droves of Negro applicants” in City Hall.
Soon thereafter, the city’s mayor issued an ultimatum to the Red Cross in which he demanded that the organization either cease serving Black residents or vacate City Hall. When the Red Cross refused, the city evicted the group.
Here’s where Schofield starts to take a weird and irresponsible turn:
It’s almost impossible when reading such a story not be struck by the parallels to the 21st Century. Today, across most of the old Confederacy, political leaders turn down all manner of federal safety net assistance – most notably, expansion of the Medicaid program to close the massive health insurance gap that has entrapped millions – because many of the people who would be helped are, in the eyes of the conservative political power structure, “unworthy.”
If there were ever any doubts about this latter dark truth, North Carolina Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger dispelled them recently when he stated his belief that Medicaid expansion “disincentivizes folks to go to work.” In other words, Berger is against expanding Medicaid because he believes that some of those who would benefit do not (or would not) work hard enough to suit him and are therefore unworthy of the assistance.
Obviously, the reasons to not expand Medicaid are much more complex than this simplistic assessment. One of my main concerns is our $22 + trillion debt and spending binge that is making an absolute mockery of our Republic. States that eschew tying themselves to a broken federal government are going to be much better positioned to provide mandatory services and be better stewards of tax dollars. Injecting race into this discussion, while predictable, attempts to bypass the legitimate arguments being put forward that offer up responsible and compassionate alternatives.
None of this is to imply that Berger’s stance is founded in racism. While it is striking that so much of the resistance to Medicaid expansion remains headquartered in the South and is led by an almost exclusively white political party – a party that has worked to suppress the voting power of African-Americans and to preserve Confederate monuments – one can take the movement leaders at their (frequently uttered) word that their motives are ideological in origin, rather than racial, and still see obvious parallels to the past.
It was already implied in the previous paragraph. Republicans, while sometimes disappointing from a policy perspective, even more particularly nationally than in NC, are not heirs to the segregationist past. This is a myth perpetuated by the Left that needs to die. Trying to tie Republicans to this past is just as disingenuous as saying the modern Democrat Party today is the same party that advocated for Jim Crow laws. Massive Sunbelt migration and a hard left turn by Democrats nationally are just a couple of reasons that the Republican Party has ascended in the American South.
I don’t see the “obvious parallels.” Yes, the South is more culturally conservative than other regions of the country, so there is a more generalized resistance to government growth and intrusion.
This is because, when distilled to their essence, the policies of the city of Hattiesburg, Mississippi of 1931 and the state of North Carolina 88 years later differ little in substance. Both are based on the premise that it’s better that “worthy” human beings suffer and even die prematurely on a large scale than it is for disfavored, “unworthy” humans (whatever their race) to receive basic, lifesaving assistance.
North Carolinians should be offended by the wildly hyperbolic drivel penned above. There is little doubt that issues of race have shaped the American South but the “differ little in substance” line is not a serious treatment of the issue here.
Sturkey reports that, at the time, the Philadelphia Tribune decried the Hattiesburg incident by observing that “Even the gnawing pains of hunger are unable to make the white people of that God-forsaken section forget their white supremacy.”
Today, quite similarly, it’s clear that even the gnawing pain emanating from thousands of premature deaths is unable to make many of the already insured people of North Carolina forget their presumptions of moral supremacy.
Still, no understanding of the difference between federal spending (and its unintended consequences) and free-markets, civil society, and charitable programs to alleviate poverty. Not to mention, the poorer North Carolinians who will be negatively impacted because of Medicaid expansion. Just because you advocate for growing government and more spending through unaffordable and unsustainable programs doesn’t mean you are more compassionate or a better person. Compassion is much more than just being generous with other people’s money.