Single-issue politics and voting against your personal interests

Julia’s post:

While biking the last few miles into Gaylord, MI, I came up beside another cyclist and we began chatting, and he agreed to have a conversation with me about healthcare. He introduced himself as Dave, a local. I would like to make clear now that much of this information, especially personal, was presented sporadically throughout the interview. He did not necessarily state his position or give personal history in the order in which I presented, which was done for clarity.

Dave is a 66-year old former Airforce captain, and he says when he separated from the Airforce in the early 1990s, Ronald Reagan had decided the Vietnam War had been too costly and one of the ways to recoup those costs was to make cuts to veterans’ health. As a result, Dave states he was left with no healthcare of any kind. When he started working he had coverage through employer plans, but over the intervening years he lost several jobs and was homeless for a time. I later learned that he was diagnosed fairly late in life (post-Airforce) with “cyclothymia” which most of us better know by the name “bipolar disorder,” and I suspect that had a large role in his difficulties with jobs and housing. I asked him how he received treatment now, and he said that several years ago he was able to receive full healthcare through the VA, though the details weren’t clear, and I wasn’t sure if it was directly related to his self-presentation at the ER after conceiving a detailed suicide plan during a likely depressive episode.

Now, he states he has more coverage and money (through Social Security disability) than he has for many years. I asked if he thought the expansion of veteran’s benefits was good, and he said yes, adding that he thinks healthcare is a right that we should all have. He made an argument that the reason a lot of people are against the idea is because they view things as “handouts from the government” and as such, morally wrong. He expressed frustration with the viewpoint, saying plenty of people with that attitude still receive governmental assistance in some form, and expect to. I asked his opinion on why people think that, and he responded with the idea that people think of healthcare in terms of “handouts” vs “earning it,” and as such they view people who don’t have healthcare or asking for healthcare as being lazy. I asked him why people think that way, and he said he didn’t know, but because the focus on it in very simple terms, they also think of many other things in simple terms and vote as such since healthcare is now so politicized. When I asked him to expand, Dave said that many people will vote for the most conservative Republican candidates even if they don’t share their views solely because of their stance on abortion – “people have single-issue politics” he said. I asked if he thought that meant people will vote against their own self-interests if they only focus on one topic, and he heartily agreed.

I asked if we could circle back to the government handouts idea – did he think that something like socialized medicine or universal healthcare qualified as a government handout? He said no, reiterating his stance that healthcare is a right and everyone deserves it. He added that we already have forms of socialized medicine and people like them – Medicare or veteran’s benefits, for example. I posed the question “if you had to pay more taxes that would go towards a universal system, but you wouldn’t have huge bills for preventative care or when there are emergencies, and everyone would have the same basic coverage, would you?” and he said yes. I asked if he thought it would decrease his quality of life, and he said no. So why do people think it would be such an awful idea? Because, as Dave sees it, they associate that kind of system with “infringing on personal liberty,” which he sees as a catch-all phrase that very conservative voters use to object to many things without understanding those same things would be to their benefit – he cited recent COVID social distancing/masking recommendations, gun control, and police reform as current examples. “They say they won’t wear masks as an act of defiance. Defiance of what? Protecting themselves and other people from getting sick? That doesn’t make any sense.” Why would someone say that, I asked. “To be honest I’m not sure, and I think since I’ve gotten tired of all that I just say it’s because they’re stupid.” I asked what makes people “stupid” and he said “they don’t read or watch any news, or they only watch Fox news – they don’t get the big picture.”

We meandered back to the topic of insurance and pharmaceutical companies, and he said the for-profit nature makes it such that they will never provide good services for us because there is no incentive. I asked if that could change, and he said yes, but it would be by taking away the for-profit aspect and making sure everyone had at least the same basic coverage.

At this point in our ride, we came to our diverging point. I thanked him for his time, and he for mine, and I rode off in the direction of the eventual sunset (but it was only 1530 or so, no sunset in sight).

Paul’s comments: Dave presented a very clear and coherent description of our current situation regarding healthcare and politics. “I’ll vote against my own self-interest if the politician agrees with my single issue of importance: be it right to life, guns, or immigration.” This can certainly make conversations challenging and frustrating.

Published by: bikelisteningtour

I'm the family physician riding his bike across the country from Washington DC to Seattle. I'm meeting people along the way and asking them what they know about and think about Obamacare.


9 thoughts on “Single-issue politics and voting against your personal interests”

  1. Great interview with Dave. Maybe you can circle back and
    convince Dave to run for something in Michigan? 😉


  2. This was the most beneficial interview so far, IMO, since his comments were pretty much well thought out and they made sense and the one issue voting practice (the elephant in the room?) was brought forward intelligently.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Julia, We’ll done! I’m amazed you were able to get this and while cycling?! I wish we could have interviewed him for the documentary.. He seems to have a good grasp on some of the prevailing ideas and choices made by conservative voters.

    Yuri (part of the documentary team)


  4. Excellent point about single-issue voting.
    Does help to explain some of the bizarre election results and voting patterns I have seen since becoming a voting adult.


  5. I very much like this journal. It is reflective and episodic – so much more interesting than recording, what we had for dinner and whether we had a good “shoulder” to cycle on. US politics on this issue (healthcare) can bamboozle a non US citizen. Therefore it was good to read here about the single issue voting phenomena. Perhaps it’s a case of you can’t fight against a 20 second soundbite. In the UK it took the trauma of a World War to produce the Beveridge Report of 1942, to lead to what one of my American friends describes as “socialized healthcare”. I also commend your succinct analysis on all lives matter. Apropos your mission, here’s a convesration that I had in 2010 whan cycling across the USA: ‘That evening in two separate conversations we speak with ex aerospace professionals. They both complain of the high cost of healthcare. Ex aerospace chappie #1: “$650.00 a month and that doesn’t cover you for everything and you know that if you claim the first thing they will do is appoint a lawyer and try to argue non liability due to pre-existing condition.” Ex aerospace chappie #2: “The United States is a single party state with two right wings.” [after Gore Vidal]


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