The Power Of Experience
Think Progress highlights the story of Clint Murphy, a former Republican staffer who left politics in 2010, and discovered how hard it is to get insured with a pre-existing condition:
Clint Murphy, now a real estate agent from Savannah, Georgia, who’s been involved with Republican campaigns since the 1990s, was diagnosed with testicular cancer in 2000 when he was 25 years old. Four years and four rounds of chemo treatment later — all of which was covered by insurance — Murphy was in remission. Insurance wasn’t a problem in his subsequent political jobs — he worked on John McCain’s election campaign in 2008 and Karen Handel’s Georgia gubernatorial run in 2010 — but when he quit politics in 2010 and entered real estate, he realized just how difficult obtaining insurance with a pre-existing condition could be.
In an interview with the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Murphy said he thought after 10 years since his cancer diagnosis, the insurance companies might cut him some slack — instead, they found something else to charge him for.
“I have sleep apnea. They treated sleep apnea as a pre-existing condition. I’m going right now with no insurance,” he told the AJC.
Murphy now supports Obamacare:
That’s why Murphy had this to say to his Republican friends who oppose Obamacare on Facebook last week: “When you say you’re against it, you’re saying that you don’t want people like me to have health insurance.”
This might be a bridge too far. There are many problems with the Affordable Care Act, and people are opposed to it for different reasons. Many folks on the Right tend to oppose it because they feel it adds more costly government regulation of the private sector, raises taxes, and some of its provisions are hopelessly complex and impossible to implement. Some folks on the Left oppose it because they feel that it’s an incomplete solution, doesn’t actually insure everyone, and constitutes a handout to private insurance companies, who are now guaranteed customers by the government. Reasonable people can come to the conclusion that the Affordable Care Act is not the best solution to covering people with pre-existing conditions.
But what Murphy’s story really demonstrates is the power of personal experience to change a person’s mind. Clint Murphy was convinced that the health insurance system worked. He had faith that the insurance companies would “cut him some slack” once he had to re-enter the private sector and purchase his own health insurance. But once he had a pre-existing condition, he learned the hard way how America’s health insurance system deals with the people who need it the most.
Personal experience is a potent source of knowledge. It is the reason, for example, why people with gay family members and friends are more likely to support marriage equality. It’s the reason why Black Americans are more likely to have a poor opinion of law enforcement than White Americans. It’s the reason why Hispanic Americans overwhelmingly support a more humane immigration policy. When you or someone you know is directly affected by a problem, that experience tends to change your worldview in ways that might differ from what you might believe in the absence of those circumstances.
But it’s important to remember that this is also a conversation about empathy. When I was younger, I spent a large portion of my youth growing up in a mostly White suburb. Despite this, I felt like I was racially conscious. But as I grew older, I realized that my “racial consciousness” was basically a fraud. A large part of this growth happened in law school, where I studied the criminal justice system, and realized that it is tainted by racial injustice at every level. Suddenly, the anti-police narratives in hip-hop made sense. Malcolm X seemed less like a violent rabble rouser and more like a legitimate voice for the frustration of the Black community. The realization that my history books really had been “White washed” to some extent was frustrating, but also liberating, because it allowed me to see a deeper truth that had evaded me for so long.
This is relevant to politics, because most of us inform our political positions based on personal experience. So when a small business owner tells me that he opposes Obamacare because he genuinely can’t afford to offer insurance to his employees, I don’t just shrug my shoulders—even though a part of me is glad that people with pre-existing conditions can get coverage under the law. If I was a small business owner in his position, I might feel more strongly about the mandatory employer coverage provisions of the law. In the political realm, being able to understand why others might feel differently is an important part of understanding how to change peoples’ minds.
In Clint Murphy’s case, all it took to change his mind was to be placed in a vulnerable position. All of a sudden, the complaints of people with pre-existing conditions didn’t seem quite as trivial. Of course, Clint spent years of his life believing the opposite. If only there was a way that the wisdom he gained from his personal experiences could have reached him sooner.
If there was a way to achieve a critical mass of empathy in this country, one which allows us to more keenly learn from the personal experiences of others, we might see a public policy revolution. Perhaps the Executive branch would stop dropping as many drone missiles in the Middle East, weary of the blowback caused by civilian deaths. Prosecutors might be less anxious to rack up convictions, knowing the devastation that mass incarceration and criminal records have on poor communities. We might actually see a humane immigration policy, knowing that 11-year old girls wouldn’t be torn from their fathers. Drug use might be treated as a public health matter rather than a criminal one, knowing that incarceration has not only failed to prevent people from using drugs, but done immeasurable damage the lives of those affected.
Will it happen? Who knows. It’s probably wishful thinking. But one can always hope for the change. With same-sex marriage and marijuana legalization on the upswing, there’s plenty of possibilities on the horizon. We’ll just have to wait and see.