Pence Takes Lead on Obamacare, but His Inaction on East Chicago Demonstrates His Priorities

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He’s all about repealing Obamacare, not much for helping poor and posioned minorities in the state of which he’s still the governor.

Several headlines today and yesterday told us of how, now that Congress is back in session and doing the People’s Work, Barack Obama and Mike Pence are facing off while trying to determine the future of health care. Pence is strategizing with Republicans on how to repeal it (while not doing much in terms of “replace”, because, throwing people off the ACA is A-OK), and Obama is trying to protect the bill.

(Note to reporters: we’ve discussed this before, but it is really irritating when Obama is trying to “defend his legacy”, as if that’s what is at stake here. He’s sort of trying to depend the millions of people who are now insured and whose lives will be thrown to the cruel mercies of fate when it is repealed. Yes, that’s part of his legacy, but it is way more than that.)

It’s clear that Pence isn’t very concerned about health, although he frames his opposition to the bill as part of patient protection and increasing health care options. Don’t believe me? Ask the people of East Chicago, Indiana.

We talked about the poison land in East Chicago, which is almost entirely black and Latino. Decades of industrial buildup pumped chemicals into the water and the soil, and the industries died or went away without dealing with their legacy. And now it is the very poorest and the most vulnerable who have to deal with that, mostly by getting sick at horrifying levels.

These are the manifold sins of America concentrated on one spot. Industrial legacies colliding with shattered economies, and the ones that have to deal with it are the dispossessed minorities. These are victims also victims of globalization, though their economic anxiety was never talked about, buried under a mountain of encomiums to Trump voters. And that’s because they aren’t just victims of globalization, but also victims of America. They are poor, and they aren’t white, and they are ignored.

But, geographically, they are also particularly screwed. The northwest corner of Indiana, a blighted zone hugging the lake, is in the Chicago orbit (and even the Central time zone), but not actually connected politically to Chicago and Illinois. But the Indiana statehouse rarely cares much for what happens there, especially when Republicans are in charge. It’s mostly black, largely low-wage post-union workers, and generally Democratic. It’s just not…Indiana, you know, even though the Dunes are the one tourist attraction in the state.

This pattern was especially true with Governor Mike Pence, who has done next to nothing to a whole town of his constituents facing catastrophic poisoning. He never visited. He resisted sending aid, and finally earmarked $100,000 for a nurse and for someone to help with the lead testing. Both of these are great, but laughable in face of the disaster.

How bad is it? As Young Turks reporter Jordan Chariton says, “the West Calumet apartment complex ha(s) 218 times the “allowable” limit of lead in its ground soil and air.”

Pence can leave the trail to comfort white tornado victims (as well he should!). But going to visit poor people who are the victims of corporate pollution and official indifference is verboten. Uncharitably, he just doesn’t care. Perhaps even more uncharitably, though some would say this is the “best case”, he knows that as a Republican, one who at the time this broke was looking to be VP, pretending that pollution is real, that minorities could be the victims of globalization as much as white exurban types, and that industries might have responsibilities to the communities they poisoned would be bad for his prospects.

But those are the only two choices. One is that he simply doesn’t care about what happened to those people. Or the other is that caring would be so anathema to the modern Republican Party that he couldn’t do anything. Both are damning.

And the people of East Chicago continue to suffer. And they, and people like them, will continue to suffer in town after posioned town. And they’ll suffer more when Obamacare is taken away, leaving them with even less defense at the sickness coming from the ground. And at the end of the day, it’s impossible not to conclude that’s exactly what Mike Pence and the GOP wants. It’s the result of deliberate actions and wanton inaction. And it’s their America now.



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