Policy and Public Health: How several policies are negatively impacting the nation’s health

The way that we vote and the policies our leaders put in place can have significant ramifications for public health, as well as for our own health. Jonathan M. Metzl’s Dying of Whiteness shows how specific policies have negatively impacted public health (and other measurable outcomes). I was fascinated by this read, and wanted to discuss some of the data and subjects Metzl covers here.

Gun Rights and Public Health in Missouri

Missouri was once one of the most restrictive states in the union when it comes to gun laws. Then, after the turn of the century in the early 2000s into today, major support for repealing these gun control laws was stirred up. Now, Missouri boasts some of the greatest “gun rights” in the country, including the “guns everywhere bill” which removed “requirements for training, education, background checks, and permits needed to carry concealed weapons…” and also “annulled most city and regional gun restrictions” while expanding the “Castle Doctrine” against perceived dangers (24). Thus, Missouri can truly act as a kind of measuring stick for whether more guns yields less crime and, for Metzl’s focus, better public health.

Statistics show that since the 2007 repeal of the permit-to-purchase handgun law in the state, there has been a 25% increase in firearm homicide rates. Additionally, “Rates of gun death by suicide, partner violence, and accidental shooting soared as well” to the point that in 2014, for the first time in the state, gun deaths topped motor vehicle accidents for cause of death in the state (25). A common refrain, of course, is that “guns don’t kill people, people kill people.” What such a slogan ignores is that guns make people much more effective at killing people, often including themselves. The statistics and supporting studies suggest that gun laws including things like a permit-to-purchase law, reduces deaths, especially those by suicide.

The Affordable Care Act and Public Health in Tennessee 

Tennessee’s politicians and popular voters went against funding the Affordable Care Act after it was passed, and this has had significant outcomes in terms of public health. Because Medicaid wasn’t expanded as it could have been, this meant that between 1,863-4,599 black lives could have been saved but weren’t, and between 6,365 and 12,013 white lives might have been saved as well. I’m not an expert in how they get these numbers, but Metzl draws out both the method and the implications (174-175). Effectively, because people in the state of Tennessee gave into fears about “socialism” as well as racially charged rhetoric of “welfare queens,” they voted themselves into death, sometimes literally dying instead of getting the benefits that may have saved them if they had simply funded the ACA. One telling interview Metzl conducted includes a man who is likely dying from hepatitis C who says that he’d “rather die” than have “my tax dollars paying for Mexicans or welfare queens” (3). Metzl concludes from this and many other conversations that “Trevor voiced a literal willingness to die for his place in this hierarchy [of racially charged superiority], rather than participate in a system that might put him on the same plane as immigrants or racial minorities” (4).

What is even scarier about this is that proposed policies continue to pile on the negative public health outcomes. The number of uninsured Americans is projected to skyrocket back up if the ACA is repealed or replaced with a policy that fails to fund it adequately. Unfortunately, those most in need are the ones projected to suffer most. Learning about the real-world impact of sloganizing health care is something we all ought to do.

Education and Public Health in Kansas

The state of Kansas is a real world example of what happens when libertarian, anti-tax policies are incorporated at a state-level into the education system. When Kansas voted in significant Republican, libertarian-leaning leadership, Kansas became an example of what happens when policies of pro-corporate tax cuts and the notion of trickle-down economics is fully implemented. HB 2117, signed by governor Brownback, reduced taxes on top tax brackets by 25% (201). Along with these, the school finance bills that continued to pass defunded public school while simultaneously declaring that this lack of funds were “a win for Kansas students” (201, quoting Brownback).

What’s remarkable about this is that the public health impact on defunding schools can be measured. Additionally, Kansans of color are demonstrably more likely to be negatively impacted by the tax plans implemented by the government (212). As schools were defunded, graduation rates fell, as did commitment to higher education and post-graduate programs. Measurements that include “all-cause death rates” show a decline as Americans achieve higher education. Thus, a US adult without a high school diploma “can expect to die nine years sooner than college graduates” and the difference between someone with a college degree or a professional degree is five years of life expectancy. Additionally, adults without high school diplomas are more likely to have diabetes and other negative health outcomes (242). So, apart from all questions of whether cutting funding for schools somehow improves their outcomes–itself a highly questionable claim–the ties to public health alone show that Kansas effectively reduced its citizens life expectancy due to these funding cuts.


Quite seriously, the politics of resentment and dogma that has a knee jerk reaction to certain words means that we as a country are voting ourselves into poor health outcomes. Dying of Whiteness is a fantastic read that will challenge readers from all political perspectives to think about possible longer term impacts of the policies they support. I very highly recommend it to you, dear readers.


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My thoughts on “2016”- Obama’s America

Recently, I watched “2016”- the conservative documentary which explores Barack Obama’s past. In it,Dinesh D’Souza, a conservative political commentator and Christian apologist, argues throughout the film that President Obama’s worldview is steeped in a variety of anti-colonialism which he got through the teachings of his father and mother. D’Souza offers this as a hypothesis to explain the political policies that President Obama has enacted and continues to pursue.

“2016” traces the roots of Obama’s worldview back to those of his father, an entrenched anti-colonialist. Basically, anti-colonialism is the view that certain powers–the UK, the United States, and the like (largely European)–have utilized their powerful history in order to exploit those who are less powerful, and these wrongs must be righted. Thus, anti-colonialists would largely favor policies in which the wealth is ‘spread around’ and the wealthy are directly attacked simply for the fact that their wealth is intrinsically immoral. Why? Well, simply because whatever wealth they have, according to principles of anti-colonialism, has been taken wrongfully from those who no longer have it. They take the raw materials, manufacture goods, and then sell it back to the places from which they take the raw materials at exorbitant prices.

Whether or not one follows the tenets of anti-colonialism, it seems that D’Souza may have hit upon a great resource for explaining many of Obama’s policies. Consider the fact that Obama has cut off funding for oil pipelines and drilling for the United States–which would have created thousands of jobs and reduced the price of oil and our reliance upon foreign oil–while simultaneously giving money to several South American countries to proceed with their own drilling projects. Initially, his opposition to drilling in the U.S. would seem to stem from environmental concerns, but that would not explain why he supports giving money to other countries to do just that. Once D’Souza’s hypothesis is put into play–that Obama is influenced by and continues to utilize various anti-colonialist ideals–the move makes a lot more sense. The United States can be seen as giving its wealth back to the countries from which it wrongfully took it to begin with, and thereby increases the infrastructure and global power of those countries at the expense of the U.S.

D’Souza traces similar paths in many other foreign policies, such as the reduction of the U.S. nuclear arsenal. Strangely, President Obama has favored reducing our own military power and our deterrent nuclear arsenal while also refusing to interfere with other countries developing their own nuclear arsenals. If one views Obama as someone working towards global peace by eliminating the threat of nuclear war (as those who gave him the Nobel Prize apparently thought), then this doesn’t make sense. However, once one points to anti-colonialism, the motivation seems much more clear. Those countries which have not achieved the global deterrent of nuclear power are encouraged (or at least not discouraged) to increase or begin their arsenal, while the U.S.’s ability to do the same is actively decreased. Such a move, of course, is radically against the doctrine of peace through strength.

Furthermore, D’Souza traces the President’s chosen path of education and the friends with which he surrounds himself, pointing out the radically liberal and often anti-colonial tendencies of many of those who are his closest advisers, friends, and his pastor. The links that are forged throughout “2016” begin to add up into an extremely strong wealth of evidence that supports D’Souza’s hypothesis: Obama is an anti-colonialist who has been using his power as the President to undermine the United States’ global influence.

Thus, throughout the film one can see a pattern of how D’Souza’s hypothesis that President Obama is an anti-colonialist is supported by his education and upbringing, and that it is the hypothesis which best explains the seemingly contradictory policies the President has been pushing while in office.

The film does have some negative points, however. First, there is a bit of unnecessary hints that President Obama is influenced by Islam. I think that this may be quite possible, after all those who influenced Obama largely were influenced by Islam themselves. It would be hard to separate these influences. However, I know of no concrete proof or data in this regard, nor does the film present any. Instead, there are just lingering images over the name “Hussein” as part of the President’s name as well as that of his father. Second, the film generalizes a lot on the nature of anti-colonialism and its implementation. However, this latter difficulty is understandable, given the fact that it is the nature of film making that there is a limited time in which to present the topics at hand, so ideas must be simplified in order to convey them in the time available.

Third, when D’Souza turns to an analysis of what the world will look like in 2016 if Obama is re-elected, it seemed to me there was a bit of fear mongering happening. For example, one of the points was that there would be a United States of Islam. I can’t help but think two things about this: first, that sure is a whole lot for Obama to accomplish in a second term! Some have been trying to unite the Muslim world ever since its separation  and suddenly Obama is supposed to pull it off! That seemed a bit absurd. Second, it seemed to me very much like a case of using a religious affiliation to inspire fear. The United States of Islam would be the religious “other” and as such is to be greatly feared. I have written on the fact that many use the “myth of ‘religion'” to stigmatize that religious other.

Overall, “2016” was a fascinating movie which will force viewers to evaluate the claims therein. Although D’Souza has been scoffed at by many for his rather radical hypothesis, one can see how anti-colonialism may indeed be the factor that best fits the set of data we have about President Obama. By linking Obama’s past influences with his current policy and showing how these are all explained most effectively by the hypothesis of anti-colonialism, D’Souza has presented a powerful working theory that explains how Obama’s policies have been working to undermine the prestige of the United States worldwide. Viewers will be forced to ask themselves: is this what you want for the United States by 2016?



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