MSNBC’s Hayes: Racism to Blame for States’ Lack of Medicaid Expansion

MSNBC personalities frequently turn to race to explain away society’s ills, and on Thursday’s All In, host Chris Hayes cried racism on the topic of state Medicaid expansion under ObamaCare. Hayes started by admitting what many people have probably guessed about him and many of his fellow MSNBC hosts – that he sees American politics through a racial lens. He proclaimed:

“The racial prism I use to analyze American politics has grown sharper and I think in some ways more pessimistic in the Obama era. I will cop to that, unquestionably. Like, I do think, see things more thoroughly through the prism of race.”


Having established that race colors his view of the world, Hayes put up a map on the screen of states that have and have not expanded Medicaid under the ACA. The map showed that most of the states that have not expanded are Republican-leaning states in the Great Plains and the South. That makes sense, of course. States with more conservative governments are less likely to support the expansion of a welfare program such as Medicaid.

However, Hayes didn’t accept the red state/blue state paradigm as the only explanation. Referring to the South, where most states have not expanded Medicaid, he noted darkly, “that's a region of the country in which the Medicaid recipients are predominantly people of color.”

The host continued with his conspiracy theory:
 

No one is calling it racial, but when I look at the statistics and when I look at the fact that Kentucky and West Virginia have expanded and basically have no black people, I cannot help but see race in that fight.
 

Yes, Kentucky and West Virginia are two southern states that have expanded Medicaid. But they both have Democratic governors – Steve Beshear and Earl Ray Tomblin, respectively. Arkansas, the other southern state that has expanded Medicaid, also has a Democratic governor. All of the southern states that have refused the expansion have Republican governors. Doesn’t Hayes think party might be a bigger factor than race?

Furthermore, Arkansas ranks 12th in the nation with a population that is 16 percent black. Their substantial black population clearly didn’t discourage them from expanding Medicaid. Likewise, Kentucky is far from having “no black people” – they rank 25th with an eight percent black population.

All of the states that have not expanded Medicaid have Republican governors except one – Montana. And Montana has the smallest black population in the country, so you know that Gov. Steve Bullock is not trying to withhold Medicaid from his black residents. Most of the heartland states that are not expanding Medicaid, in fact, have small black populations.

Resistance to the Medicaid expansion probably has much more to do with a governor’s ideology than a state’s racial makeup, despite what Chris Hayes sees through his race-tinted glasses.

Below is a transcript of the segment:

 

CHRIS HAYES: Jonathan, there's some really interesting data that you bring up in that essay. To me, the thing, and I actually have to – let me be honest here. The racial prism I use to analyze American politics has grown sharper and I think in some ways more pessimistic in the Obama era. I will cop to that, unquestionably. Like, I do think, see things more thoroughly through the prism of race.

JONATHAN CHAIT, New York magazine: So do I.

HAYES: I think that's been foisted upon me by the facts in some way, and one of the most clarifying fights for me has been this Medicaid expansion. Because it really does feel like, if you look at the map, the map of the states that aren't expanding Medicaid like, you know, you see the heartland of the country, that is very red. And then you see that – you see that region that's got a similar part to it that is basically the South, that is the deep South, and that's a region of the country in which the Medicaid recipients are predominantly people of color. And that fight, to me, that feels like a -- that feels like one of those fights where I'm reading race in. No one is calling it racial, but when I look at the statistics and when I look at the fact that Kentucky and West Virginia have expanded and basically have no black people, I cannot help but see race in that fight.



CHAIT: I totally agree, and I cite that issue as something you can legitimately read race into. But the problem is almost all these issues you can read race into. The Republican party is a nearly all-white coalition. The Democratic party is a much more diverse coalition. So all these fights are going to pit these coalitions against each other. The problem is when you can go to almost any issue and see a racial dynamic, and I really think you can, and you can legitimately, then you have to say, well, there's some duty to consider these issues outside of that context as well.

Paul Bremmer
Paul Bremmer is a Media Research Center News Analysis Division intern.