The Worst Person In Arkansas? (Gwen Moritz Editor's Note)

by Gwen Moritz  on Monday, Jul. 17, 2017 12:00 am   3 min read

The letters to the editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette never cease to be instructive. A couple of weeks ago, a letter showed up that still has me shaking my head. I confirmed that the staff of the D-G’s editorial page followed the usual confirmation policy by contacting the writer, but I’m not sure whether the writer was serious or satirical.

In fact, I’m not even sure the name is real.

The writer, identified as Ashton Miller III of Hot Springs, proclaimed himself to be “disgusted by the whiny letter-writers defending freeloaders who want free health care.” Then he explained why:

Miller’s family owns “numerous businesses” and therefore has “paid for the best plans because of our hard work and ability to do so.” Why, he asked, “should I subsidize someone else’s health plan who has no desire to work or the ability to succeed and rise to the level of accountability in which they pay for their own?”

He compared health insurance with other consumer goods — the new Mercedes that his grandfather buys every other year and his family’s luxury vacations. “Would it be fair to charge him triple the price so people who don’t want to work as hard can drive one as well? Should my family vacation be in Branson instead of Hawaii, but pay the same price so people without jobs can vacation as well?”

Ashton III’s resentment of health insurance for people who can’t afford it doesn’t extend only to lazy or disabled strangers. His family’s businesses “don’t offer health care to our employees.” Instead, they offer annual bonuses of up to $1,000 — approximately 15 percent of the annual premium of an individual health insurance policy — to employees who call in sick fewer than three days per year.

His conclusion made use of a rhetorical device I’ve never seen before but may adopt for all future arguments: He speculated that important people (specifically our U.S. senators) feel the same way that he does — and then concurred with the opinions he attributed to them:

“This country has become a bunch of crybabies who want and feel entitled to something for nothing. They cannot do it for political reasons, but I think Tom Cotton and John Boozman feel the same way. If given their druthers, I think they would just as soon the government get out of the health-care business altogether. I agree.”

My first question for Ashton Miller III: Which companies does your family own? The job market is tight, and your best employees would be ripe for picking by more appreciative employers. But neither googling nor inquiries with People Who Know People in his alleged hometown of Hot Springs turned up any intel on Miller or his family’s companies. And that leads me to conclude that the name is fake and the family business fortune may be too.

But even if the name and personal details are fake, the letter-writer — puffed up with the fierce courage of anonymity — could have been expressing his sincere attitude toward people who can’t afford the world’s most expensive health insurance. Or maybe he was pretending to be one of those insufferable young men whose life’s achievement has been choosing his parents more skillfully than most. Do we really have those in Arkansas?

One letter written in response asked the same question: “Was the letter from Ashton Miller III for real or just somebody’s idea of a joke?” But other readers are taking him very seriously indeed: “Wow, what a swell guy! ... No wonder we need the Affordable Care Act.” “As he obviously disagrees with the actions of a government empowered by the people it represents, I suggest that Mr. Miller III move to Somalia.”

Curiously, Ashton Miller III — then of Hot Springs Village — wrote a similarly snooty letter to the editor of the D-G in March 2015. The subject then was the changing demographics of the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville, and it was equally difficult to pin down.

“My great-grandfather and three generations have attended, and riffraff are hurting the prestige and elite status of the university,” he wrote. The administration, he complained, had “allowed low-income, outclassed, poorly educated students to over-populate classrooms and labs, diluting the educational process for generational family students who can afford U of A without handouts.”

Responses to that one also took him seriously, although I think Wade Green of Camden got it just right: “Well, excuse me, Mr. Ashton Miller III! Or was it Thurston Howell III?” Here’s hoping both are fictional caricatures.


Gwen Moritz is editor of Arkansas Business. Email her at GMoritz@ABPG.com.

 

 

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