Saturday, March 20, 2010

The Opponents of Health Care Reform


A group of Republican congressmen, including Reps. Steve King of Iowa and Jack Kingston of Georgia, emerged Saturday night to address the protesters who chanted "Kill the bill!" throughout the speeches.

"Our fight is not over," King told the crowd over a bullhorn. "You represent what is good and right about America. We will fight this bill until we completely defeat the government takeover of your personal liberty."

What amazes me is that, of the countless right-wingers who have asserted that the health care reform package constitutes a "takeover of personal liberty", not one has been able to identify the provisions in the bill that actually do this. Some have solved this problem by simply lying about the contents of the legislation - hence the claims that President Obama is pushing for "socialism", that the legislation would create "death panels", that the bill would cover illegal immigrants, etc. Most, however, simply bellow vague platitudes and empty talking points ad infinatum and ad nauseam, in what appears to be a belief that repetition is the same thing as rebuttal. Every time they do this, of course, they fail to construct a coherent argument as to how their freedoms would be harmed by a bill that: (A) prohibits insurance companies from denying coverage to people because they have pre-existing medical conditions, (b) extends insurance to thirty-two million Americans, (c) significantly expands Medicare prescription drug coverage, (d) provides subsidies to assist those Americans who can't afford insurance (and will now be required to carry it) in purchasing what they need, and (e) trims the budget deficit by $138 billion over ten years.

This makes me wonder how future historians will view today's anti-reformers. The chances are that they will classify them into four categories:

The first will consist of ideological conservatives and libertarians who, right or wrong, opposed the legislation for logically coherent intellectual and/or philosophical reasons. These individuals were especially noteworthy for NOT being among the unusually venomous and hysterical of the bill's opponents, and as a result of their calm and reasoned tones, were rendered virtually silent by the shrill declarations of the other three groups.

The second group, of course, will be the partisan Republicans who, after having had one of their own in the White House for twenty of the last twenty-eight years, were unwilling to recognize the legitimacy of - and thus determined to humiliate and strip power away from - any Democratic president. Their motives will be perceived as remarkably similar to those of the third class - the insurance corporations, pharmaceutical companies, and other big businesses that profited from the status quo in American health care and cared more about keeping an extra few hundred million dollars on their ledgers than practicing common human decency. Believe it or not, I suspect that the second and third groups will come out looking compatively better than the fourth one (who I will discuss in a moment), for at least their agendas, morally abhorrent though they may have been, will be easy for future scholars to understand; Republicans were determined to regain power and the plutocracy of Big Medicine wanted to continue earning as much money as humanly possible. Both of these motives make perfect sense in light of the known political and socioeconomic interests of each group.

And how will the fourth class - which has conveniently affixed to itself a label, "The Tea Party Movement" - be perceived by these historians? An incident from yesterday's Tea Party rally in Washington provides a perfect epitome:

Civil rights icon and veteran Rep. John Lewis, D-Georgia, said anti-health care bill protesters Saturday repeatedly yelled the "N" word at him as he left a heath care meeting and walked to the Capitol...

The incident was confirmed by Rep. Andre Carson, D-Indiana, who was walking with Lewis at the time. Protesters were yelling, "'kill the bill, kill the bill' and the 'N' word several times," Carson said.

Rep. Emanuel Cleaver, D-Missouri, released a statement late Saturday saying he too was called the "N" word as he walked to the Capitol for a vote and that he was spat on by one protestor who was arrested by U.S. Capitol Police. Cleaver declined to press charges against the man, the statement said. (

Republican political operative John Avlon, who worked as Rudy Giuliani's speechwriter during the latter's failed presidential campaign, explained it very succinctly:

Race has always been a fault line in American politics but what I believe is at work here is something more subtle than simple racism, and it is what I call the birth of white minority politics... I think there is an anxiety underneath this that President Obama represents the rise of a multicultural elite and the rise of a non-white majority in America. If you talk to many of these protestors in the field, one of the dates that keeps coming up is 2050, which is the date the US census estimates that there will be a non-white majority in the United States.

It is for these individuals that historians will quite likely be filled with contempt. Genuine philosophical conservatives will benefit from the sincerity of their convictions, incorrect though they may have been; Republicans and Big Business, acting as they did out of pure self-interest, will ot be disparaged any more so than the other groups throughout history which put power and profit over the greater good; but the Tea Partiers and grassroots anti-Obama movement, who hated this president before he even took office and will continue hating him regardless of his actions while there, will be recognized for the base racists that they always were. Considering that the anger and hatred they felt toward Barack Obama due solely to his race caused them to oppose measures that were, ironically enough, in their own best interest, the chances are that it will be difficult for historians to NOT view them with richly deserved disdain.

Racism is man's gravest threat to man - the maximum of hatred for a minimum of reason.
- Abraham J. Heschel, Jewish theologian and philosopher

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