Sunday, March 28, 2010

Reaping What Was Sown

Well, it's done. The health reform bill is passed and signed. Even the 'sidecar' bill of tweaks to the Senate bill have been passed, following a brief Congressional two-step. So this long healthcare battle is over, right? Yes and no. The problem, you see, is that you can't spend the better part of a year telling people that America faces "Armageddon" from this "government takeover of healthcare" perpetrated by "Commu-Fasci-Socialists" that want to institute "Death Panels" to make grandma "shovel ready" and then walk away when the vote goes against you. Once you get all that fervor stirred up, it's difficult to shrug and move onto another topic.

The citizenry that the Republicans systematically turned rabid is still frothing and unsated. They now believe that it really was the end of our republic when the bill passed. They completely lost the subtext of the whole debate, which was that the GOP was intent on fighting, by any means necessary, every single initiative the Obama Administration proposed. This included misrepresentations and outright lies about the substance of the reform bills. They don't realize that it was mostly political theater or that the bill actually resembles previous Republican proposals for health reform. So why is this a problem? Well it started with spitting and assorted slurs directed at Democratic members of Congress as House members arrived for the final vote on health reform and continued with even GOP members of Congress yelling out comments in the House chamber, as if it was a middle school assembly.  Then came broken glass at Democratic offices around the country, quickly followed by an Alabama blogger who claimed some measure of credit for a brick thrown through the Democratic Committee's office in Rochester, NY. The brick had a note attached to it that quoted Barry Goldwater's famous statement: "Extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice." It's one of those statements that seems patriotic until you think on it, which I'm sure these fringe dwellers did not. I firmly believe that extremism of any kind is bad. Extremism is synonymous with zealotry and fanaticism and are the same words we use for Al-Qaida and other groups like them. Not the comparison I think I'd want to make.

But it's escalated from there. Congressional Democrats, in particular, are getting calls threatening violence and outright death threats. I heard a string of truly nasty messages left at the home of Representative Bart Stupak, appearing to focus on abortion. They called him 'baby killer' and the like, which is truly ironic considering that what finally got him on board with the House vote was an agreement by the President to put out an executive order that stated there would be no Federal funding for abortion. To clarify, there never was language in either the final House or Senate bills that would have allowed Federal funding for abortion, so it was always a manufactured issue. Yet here we have people calling Stupak and railing at him, in pretty graphic and violent terms, about an issue that was never a concern anyway. It illustrates quite well that the people behind these sorts of calls were getting all their info on the reform bill from Glenn Beck and GOP talking points. In another incident, a conservative blogger posted what he thought was a Democratic House member's home address online. Bad form in and of itself. But it turned out to be the address for the Congressman's brother and the family found that someone had cut the gas lines outside their house. Now I know that there are a lot of irrational people around and they will always be around. But having said that, there are individuals and groups who need to take some responsibility for the current state of things. And no, I'm not talking about the Democrats who voted for the bill.

But before you think I’ve gone irrationally partisan, I ask you to think back to the GOP rhetoric over the last year objectively. It was consistently laced with phrases like “government takeover” and “Death Panels”.  They continually used emotionally evocative terms like “socialist”, “communist” and "gulag", among many others. These were just the Republican members of Congress, mind you. Once you step outside the Capital building it went downhill even faster. Signs comparing health reform to Auschwitz and Nazi social policies. We saw images of the President of the United States portrayed as the sociopathic Joker from the last Batman movie and as Hitler. By the time the final vote arrived we had protesters with signs threatening armed violence if they didn’t get their way. Add that to the slurs, spitting and threats and you have a nasty situation. Now you can claim that the protesters were responsible for their own overzealous behavior, but that is only partly true. Republican politicians and pundits share responsibility because they not only encouraged this misguided and arguably irrational behavior but actually joined in throughout the year with many of these protests. Put simply, they took the reasonable concern of a minority segment of the American people and whipped them into a Mob, convinced that the nation’s very soul was at stake. The GOP and the various conservative pundits created this Mob to use against the President and the Democratic majority. At every turn the Becks and the Limbaughs of the conservative movement made wild, inflammatory and, more often than not, fabricated statements to keep the fury running as hot as possible. Even Congressional leaders like House Minority Leader Boehner and Senate Minority Leader McConnell continued the misinformation and emotional rhetoric. The problem comes now that the reform bill is passed and signed into law. Now what? At some point, after milking the movement of as many contributions as possible under the ridiculous banner of "Repeal & Replace", the GOP will want to move on to the next issue. But the Mob will still be there. Still looking for blood. They won't understand that it was all a big political game to their conservative representatives. And they won't understand when those same politicians stop talking about the "evil that was done to the Constitution".

It's all well and good to use public outrage to support your policies, but when you surrender all principle and common sense you create not a group of concerned citizens, but a mob of fanatics. A mob who are, in many cases, protesting about issues that don't even exist. Once you get to that level, the most extreme within that group will be the ones running it and guiding it. That's where you get scary people who cut people's gas lines or call their home to leave obscenity laced diatribes describing the horrible ways they wish this person will suffer and die. That's were you get militia-like groups of fringe dwellers who see nothing wrong with bringing weapons to political gatherings and making veiled threats of overthrowing the government. Even now, House Minority Leader Boehner and his fellow Republicans have only managed to make weak statements saying that violence is not good. No condemnations or calls for calm. In fact, he only mentioned that violence and threats are not appropriate after he made allowances for how upset everyone was about the bill's passage. Really? That's the best he could do? That's about as much of a condemnation as when a man flew his plane into the IRS building in TX, killing one and injuring many, and Representative Steve King babbled about how the IRS is a problem and he could understand how the guy might have been frustrated. Yeah, let's feel sympathy for the disturbed individual who thought flying his plane into an office building and killing someone was a good idea. What do you think Boehner and others will say if one of these individuals injures or kills someone out of, what he considers, justifiable anger? I suspect they'll set land speed records distancing themselves from it, even though they helped set the stage for it. When you are in a position of power and trust, there is a measure of responsibility that goes along with it. These people don't seem to realize that. Look, if you go camping and build a fire, but don't put it out properly and a few thousand acres of forest goes up in flames, you are held responsible. Words may seem benign, but they can be just as dangerous as a spark in a pile of leaves.

1 comment:

  1. This rash of violence really brings home the question of 'what is terrorism?'
    Is this lashing out not terrorism? If someone goes out, vandalizes or threatens someone because of their beliefs and they do this to strike fear into their victim, all to change or condemn someone's belief...isn't that terrorism?
    These are the same people who deal in terrorism like a commodity. They rail against it. They invoke the word whenever they want people to come on board. They scream and yell, swear and spit. I guess it is a really fine line and one that is really easily hopped to go to outright violence and death threats.
    Funny that these same people were so upset when they thought that HCR would result in death panels. However, it is okay for them to pick up a phone and leave a threat for a politician and THEIR FAMILIES. Cut gas lines.
    There are terrorists on American soil. And we should be concerned. They just don't fit the 'profile.'


Please let me know what you think, even if it's to disagree.