Thursday, April 1, 2010

Whiskey Tango Foxtrot?

A year ago, anyone not named Rush Limbaugh or Glenn Beck believed that the American system of private insurance-based health care was seriously ill. Rhetoric about the best health care in the world notwithstanding, politicians, health care experts and indeed most Americans perceived a tottering system that had crippled businesses large and small with dramatically increased insurance costs and had left millions without access to acceptable health care.

More and more employees assumed greater co-payments for diminishing benefits while watching their wages stagnate. Insurance companies dropped coverage of thousands of individuals just when  the policies paid into for years were most needed. Thousands more were denied coverage because of pre-existing conditions. Millions could not afford coverage at all, exerting tremendous pressure on the emergency rooms of public hospitals, which added noticeably to local tax burdens. Health care experts thought that, if let alone, the patient would continue to sicken until it collapsed. 

In 2008, Barack Obama and congressional Democrats swept to electoral victory based in part on a promise to address the health care crisis. After examining the situation, they drew two conclusions:
  1. Left to its own devices, the health care apparatus could not heal itself.
  2. The scope and significance of the problem required meaningful government action.
But Democrats did not agree on which government action, and considered approaches ranging from single-payer (in effect, Medicare for all) to regulatory reform of the existing system. Rightly or wrongly, President Obama threw his weight behind the latter, reasoning that it was the most politically feasible and the least disruptive. Among other things, the resulting law
  • ends the practice of recission
  • lifts lifetime limits on coverage
  • allows all Americans to purchase health insurance, even if they have a preexisting condition
  • closes a loophole in Medicare, Part D and provides seniors with a $250 rebate against Part D expenses
  • requires insurance companies to sell insurance to 32,000,000 uncovered Americans, who must purchase it through the existing system of private insurance
Moreover, the new law minimizes the economic impact of buying insurance by providing subsidies and tax breaks to business and individuals.

You can argue about whether the president's analysis and approach are right or wrong, but that's not the point here. The point is that virtually any reputable historian, economist, or political scientist will recognize them as mainstream moderate-to-liberal thought that lies well with the grounds of the Constitution and traditional American values. They may not agree with the approach, and certain historians will argue convincingly that it is conservative (in that it seeks to shore up the existing private sector system), but you will not find any who predict Armageddon as result of this law.  Nor have any of them flown into hysterics about the end of our way of life. And no serious political philosopher will describe this law as consistent with fascism, Naziism, socialism, or communism: You can Google from now until Rush Limbaugh goes on the wagon and you won't find a single one.

Is the law a major government intervention in the economy? Of course it is. But a new federal policy regarding a sector that is 16% of the economy and growing is bound to be significant. And, again, you don't have to buy the necessity of the new law to accept that the argument for it isn't radical. Is the law Big Government? I don't know, because "Big Government" is not a meaningful term. Conservatives use it to cudgel any government activity that they don't like while remaining strangely silent when it comes to sweeping government policy that they do like (such as banning abortions or suspending habeas corpus as an anti-terrorism measure). As the term carries no philosophical consistency, it is meaningless.

What, then, could possibly explain the murderous hatred and vitriol directed at President Obama, Nancy Pelosi, and the tens of millions of Americans who call themselves Democrats? Why would a 70-year old widower explode in a fit of road rage and attack a car with an Obama sticker? Why would people leave depraved messages on Congressman Bart Stupak's phone? This behavior is so out of proportion to the action taken against a very real problem -- again, a problem that almost everyone agrees exists -- as to be inexplicable in rational terms. Is it any wonder, then, that Frank Rich writes that teabaggery is a response to "...the same kind of national existential reordering that roiled America in 1964"?

Rich's column is not, as the conservative punditocracy would have us believe, about racism. It's about the belated response to changes that have already happened. Barack Obama did not seize power in a coup, nor did Nancy Pelosi materialize in Congress out of thin air. Barney Frank did not appear with a wave of David Copperfield's hand, nor did Sonia Sotomayor waltz onto the mainland from Puerto Rico a few weeks ago. But, together they represent the paranoid right's direst fears come true, fears that have their origins in the civil rights legislation of the 60s and in the successes of feminism and the gay rights movement. In the fevered minds of the teabaggers, Barack Obama and Nancy Pelosi and the liberals are confiscating their money and giving it to society's most despicable people: Minorities, single mothers, the poor, and the weak. Never mind that the health care law is financed by systemic reforms and taxes on the wealthy or that it rescues a failing system that we all rely on, including them.

The fears are as groundless as the perception of income redistribution is misguided. No one's life is worse for the continued integration of minorities, women, and gays into the tapestry of democracy. Whether the teabaggers recognize it or not, their lives are the better for this and the nation is stronger. The sky has not fallen because anyone's neighbor is black or brown or gay, or because anyone's son is gay, or because anyone's daughter married a non-white. Yet, one gets the feeling that teabaggers wish the sky would fall, because if it does not, their entire world view is wrong -- a prospect they can't live with. They seem to believe that if they shout loudly and obscenely enough, stamp their feet hard enough, make enough threats, and run enough cars off the road, they can fulfill the apocalyptic fantasies of their familiars in right wing militias. And then, of course, blame it all on Barack Obama and his liberal supporters. But they're wrong and they'll always be wrong: You can't love America and hate Americans.

Twenty years from now, if he's still alive, John "Armageddon Hell No" Boehner will awaken retired in a comfortable Cincinnati home. Maybe he'll think ahead to an afternoon's gunplay at his local shooting range, or contemplate the guest column he writes for the Cincinnati Enquirer (if it exists), the just due of a grand old man of Ohio politics. Maybe he'll limp into his kitchen for morning coffee on new knees, surgically repaired thanks to the health insurance extended to all retired federal employees. Hopefully, he'll reflect on the contentment he enjoys, courtesy of the good life conferred by America on the successful. After pouring his coffee, maybe he'll step onto his front porch to take in the glories of a new day. He'll watch the sun rise, and maybe even he will secretly wonder why he ever thought that H. R. 4872 meant the end of the world.  He might wave good morning to the neighbor he suspects is gay, but it doesn't really matter because the guy keeps his lawn mowed and looks after the Boehner home whenever John and his wife travel. The sun shines down brightly on him and on the millions of Americans who have access to the health care system that he once viewed as an exclusive club.

Or maybe he'll just be a cantankerous old fart.

Either way and despite his dire predictions, John still drinks good whiskey, the flag still waves, and the sun still comes up. Every morning...

I'm not responsible, says the pope, and I have the lawyers to tell you why. Of course, I can tell a billion Catholics what to think, and I can preside as the ultimate power over a highly centralized church structure rotten with termites of our own breeding. But my responsibility goes no further than slapping the hands of few bishops and running for legal cover when the victims among my flock demand justice. Oh, and I urge those who have fallen away from the Church to come back. We welcome you with open arms...

What does health care mean to you? The Washington Post provides this handy tool: Just answer a few questions and you'll get an explanation of your health coverage and taxes based on your income, family size and current insurance status. (Thanks, Birdsonawire)...

Larry Blumenfeld of The Village Voice writes that Treme, David Simon's upcoming HBO series, does for music and culture what The Wire did for politics and money. If Treme does it half that well, it will be great. (Thanks, Foxessa)...

With friends like this:
You know, we just got through (electing) a politician who can run his mouth at Mach 1, a black one, and now we have a Hispanic who can run his mouth at Mach 1...You’ve got the black one with the reading thing. He can go as fast as the speed of light and has no idea what he’s saying. I put Rubio in that same category, except I don’t know if he’s using one of those readers...
Eugene Robinson of the Washington Post writes:
It is dishonest for right-wing commentators to insist on an equivalence that does not exist. The danger of political violence in this country comes overwhelmingly from one direction -- the right, not the left. The vitriolic, anti-government hate speech that is spewed on talk radio every day -- and, quite regularly, at Tea Party rallies -- is calibrated not to inform but to incite.
More here...


Roy said...

Interesting thoughts on why the opposition to health care reform is so intense. I think you might have a point there.

I had to laugh when Charlie Crist was described as being buddy-buddy with Obama; that's gotta be one of the biggest stretches I've ever read!

Re: the Hutarees, and by extension the whole militia movement... I was listening to the Diane Rehm show yesterday (it's an NPR daily panel and talk show) and one of the topics was the Hutarees. One of the callers was from some militia up in Michigan who was complaining that "the media" was lumping all the militias with people like the Hutarees and it wasn't fair. He was trying to portray most militias as equivalent to neighborhood watch groups, and claimed that there was a full political spectrum represented in his particular group; he kept insisting that there was a need for being alert and ready for trouble in times like these.

Yeah, right. I'm sorry, but we already have a militia; it's called the National Guard. Anyone really thinking we need more military-style boots on the ground above and beyond the National Guard and state and local law enforcement has a real problem with paranoia and needs to see a shrink ASAP. And a belief that we need our own civilian militia because the official ones are suspect because they're part of the "gummint" is a sure symptom of raging paranoia.

Yeah, that's what we really need - more uncontrolled guns wandering the streets looking for trouble. I wonder what Canada's like this time of year?

Paula said...

Beautifully put! We're looking at a whole generation of folks scared half out of their minds, fearful THEY'LL soon be the minority, and will lose what little power they have over their pitiful lives. Well, they're right: The fruit of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 is ripening, as more and more minorities (and women) stake a claim to what little is left of the American dream.
By the way, thanks for the ref, K.

sEAN bENTLEY said...

Well stated, Paul.

tnlib said...

"Rich's column is not, as the conservative punditocracy would have us believe, about racism."

I don't think I totally agree with this. While Rich never uses the word "racism" his arguments certainly point to it. I think what he is saying is: although there are other factors behind the "outrage" on the extreme right, the possibility and then the reality of having a black president has been the catalyst for a very ugly movemenbt.

For the most part, blatant racism has been simmering like a dormant volcano since 1964. The election of a black president has generated an eruption of volcanic proportions. Because it is politically incorrect to use the "nigger" word they have substituted other flim-flam excuses for their anger.

Because they revere women like Bachman, Palin and Blackburn (TN), the dislike of Sotomayor has nothing to do with the fact that she is a woman but because she is a ((Hispanic)) woman.

Pelosi has been the target of wrath from conservatives and even some democrats for some time. Some of it boils down to the old, but correct, theory that "if a man is successful, he is a genius but if a woman is successful, she is a bitch." BUT, when cameras showed Obama kissing Nancy that was simply more than their racist selves could stomach.

All these other factors Rich mentions - and you in this excellent post - are valid and should not be ignored. But racism is basically what it's all about. If Obama were a Truman, a Carter or a Cinton, i.e., a white guy, there may have been mild protests and expressions of diagreement, but not to this extent and not with such a gigantic race card.

tnlib said...

"If Obama were a Truman, a Carter or a Cinton, i.e., a white guy, there may have been mild protests and expressions of diagreement, but not to this extent and not with such a gigantic race card."

Should have included LBJ whose war was on another front.

K. said...

Oooh, I missed that kiss! I wish I could have seen that. Even more, I wish I could have seen the apoplectic fits it must have inspired.

All: Thanks for reading such a long post and thanks for the compliments.

tnlib said...

Well, they weren't big slurpy pucker uppers on the lips, just dry brushes on the cheeks. The fact that he not only looked a white woman in the eyes but that he touched her, by God, causes great angst.

Steven said...

But, wait... where's the story about El Rushbo packing his bags and leaving as he promised? Oh...he didn't?

K. said...

Maybe Costa Rica wouldn't let him in.

Barry and Barbara Knister said...

An extremely valuable posting, thank you. I too read Rich's column. The stats he provides on non-caucasian birth rates seem to me to underpin most of the anti-Obama rage. It's not simple racism so much as the complex mix produced by feeling something confidently true slipping away: racial, ethnic and cultural dominance. Couple this with economic plates shifting under everyone's feet, and a lot of people are going to be shaken. And they will be grateful to anyone who "explains" who's to blame.

K. said...

The shame of it is that there are always demagogues to take advantage of this, when what is most needed -- by the 'baggers and by the country -- are principled conservatives to lead them through the changes that are going to come no matter what.