Thursday, March 18, 2010

147. Opposition to Obama is baffling

The real winners in the healthcare debate are not the Democrats, but the millions of previously uninsured Americans that will now have health insurance, as well as those with pre-existing conditions, those who might max out their benefits, and the small business owners. The losers, quite obviously, are the insurance companies and those making more than $250,000 per year.

However, moving beyond the winners and losers, it's a political debate that has spiraled out of control. Political allegiance has become so entrenched that people have nearly lost their minds in protesting something that benefits so many Americans. Many of the arguments against healthcare are puzzling, and the people protesting, remarkably, are often protesting against their own interest. Tomorrow it could be them that loses their job (and subsequently their healthcare insurance), or them that becomes uninsurable due to a pre-existing condition. Do the social conservatives of the Republican Party really believe that thousands upon thousands of fellow Americans, and fellow Christians, should die because they do not have access to affordable healthcare? I don't think they do and the tantrum being thrown by some Republicans is difficult to understand.

While incited during the healthcare debate, the ramifications of this political allegiance appear to go much deeper.

A recent Harris poll showed that 67 percent of Republicans believe that President Obama is a socialist, 57 percent believe he is a Muslim, 42 percent believe he is a racist and, among other things, 38 percent believe he is doing the same things as Hitler. While people have a right to "believe" whatever they wish, at some point we must be concerned when more than a third of Republicans are completely separated from reality. I mean, Hitler, really? More concerning than what people believe, however, is how they have come to have those beliefs. I think the case can be made that if you say it often enough, people will start to believe it-particularly if it is something that people want to believe.

There are many good political and philosophical debates that can be had between not only Republicans and Democrats, but also among all political parties, such as Libertarians, and, yes, even Socialists. I find that many issues have excellent arguments on both sides, and their discussions intrigue me. While I am steadfastly a liberal, more than a "Democrat," I always enjoy a good philosophical argument.

The problem today is these arguments are evaporating into sound bites full of exaggerations, purposeful misinformation, name-calling, myths, lies and, now, even threats of violence. While the problems certainly exist on both sides of the aisle, conservative television and radio, as evidenced by the Harris Poll, have reached unprecedented levels of influence. The assertion, for example, that Obama is a socialist is pounded into the minds of viewers and listeners, obsessively, repeatedly, day after day, month after month. The near hatred that the people have for Obama is not only disrespectful-it is scary.

Believe it or not, that is a difficult perspective for me to not only undertake, but also to suggest. I fear my own biases and prejudices in making that assertion; however, it seems to be undeniably true. The comments made by Republican congresspersons, the name-calling and racial slurs made by their followers, and now the threats of violence over the healthcare bill have brought out the worst in American politics.

To experience this, all anyone has to do is read the comments following a story about healthcare on the Internet-the comments are not about actual problems in the healthcare bill, they are personal attacks on Obama. It is a steady diet of socialist, Hitler, terrorist, Marxist and so on. Here are just a few from about the possible repeal of healthcare, "The arrogant communist has spoken," "even hitler was more subtle," "This guy truly is a Marxist!" "Nice try, you make Castro and Karl Marx proud." "Long Live Our Democratic Republic....we will do whatever it takes to bring down this democrat administration which is full of communist, fascists, and terrorists." This goes on and on, for pages.

The ironic part about this learned attack is the presumption that Obama is extremely liberal (or any of the other things he is called). As I said, I am a liberal on most issues-and I know lots of liberals - and many of us are unhappy with some of President Obama's policies. Advocates of the public option are unhappy with him, so are environmentalists, and civil rights activists. Dennis Kucinich, Michael Moore, Bill Maher and many others have criticized him. The great civil rights activist and pacifist, Howard Zinn, called Obama a great disappointment before he died. There is no blind allegiance, rather there is some understanding that there needs to be room for compromise. While President Obama is certainly not a conservative, he is not the unapologetic liberal that he is accused of. Nor is he a socialist, Muslim or anything resembling Adolf Hitler.

The perspective held by political followers is obviously subjective and easily influenced. I think people have picked a side more than they have invested themselves into objectively understanding the issues. At some point, the inflammatory speech needs to end, and talk show hosts need to be held accountable for their actions, or, at the very least, inspired to have some honest conversation. In what should be the marketplace of ideas, these hosts only seem to be trying to antagonize their audience-taking it up a level to see who can garner the most attention for his or her commentary.

Unfortunately, the healthcare debate is not over . . . Republicans have declared war and promised to repeal it at first instance. Each and every problem with the bill will become a "sky is falling" rallying cry. However, one headline about the first bill introduced to repeal it made the point that people seem to be missing, it said something like, "Republicans introduce bill to uninsure millions of Americans." At some point, conservatives need to calm down and regain their composure. While this bill is not perfect, it is also not Armageddon-no matter what Beck, Limbaugh and Hannity proclaim.

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