Sunday, March 21, 2010

Another "I hate being right" moment.

There are times when I hate being right. One such occasion would be when I wrote here before the beginning of the NCAA basketball tournament that Northern Iowa was “a legitimate 5-seed, and they got jobbed. (So, of course, did KU, by potentially having to face a team a whole lot better than a 9-seed in the second round.)” Still, when you get only 2 fast-break points because the other team is sending only one guy to the boards with everybody else getting back on defense and you still give up 18 second-chance points, when you have a 3:5 assist to turnover ratio (and your All-American wannabe point guard is 4:5), when your two starting guards are a combined 0-for-11 from beyond the arc… well, you’re likely to lose because you stunk up the joint, not because the other team was good or even lucky (and UNI was both).

But, much as I love the Jayhawks, it bothers me considerably more that I was right, too, when I wrote this: “while the first few years of this millennium certainly demonstrated that the Republicans are horrible at governance, they did study long enough at the Karl Rove School of Outrageous Prevarication and Political Slimeballitude to get pretty good at … playing to the simmering racial animus that motivates much of their base.” Today’s headlines, coming as they do on the 45th anniversary of the third Selma to Montgomery march organized and led by Martin Luther King, are chilling. MSNBC’s description of an “Ugly build-up to House health care vote” doesn’t begin to tell the story. The New York Times comes, perhaps, a little closer: “Spitting and Slurs Directed at Lawmakers.” Disturbingly, grotesquely, horrifically, anti-health care reform activists have chanted “nigger” at Representatives Clyburn and Lewis and “faggot” at Representative Frank.

Yes, our friends in the Tea Party movement have decided that being inordinately proud of their ignorance and boorishness is no longer sufficient. Nor is it apparently any longer to their advantage to concentrate all their animosity on President Obama. I wish I could say that this is because they recognized that the President has shown precious little (apparent) leadership on the health-care debate, and that the bill that is coming up for a vote in the House reminds one of the famous saying that a camel is a horse designed by a committee. No, they have simply decided that it was too much trouble suppressing their hatred for anything and anyone who is the slightest bit different from them: in terms of race, religion, sexual orientation, whatever.

This is a movement encapsulated by the words of second-rate actor and first-rate moron Craig T. Nelson: “I've been on food stamps and welfare. Did anyone help me out? No.” This is the crowd that got a Democrat elected in an upstate New York district whose last non-Republican representative had been a Whig: and yet the Republican leadership embraced them, embraced their utter disregard for reason, embraced their comparison of the President of the United States to Hitler, embraced their total ignorance of and/or disregard for the most basic provisions of the reform proposals, embraced their taunting of ill or disabled citizens who just want a system that cares at least almost as much about them as about corporate profits. And now… “oh, my goodness, we certainly don’t condone that kind of behavior.” Actually, no, you don’t condone getting caught.

Even as the most loony of the right argue that nothing happened (and that if it did, it was socialist "plants" who did the deed), leading Congressional Republicans like John Boehner and Eric Cantor are tsk-tsking while, of course, denying that the actions of the few are in any way indicative of the feelings of the many. Needless to say, the party that claims to value personal responsibility denies any role in creating and perpetuating an environment in which this kind of mob-driven ugliness can thrive.

When Democratic Representative John Larson suggested that it might be time to “ratchet back just a little bit,” Cantor responded, “you know what it is time for? It's time to listen to the American people, and that is the stunning thing about this.” Would that be the American people who support the public option and think the current bill doesn’t go far enough, sir? Oh, wait, majorities don’t matter. Not the majority who elected President Obama, not the majority who elected a significant majority of Democrats to both houses of Congress. Not in this Brave New World in which corporations have personhood. The only majority you care about, Mr. Cantor, is who contributes the majority of the money to your campaign coffers. And it takes a lot of $20 contributions to match what you pull in from the health care industry: over $594,000 from insurance companies, health professionals, pharmaceutical companies, and HMOs, nearly half a million dollars ($488,700, or about 82% of the total) of which came from PACs instead of individuals, just in the last election. Mr. Cantor, if I were to guess your principal allegiances as a Congressman, the people of your district would be lucky to crack the top 10.

Just in case you cared, though—in a moment of weakness, perhaps—here are the responses to two questions posed to voters in your home state of Virginia (home of Real Americans) by the reputable pollsters Research 2000:

“What would make you more likely to vote for Democrats in the 2010 elections: If they pass health care reform that includes a public health insurance option but gets zero Republican votes OR if they pass health care reform without a public option but with some Republican votes?” 55% prefer the former, 33% the latter.

“Would you favor or oppose the national government offering everyone the choice of buying into a government administered health insurance plan -- something like the Medicare coverage that people 65 and older get -- that would compete with private health insurance plans?” 61% approve, 32% disapprove. Oh, by the way, it’s a little more emphatic still (62-30) among independents. “Listen to the American people,” indeed.

Like most of Congress (both parties), no doubt, I haven’t read the legislation in its entirety. Assuming the news media are doing their job even a little bit, however, I have a pretty good idea what is and isn’t there. To be honest, I fear the bill may have been so eviscerated that it might end up as a net loss. But I’m guided by two things: the conversion of Dennis Kucinich, and the rhetoric of the opposition. If the Republicans can’t muster a better argument against this bill than that it’s socialist (it clearly isn’t) or that the American people think it goes too far (they clearly don’t), then my temptation would be to hold my nose and vote for it.

But, if nothing else, this debate has taught us a lot. Unfortunately, one thing we’ve learned is that overt, pervasive, racism in this country didn’t disappear when some of us imagined that it did. The election of an African-American President wasn’t, as we hoped, the signal of a new era, but the catalyst for a trip back in time to a darker age. The wound we thought was healed had merely scabbed over, and there was some nasty, gangrenous pus underneath. I say that “we” were fooled. I should clarify: the Republican leadership and their corporate masters knew all along. That’s what they’ve been counting on.

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