A Sad State of Affairs
The President of the United States decides to address the country’s students, urging them to study hard and stay in school. The raw-meat eaters on the Republican side then accuse the President of trying to indoctrinate our children with “socialist ideology”. Their spokespersons on talk radio and cable television suggest that the President is Hugo Chavez, Saddam Hussein and a banana dictator all wrapped into one.
It must be frustrating for these self-proclaimed paragons of the right to go through their political lives unable to seriously reflect on difficult issues without declaring that the apocalypse is upon us. Theirs’ is politics through mugging, hate and fear; policy making through lies, distortions, and innuendos. It is a destructive brand of politics that should be beneath our contempt. The future of our country is in danger when many of the nation’s leaders refuse to seriously discuss solutions to difficult problems, preferring instead to follow the lead of hate mongers who stir the base passions of scared and angry people.
Back in my day of working in state-government politics, those of us on the left and those on the right would argue opposite sides of tough issues… and, we would keep at it until we found a consensus. We didn’t demagogue or vilify each other, we didn’t launch personal attacks, but we did present our often-differing views with passion.
As a case in point, I remember a time when the State of Arizona was facing a crisis that threatened to shut down the state’s Medicaid program. I was the point man for the Democratic Governor, and was engaged in a day-long negotiation with the Republican Majority Leader of the House. We went at it vigorously, but at 5p.m. we rode together to the softball field where I coached our two daughters in the final game of the season. We later reached an agreement while sitting at a Burger King during an after-game party. The two of us genuinely liked and respected one another, and we shared the same goal: find a solution that worked for the state and the people we were called to serve. We were not looking for a political win for our party, but a win for Arizona.
Contrast that to the rhetoric of today around the issue of health care: The President is called a socialist, a communist and a traitor because he believes that health care is a moral right and should be accessible to all citizens of this country. A cable television hate-monger states that the President is leading us to “Nazi-style” socialism” because he seeks to have a public option to compete with the insurance companies.
Others distort the proposals, suggesting that Democrats want to form death panels to decide who lives and who dies; or that the plans being considered will permit federal funds for abortions; or that Obama wants the government to choose providers and ration the care a person receives; or that the Democrats are secretly plotting to eliminate Medicare. It is too polite to label these and other outrageous claims coming from the right as “distortions”. They are flat out lies.
Any attempt at rational, reasoned discussion is feared by the right, so they have adopted a strategy of disruption. People show up at “town hall meetings” with posters of the President doctored to look like Adolph Hitler, and they shout down those who disagree with them, refusing to permit any civil substantive conversation. Folks come to meetings where the President is speaking bearing guns. A man in Phoenix Arizona hears a sermon where the pastor suggests that God should strike down President Obama and send him to hell, then after church the man attends an Obama rally with an assault riffle.
Is this a thoughtful way to find a solution to our nation’s health care crisis? I wonder what the 900,000 U.S. families that face medical bankruptcy each year think about this right-wing anti-Obama show put on by people who have yet to offer a constructive idea to the debate. I wonder what they think when they read that the same people who supported tax cuts that took trillions out of our economy, now argue that a $900 billion price tag is too much for the nation to pay to ensure comprehensive, reliable and quality health care for all Americans.
Tell that to the father who lost his family’s medical insurance when he was laid off from his job and can’t afford the premium for the COBRA policy. Tell that to the mother who is battling cancer and cannot afford her co-pay for drugs, or to the parents who can’t get insurance because they have a child with a “preexisting condition”. Tell that to the family whose soaring medical insurance premiums are destroying their standard of living.
I agree with the words of Bob Herbert in his September 8 op-ed piece in the New York Times: “The entire Republican Party has decided that it is in favor of absolutely nothing…There is nothing that you can come up with that the G.O.P. is for…The serious wackos, the obsessive compulsive abusrdists, may be beyond therapy. But the rest of us could use some serious adult counseling. We’ve forgotten many of the fundamentals: how to live within our means, the benefits of shared sacrifice, the responsibilities that go with citizenship, and the importance of a well-rounded education, and tolerance.” Amen!