The politics of socialists, the power of protest, and the erosion of real debate
August is a hot month, and the tempers of Americans participating in one of our most democrat traditions are as high as the mercury. American citizens across the country are debating one of the most important policy issues of our time, health care reform. The question is: are these protests an amalgamation of voter angst, confusion and fear? Or are they some ginned-up creation of elitist insurance companies, powerful lobbyists, unions and conservative groups, unable to come to grips with a failing health care system, and the changes it will inevitably bring? The answer, in my opinion, is that it’s a combination of the two. Health care reform is a hot button issue that will touch off a fierce maelstrom of discussion no matter where, or when it takes place. The health care debate has raged for almost 100 years, beginning with the idea of what was then called Compulsory Health Insurance in 1910. Presidents from Theodore Roosevelt to Harry S. Truman have sounded the clarion call for a national health care system, one that largely called for preventative care that would lower costs, and possibly save lives in the long term. Truman in fact trumpeted a single system, where the government would pay for those that could not pay themselves. His efforts were shot down by many republicans, such as Robert Taft who said he “considered it socialism.”
Today these debates suffer from that same virulent theme: They are being used as demagoguery. They are being tied to the word socialism, and everything that that word has come to encapsulate. There is an inherent fear of equating something, anything, to a term that is implicitly linked to Soviet Russia and government control. It is possibly the worst slur you could utter in a free, democratic society. Various conservative groups such as FreedomWorks and Patients United Now have begun the campaign against reform, by mobilizing their resources and providing talking points to their supporters to use against their elected representatives at these town hall gatherings. Several of the themes in these talking points consist of railing against nationalized health care and socialism. Is it purely democracy at work, with dissenters of reform displaying their outrage about a bad bill? To a large extent it is. It also cannot be denied that these lobbying groups wield a vast amount of power in their attempts to move the dial back toward the status quo. Dick Armey, the chairman of FreedomWorks was a former Majority Leader of the house of representatives. FreedomWorks receives a substantial of amount of funding from the insurance industry, so it would be in their best interests to protest, and incite others sympathetic to their cause to protest as well.
Clearly it’s not unwise or unethical for these groups to storm town halls. However, the spectacle now emerging from captured pictures and videos, is not debate and discourse, at least not any that I recognize. It’s unruly, unwieldy chaos, perpetrated to stifle intelligent debate. The mob mentality has taken over politics. Congresswoman Michelle Bachmann talked about gangster government last week on the house floor. Well it seems that its affects have now spilled onto the streets of America’s cities. Can we debate without being cursed and shouted down? Can we discuss ideas and solutions without the fear of terse, violent retribution by the hands of those that oppose us?
There are real Americans who oppose this reform. They should oppose it if they feel it is wrong for them and for our nation. These town halls I fear, have been hijacked by the power elite, whose interests lie solely with propping up a system that provides them with financial solvency. Most of them have resorted to demonizing the process, by using fear, and buzzwords like “socialism,” and “Nazism” to scare Americans, just like Robert Taft did back in late 1940’s. After all, there is no better deterrent to an agenda, than equating it with a Stalin- controlled state.
And so, the debate goes on, extremely heated and unabated. My hope is that it continues, free from misinformation and fear-mongering going on both sides. And we simply get back to intelligent discourse, the way Americans are accustomed to doing.