Tuesday, August 11, 2009



Public rhetoric about health care reform is getting quite belligerent these days. It seems I can’t read the newspaper without noticing a story about some outraged maniac who disrupts a town hall meeting about health care. Interestingly, these outbursts do not break down along party lines. Both Republicans and Democrats publicly freak out as soon as anyone mentions health care. No one really seems to know all the facts. Misinformation is rampant. Everyone is worried. People think they either will lose their health care or pay away their entire salary in taxes. Seniors think the Federal government will take away their prescription drugs and repeal Medicare. Insurance companies have launched campaigns intended to make Americans reflexively recoil from the words “socialist medicine” and “single-payer system.”

But amid all this confusion, no one knows what will happen. This leaves a lot of room for propaganda, deception, manipulation and even violent rhetoric. So the Nation just blusters along: Shouting, screaming and accusing imaginary enemies of imaginary conspiracies. It is a dangerous climate. When large numbers become desperate and irrational like this, really bad things can happen.

Before Obama won the election last year, I wrote a piece about hatred in the United States. http://reasoncommercejustice.blogspot.com/2008/10/prediction.html. I openly worried that Obama could well face assassination in a country with such a profound legacy of intolerance, hatred and political violence, especially involving racial questions. During Obama’s first few months in office, he seemed to transcend those worries. The Nation was entranced; it could not really believe it just elected a black President. For a few fleeting weeks, Obama’s hopeful rhetoric seemed to have triumphed. In such a confident atmosphere, no one could think to assassinate this man.

But times are changing. Health care is Obama’s first major confrontation with deeply entrenched power structures in American society. To reform health care, hopeful rhetoric is not enough. Rather, reforming health care takes gritty, exhausting political pragmatism. It takes courage and clear vision. At the same time, it takes a fighting spirit. After all, there are too many vested interests with too many profits at stake in the current system. Insurance companies and drug barons will not just roll over and allow reform. Shouting “Yes we can” will not transform a free market bastion into a socialist utopia. In a word, genuine health care reform requires immense social changes. And vested interests resist immense social changes by any means necessary, including subversion, misinformation, propaganda, intimidation and murder.

This is not paranoia. This is history. When reforming Presidents and social leaders genuinely “threaten immense change” in American life, they put themselves in mortal danger. Abraham Lincoln dared to abolish slavery, a vital component in American life up to his time. That effort upset vested interests; he was murdered. John F. Kennedy dared to deconstruct America’s military industrial complex; he was murdered. Robert Kennedy promised to bring “social justice” to American life through civil rights legislation and “big government” spending; he was murdered. Martin Luther King, Jr. dared to propose racial harmony and to condemn inequality in the United States; he was murdered, too. President Obama—a black man, no less—now dares to dismantle private control over health care in the United States. Health care is a multi-trillion dollar business. Powerful people really like the way it is now, unjust or not. His effort has already ruffled vested interests. He is inviting danger.

You can sense the danger simply by following the rhetoric. Just last week, for instance, I saw pictures from a Republican rally somewhere in the Midwest. According to the news source, they were complaining about Democratic efforts to “socialize” medicine and prevent them from seeing doctors they wanted to see. But their complaints were less troubling than their banners. In one picture, a young man carried a placard with Obama’s face on it. The caption: “Hitler gave great speeches, too.”

If this were just another election battle, I might have dismissed this comment as mere imbecility. Whenever anyone doesn’t like a political opponent in the United States, the natural—and stupid—tendency is to label him “Hitler.” Anti-Bush protesters routinely compared Bush to Hitler. But this time the tables are strangely turned. Bush never pledged to reform health care in the United States. Opponents facetiously compared him to Hitler because he expanded government power against the individual, dismantled civil liberties and embarked on foreign war adventures. Bush defended vested interests; he did not threaten them. Those were vaguely “Hitler-like” interventions. Still, Bush was no Hitler—not even close. I think even the most fanatical anti-Bush protesters realized that. Bush may have disrespected the Constitution and trampled a few liberties here and there. But he never systematically exterminated people he considered racially inferior.

Obama, by contrast, represents the “little man” against massive private interests. And he is even less “Hitler-like” than Bush. Obama swore to defend constitutional liberty and to curtail American military adventures abroad. He has also pledged to resolve domestic “injustices,” including the health care conundrum. Moreover, Obama is a black man; he is a member of a race that Hitler wanted to exterminate. In that light, it is nonsensical to compare Obama to Hitler. It is almost like calling a Jew a Nazi. If anything, Obama represents everything Hitler was not: Tolerant, liberal, compassionate, hopeful, educated. True, both Hitler and Obama could deliver rousing speeches. But oratory alone does not render an American politician “Hitler.” Bill Clinton and Ronald Reagan were great orators, too, but no one compared them to Hitler for their speechmaking skill. On the other hand, if great oratory makes you Hitler, I suppose that saves Bush from Hitler comparisons.

Still, the Hitler comments vex me. It really does not matter whether the Hitler analogy is historically accurate. Instead, when Americans call an opponent “Hitler,” it simply means they really detest the person. For Americans, “Hitler” means “evil incarnate.” It is impossible to imagine a “worse man” than Hitler. That is the sense in which Americans use the name “Hitler.” When they call Obama “Hitler,” they are not making a historical analogy. They are simply saying: “We absolutely hate this man because he is evil and must be stopped.” And in such a confused, emotionally charged atmosphere as the health care debate, calling an opponent “Hitler” is no small matter. It indicates a self-righteous willingness to do anything to stop the allegedly “evil man” from realizing his plans. In America, “anything” really means “anything.”

This rhetoric should bother everyone. As I wrote in my earlier essay, America does not have a strong track record on radical reform, especially when it intertwines with vested interests and race. All too often, when reform clashes with vested interests and race, people die. In Obama’s case, all these factors come into play. Health care reform touches deeply on vested interests and it emanates from the Nation’s first black President. In 1993, we saw vehement resistance to health care reform under President Clinton. There was no racial element in those days, yet the public hysteria was so intense that it derailed reform efforts even before they got underway. Against this discouraging background, President Obama has vowed to reform health care “no matter what.” He knows that people get irrational when they talk about health care. In short, he must confront the same public hysteria that broke out in 1993, but now he must contend with smoldering racial resentment, too. He knows that vested interests pulled out all the stops to win in 1993. He knows they lied, deceived, circulated misinformation, bribed and intimidated anyone who got in their way. He probably knows that he is risking his life in this crusade. The fact that intolerant white conservative Republicans sincerely label a tolerant black liberal Democrat Hitler defies rational explanation. He likely already knows there are people ready to pull the trigger on him.

Yet this is the danger all true reformers confront in America. We must wait to see whether Obama will truly follow through on health care. Will he insist on genuine reform? Will he abandon the effort altogether, as Clinton did? Or will he settle, compromise, negotiate, dilute and concede? No matter what happens, we should all ask ourselves whether it is healthy to hate our opponents so much as to label them “Hitler,” even when the label is completely nonsensical. When public rhetoric heats up this much, it threatens to cast the entire Nation into bitter lawlessness. It is just a matter of time before bullets start flying.

Reform tests democracy. Democracy cannot survive when minority opponents cannot abide majority decisions. America has lasted since 1787 precisely because Democrats do not revolt when Republicans win policy fights, and Republicans do not revolt when Democrats win policy fights. In most cases, the losing faction respects constitutional processes and allows the winning faction to pursue its policies, even if they disagree with them. Yet there have been cases in American history in which the losers can’t bear to lose, so they kill the winners. Health care just might be the next example.

Let’s hope it isn’t. But given America’s sad history on reform and race, I am deeply worried. When hopeful-sounding politicians courageously step forward against entrenched injustices, vested interests always neutralize the “problem.” Obama is quintessentially a “hopeful politician” who ran on reform. Those factors alone paint a target on him. The fact that he is black exposes him to even more danger. If he persists in his call for genuine reform against opponents who can call him “Hitler” with a straight face, he is putting his life on the line. Anyone with the twisted intellectual capacity to call Obama Hitler probably also has the misguided capacity to “save America” by killing him. After all, Hitler must be stopped, right?

These are dangerous times. We must merely follow the rhetoric to see where they will lead us. The rhetoric is militant. There is much at stake. Powerful institutions stand to lose. People are calling a liberal Democrat a Nazi. Something is definitely wrong here; and it is not rational. In this muddled, volatile atmosphere, anything can happen.

On the other hand, maybe Obama will just give in, abandon the effort and just leave the insurance companies alone. That would save his skin. In this country, there’s no better way to save your own life than to give insurance companies what they want.


Igor said...

Obama qualifications to reform health care:

No birth certificate

Can not stop smoking

Difficulty telling the truth.

Narcissistic personality disorder.

Therefore, I Igor produce Obama Birth Certificate at www.igormarxo.org

Compare Obama Care vs Igor Care at Obama vs Igor Care

SteveW said...

I too am vexed by all references to Hitler, it's a cheap and inflammatory tactic. However, why is it "they actually know better" when they say it about Bush, but they are "sincere" when they say it about Obama.

Yes, the current "he's Hitler" group open themselves to such criticism by doing the Hitler schtick at all, and yet identical criticism is alway deemed more unfair when leveled by the other guy. Dissent is once again un-American now, making this two administrations in a row (and probably more) of opposing stripes that label dissent un-American.

All Hitler comparisons are absurd (except maybe when referencing Stalin) and I wish everyone would cut it out.

Balthazar Oesterhoudt said...

There is undoubtedly a double standard going on here. And I don't like the idea that the Obama administration is frustrating dissent in the same way Bush's did.

This whole situation is "verschissen..." I had to use a German word to really express how "shitted through" it is. All politicians are pissing me off now, no matter what color they wear.

Timoteo said...

Obama is being labeled "socialist" because he's locking horns with the social Darwinism of our capitalist society.
Insurance companies dictate survival of the fittest: Fit enough to work and continue to pay your premiums--and fit enough not to have any pre-existing conditions.
If you don't "fit" those parameters, then screw ya.

We really are not a compassionate nation when it comes right down to it. It's "I've got mine, too bad about the other guy."
Thus, the right to health care--indeed, the right to SURVIVAL in many cases-may still belong to the privileged classes when the dust finally settles.
No one with any kind of conscience can call this a compassionate nation when health care is a privilege, and not a right.

tracy joseph bogert said...

Open letter to the birther nuts
Dear dumbasses
If Obama isn't a citizen then the CIA, Bush Jr, Bush Sr, and John McCain are all in on the conspiracy. Think about that. Why don't you wing nuts find something better to do like shoot up an abortion clinic or buy another gun. Just to show you I am not a chickenshit like you birther wing nuts I will leave my email and name.

TJ Bogert -Texas email cc7bogert@yahoo.com

SteveW said...

@tracy, what are you on about? Your comment doesn't seem to fit the thread, but OK.

@timoteo: If health care is a right, what do you have the right to, and who has the obligation to provide it for you? What if we set up a national health care system and every doctor opts out? For a more modest example, suppose we set up national health care, and a single doctor opts out and a single person is going untreated? Are we going to conscript doctors?

Do we have a right to food? Do we have a right to reasonable transportation, housing, or clothing? Do we have a right to a job? How will each necessity be provided under a positive "rights" system? (as opposed to a negative "rights" system, like the right to free speech where your right does not obligate anyone else to act)

Timoteo said...

All I know is that other countries make it work. Their systems may not be perfect, but you don't have patients being dumped on the street because they don't have insurance.

Timoteo said...

To elaborate: I don't have the RIGHT to a certain kind of job, or a new car, or any particular material possession. I must work to earn the money to obtain those things. That's fair enough. But the decision of who lives and who dies should be another matter.

The government provides unemployment insurance, welfare, food stamps, etc. to those in need. Why SHOULDN'T it provide a helping hand when it comes to health care? The thumbs up or thumbs down on a person's life should not be in the hands of those who care more about the bottom line than their fellow man.

SteveW said...

We have a large helping-hand system now under Medicaid. Perhaps we should just expand that a bit further to get a few more of those we are missing. It might work better than spending a trillion dollars to get about 9 million more people insured.

Very nice points, by the way. :-)