Before I get into this, let me first say that I would agree with some reasonable conservative critiques of the legislative process related to healthcare, that people are not as informed as they need to be on the different proposals on the table. I agree that a sweeping overhaul of the systems that govern 17% of our GDP represents an immense undertaking that should be pursued very deliberately. I agree that President Obama overestimated the capacity of the American public to conceptualize the legislative process. I also agree that the President has done real harm to healthcare reform's chances at passing in a reasonable time frame because of a failure to get out in front of some of the more ridiculous lies and smears. That such a large percentage of Americans now view this bill as an imminent threat to their health instead of an imperfect and evolving improvement to our system is deeply troubling.
The problem is, unfortunately, that I'm not sure what I would have had the President do differently aside from getting out in front of the smears faster. In '93, when Clinton dictated a bill to Congress, they freaked. So this time, Obama decided to let Congress do it's constitutionally-authorized job, only to be criticized for not exercising leadership. So I think we're seeing some real structural problems with our civil society that can't really be reduced to "if only Obama had" or "if only Obama hadn't."
I wonder what is salvageable in the current hysterical climate. Can the President wait for comprehensive bills to reach the floors of the House and Senate before swooping in with his own plan - maybe one that incorporates some GOP standards like TORT reform? Will members of Congress just decide that these town hall mob scenes won't sway them from voting for something really critical for the short term health and long term wealth of the country?
I'm not sure.
I just know that I'm getting increasingly, well, frightened by the hysterical lying about the President's plan - and not just by the outer fringes of the right win - but by members of Congress and by veteran GOP talking heads.
It's not just Sarah Palin claiming the end of life counseling clause (an idea offered by Republican Rep. Charles Boustany of Lousiana, by the way) would result in death panels that would kill off her parents and child; it's also Newt Gingrich refusing to repudiate that remark on national television and instead highlighting by parsing together some obscure old speeches by Rahm Emmanuel's brother.
It's not just Glen Beck joking around about poisoning Nancy Pelosi, it's Representatives actually getting death threats at their offices. There have been fistfights at town halls and at least one instance of someone bringing a concealed gun to a meeting.
These people aren't angry because they don't think the bill being debated by the House Energy Committee doesn't quite strike the right balance between cost controls and extended coverage; it's because they've been heinously mislead to believe that the government is going to make it more difficult to receive coverage than it is now, cut medicare, or worse, send death panels out to kill old people.
A lot of these same people have also been lead to believe that President Obama is not a legitimate elected leader. There is an all-too casual invocation of Nazi Germany and Hitler.
Add it up.
We've had people going out in record numbers since election day to purchase weapons. We've had a growing movement to discredit the President's legitimacy as an elected leader. We have a shameless push to convince people that his moderate initiatives to stabilize the economy represent dictatorial socialism. We now have a transparent effort by GOP leaders - role models for some - to trick already frightened Americans into the belief that healthcare reform will literally bring about some form of medical genocide. And we are also witnessing seemingly unchallenged efforts to invoke the personification of evil (Hitler) in describing what this healthcare bill represents.
It is vile and sickening. It even makes me afraid.
We have really dark history of racism and violence in this country and it appears as though GOP leaders are ginning up unrest amongst the kinds of people who have been alienated because of their resistance to the progress we've made in our society.
And it doesn't seem like anybody in the Republican Party leadership cares about the tipping point.
Rachel Maddow had a really jarring segment on this last Friday that I think everyone should watch in entirety.
If you can't spare the 15 minutes, skip ahead to 7:55 and watch Rachel talk to Frank Schaeffer, an original founder of the political evangelical movement who has since repudiated his past views.
I was really struck by Mr. Schaeffer's alarm and after sleeping on it for two nights to pass it through the hyperbole scan, well... he's got me quite on guard.
If the default position of 100% of the Republican Congress wasn't just to kill whatever healthcare reform proposed by the President or by Congressional Democrats, it would be a lot easier to have a civil discussion about the best way to achieve sustainable reform.
But most elected Republicans and the conservative base aren't at all interested in that.
The GOP is oriented to fight any healthcare reform bill 'by any means necessary.' But it's scarier than that. The GOP is oriented to fight any progress possible.
As Mr. Schaeffer puts it, the GOP strategy is to leave a loaded gun on the table, stop just short of calling it honorable to halt Obama's policies with violence, and walk away.
I'm not sure GOP leaders know how to stop the hideous monster they've reanimated.
This is the America the world fears; not the America the world respects.
Organizing For America has unenviable task of trying to cut through all this BS with actual information about the actual reforms being debated in Congress.
They have an office here in New Orleans and they really need our help.
842 Camp St. in the CBD.
There are phone banks every Tuesday and Thursday from 6:00PM to 8:30PM and they canvass on Saturdays.
Their number one priority is to reach individual voters and to attempt to disabuse them of the baseless lies being spread about healthcare reform.
If you want to get involved, e-mail BayasW@dnc.org or call the HQ at 504-302-0802.
Call the senior citizens in your life.
Go to www.whitehouse.gov/realitycheck to arm yourself with tools you can use to debunk the lies.