James Baldwin warned: “It is certain, in any case, that ignorance, allied with power, is the most ferocious enemy justice can have.”
These poignant words come to mind when I think about that freak show, that hot mess that has passed for a dialogue on healthcare reform this past summer. On the one hand, the Obama administration – overlearning from the heavy-handed mistakes the Clintons made on health care reform – wasted time and lost control of the narrative. Seemingly unsure of what it wanted in terms of policy, this White House stood on the sidelines and allowed Congress to draft the legislation and create a huge mess. Fixing the health care system was the cornerstone of the President’s election campaign. Nonetheless, he has appeared too lackadaisical and too indifferent – too eager to compromise with Republicans too early in the game, and for little or nothing in return. In the end, Obama’s team came off looking like amateurs, the high school debate team, or student body president.
On the other hand, with a vacuum of leadership created by Obama, the health insurance lobby was given the opportunity to spread their street money and run amok. Over three-quarters of the American people want a public option, that is, a choice between private health insurance and a government-run insurance plan that would create competition and lower costs. But the lawmakers who were purchased by the insurance companies – Democrats and Republicans – say there will be no public option. These senators and representatives get their money from one group and their votes from another. We know which group really counts. We’re not talking about democracy, but rather American-style capitalism. Money talks, and, well, you know the rest.
And the insurance companies have tapped into the anger of the unwashed fringes, and harnessed their rage at the town hall meetings – the tea-baggers and the militias, the birthers and the white nationalists, the jingoists and the secessionists. These folks don’t know the first thing about health care, but they do know that they hate government, they hate Obama, and they believe he is a foreigner and an illegitimate leader. And a communist Nazi Muslim terrorist. They won’t allow a black man to indoctrinate their children, nor will they allow one of them to take over their country.
Once again, moneyed interests use regular common folk – suckers that they are – to act against their own best interests. Rich Southerners had poor whites fight and die to maintain a system of slavery that rendered their labor unnecessary. During the struggles of the labor movement, corporations hired hooligans to beat up and shoot workers who attempted to organize. Appeals to white-skin privilege kept white workers from organizing with workers of color to better everyone’s station in life. And today, particularly in states with the lowest educational and health standards, working class people who constitute the Republican party “base” fight alongside the corporations to keep health care expensive and inaccessible. Billy Bob is as dumb as bricks, and proud of it.
The mobilization against health care reform has taught us several things:
First of all, the Republican Party is, collectively, coo coo for cocoa puffs. The moderates, the reasonable people, the intelligent ones who are fond of book-learnin’, and those free of mental defect bolted from the GOP. The Southern Strategy (a raw political appeal to white racist voters, which was perfected by the late GOP operative Lee Atwater) turned a reliable election-winning formula into a liability when Obama came on the scene. The base of the party is now mostly white, Southern, Christian fundamentalist and uneducated, and apparently delusional and unstable. A shrinking demographic, there aren’t enough of them to win a national election. Yet, the Republicans cling to their base. Rather than repudiate the people who believe Obama is a foreign citizen and an illegitimate leader who should be stopped if not killed (yes I said it), the Republicans encourage these gun-toting thugs, these brown shirts with their threats of violence. The decisive issue for them didn’t necessarily have to be health care, but health care did the trick. The main point is that for the radical conservatives, government is the enemy they treat with utter contempt. And they hate government so much that they try to destroy the country whenever they get into office. Enactment of real health reform will further marginalize the GOP, and render them irrelevant for generations.
BlackCommentator.com Editorial Board member David A. Love, JD is a journalist and human rights advocate based in Philadelphia, and a contributor to the Progressive Media Project and McClatchy-Tribune News Service, among others. He contributed to the book, States of Confinement: Policing, Detention, and Prisons (St. Martin’s Press, 2000). Love is a former Amnesty International UK spokesperson. His blog is davidalove.com.