friend of mine from Brooklyn recently went to visit his Democratic
congressperson, Michael McMahon, about health-care reform.
Though he wants to do the right thing by his country and his
constituents (support a public option), about 80 percent of
the visitors to his office have been opposed, and he is, as
my friend related, “worried.”
We should all be. While democracy is rooted in debate, no
reasonable debate can take place on a foundation of lies,
and lies are 90 percent of what’s being peddled by opponents
of health care reform: particularly lies about forced euthanasia
and forced submission to government decisions about treatment.
These are, I hope I don’t have to tell you, pure fabrications.
Whole-cloth lies. There’s nothing in the legislation, or anybody’s
policy proposals, that even hints at “death panels.” And they
don’t exist in the UK, Canada, or Switzerland (which is closer
to the model proposed than the other two, for the record,
for better or worse). And the public option would be just
The lies are so stark, that it could be funny. As Nobel-prize-winning
economist Paul Krugman recounts in his excellent New York
Times op-ed “The Swiss Menace,” one writer actually claimed
that in evil Britain under the National Health Service, that
the brilliant but disabled physicist Stephen Hawking “wouldn’t
have had a chance.” Only problem? Hawking’s British, and has
been cared for (well) by the NHS all his life. He was not
Meanwhile, in this country we had people sleeping in cars
for a week for a chance at free medical care when the charity
Remote Area Medical held a week of free treatments in Los
Angeles last week. That’s the kind of thing you’re used to
hearing about happening in war-torn, poverty-stricken countries,
but our healthcare “system” has gotten so out of control that
it was needed here. We have a famously awful infant mortality
rate, and a famously expensive health care system that severely
rations treatment. Ever try to argue with a health insurance
And yet people are flipping out about the possibility of the
government helping to pay for our medical care, bringing costs
in line, and extending coverage to everyone.
Yes, it could be funny, and I know many people who are amused.
We should not be.
If the combination of reactionary big business, conservative
leaders who are still stung about losing an election, hard
core right-wing fringe activists, and a bunch of gullible
people that they stir up can kill a plan that would be in
the best interests of everyone except the health insurance
companies, we will lose much more than a chance at sane health
care system (which would be plenty to lose).
We will also see the birth of an alliance that historians
say looks like the beginning of fascism wherever it sticks
up its head.
Now, I know that accusations of fascism fly thick and fast,
and these days have nearly as little meaning as “Nazi” or
But I don’t mean it as an epithet. I mean in the truly historical
sense, based on the work of Robert Paxton, a scholar who has
studied what unites all 20th- century fascisms. His definition
of fascism is this: “a form of political behavior marked by
obsessive preoccupation with community decline, humiliation
or victimhood and by compensatory cults of unity, energy and
purity, in which a mass-based party of committed nationalist
militants, working in uneasy but effective collaboration with
traditional elites, abandons democratic liberties and pursues
with redemptive violence and without ethical or legal restraints
goals of internal cleansing and external expansion.”
Sara Robertson, writing on Alternet, explains Paxton’s findings
that the most dangerous point for the development of fascism
is when a national elite has actually taken such a spanking
in an election that they openly throw their lot (and their
money) in with reactionary, violent, nationalist, purist elements.
That’s when things get scary.
And that is happening now, and could be what is at stake behind
the health care fight.
That is why, even though progressives are exhausted from the
Bush years and understandably want to take a deep breath and
make jokes about people who don’t know what teabagging means,
we can’t. Not right now. We don’t need to out-shout them,
but we need to not be silent. We need to be counted, to not
let the lies go unchallenged as we hear them go by, and to
not assume that our elected representatives know that we support
them and want them to stand firm. We need to tell them. We
are in the majority; the vast majority. But when it’s not
an election, that isn’t always enough.
That’s why everyone needs to visit their congresspeople this
coming week (in Albany: federal building, corner of Clinton
and N. Pearl) and let them know you support a public option
and you want them to stand strong for it. It’s quick and painless.
Also head over to Congressman Paul Tonko’s town hall meeting
next Tuesday (Aug. 25), Elm Ave. Park, Large Pavilion, 261
Elm Ave., Delmar. (Or check in with your own representative
and see if there’s a meeting near you.)
Gesundheit to all.