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This Is It

A 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 that—an option.

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 amused.

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 company?

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 “socialist.”

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.

—Miriam Axel-Lute

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