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What Do They Fear?

I stopped listening to coverage of health care reform on Wed., March 17, immediately after hearing a short interview on NPR. Reporter Don Gonyea was talking to protestors on both sides of the issue gathered outside the Columbus, Ohio, office of Democratic Congresswoman Mary Jo Kilroy.

For months now, we’ve been overwhelmed by media coverage of those opposed to health care reform: We’ve heard the absurd objections to insuring young people, jobless in this lousy economy. We’ve tried to parse the logic that says it’s more important to not fund abortions than it is to insure millions of people. We’ve cocked our heads at hearing health care reform called “socialism” and Medicare called, well, Medicare.

But something in particular struck me during the four-minute NPR piece.

A 42-year-old father had come out to protest health care reform. He had his five-month-old daughter in a sling across his chest and he told Gonyea, “We just took the time to come out today to try and stop this stuff from getting rammed down our throats when we really don’t want it.”

We just took the time to come out today to try and stop this stuff from getting rammed down our throats when we really don’t want it.

That’s what got to me.

Now, I know—those are not the most vitriolic of words.

They’re not as racially-charged as Investor’s Business Daily claiming that health care reform is “affirmative action on steroids, deciding everything from who becomes a doctor to who gets treatment on the basis of skin color.”

Nor are they as cynical as Newt Gingrich saying that if health care reform passes, the Democrats “will have destroyed their party much as Lyndon Johnson shattered the Democratic Party for 40 years by passing civil rights legislation.”

Nor were they as rage-fuelled as the epithets and spittle hurled by Tea Party protestor at the openly-gay Barney Frank and members of the Congressional Black Caucus.

Nevertheless, something about the image of an early-middle-aged father holding his infant daughter and saying that what he really doesn’t want is health care reform made my blood run cold. It convinced me this country has a sickness that insurance coverage will not cure.

It’s the sickness of certainty, mean-spiritedness, selfishness, nay-saying, narrow-mindedness and fear. It’s more infectious than swine flu and more widespread. It’s a corrosive sickness of the soul. It’s propagated by politicians and right-wing media personalities and it preys on people who are not-too-smart or are happiest when they can complain at the tops of their voices.

(Yes, I know—there was some vitriol and generalizing in those words. I’ll just keep in mind Woody Allen’s quip from Annie Hall: “I’m a bigot, I know—but for the left.”)

I tried to be heartened reading Paul Krugman’s column in Monday’s New York Times.

Contrasting the unscripted talk President Obama gave to House Democrats on Saturday (“Every once in a while a moment comes where you have a chance to vindicate all those best hopes . . . about this country, where you have a chance to make good on those promises that you made. . . .”) with Newt Gingrich’s earlier-cited cynicism, he concludes that the vote is “a victory for America’s soul. In the end, a vicious, unprincipled fear offensive failed to block reform. This time, fear struck out.”

And yet, even that joyful conclusion was prefaced by his description of this “campaign of fear”:

“[It] hasn’t been carried out by a radical fringe, unconnected to the Republican establishment. On the contrary, that establishment has been involved and approving all the way. . . . On the eve of the big vote, Republican members of Congress warned that ‘American freedom dies a little bit today’ and accused Democrats of ‘totalitarian tactics’ which I believe means the process known as ‘voting.’ ”

Precisely because it is not only fringe radicals, but elected officials, as well, mobilizing to thwart or at least hamstring health care reform, my elation that “fear struck out” is more than a little tempered by the potentially ugly specter of things to come.

By midday Monday, attorneys general from Florida, Virginia and Idaho were promising to file lawsuits to “protect the rights of the American people” from the bill. Legislatures in three dozen states are considering proposals to challenge the legislation.

The pundits are already at it: This is “the end of America as you know it,” says Glenn Beck. And in a backhanded swing at Hispanics and Roman Catholic sisters, he declares, “Jesus Martinez might vote for this bill . . . not the Jesus of Nazareth I know.”

Rush Limbaugh claims of President Obama, “This is the guy who believes in infanticide.”

And The Wall Street Journal reports that Republicans have promised to keep the health-care debate alive through the 2010 midterm elections in the hope of ensuring that dozens of House Democrats lose their seats.

“Our response will be, ‘This will not stand’,” observed Newt Gingrich, “and every GOP presidential candidate in 2012 will be committed to repealing the corrupt, dishonest legislation.”

Like that middle-aged father from the NPR interview, a lot of people like him will do all they can to stop this stuff from getting rammed down our throats when we really don’t want it.

And just exactly what is it that they apparently don’t want?

That by 2014, fully 94-95 percent of Americans and legal residents below Medicare age will have health care coverage.

I guess that will be the end of America as we know it.

—Jo Page

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