Wednesday, September 23, 2009

What "Overwhelming Portion" May Mean

I was thinking yesterday of Jimmy Carter's comments regarding the amplified and embattled opposition to Obama and his policies, with respect to the racial overtones inherent in them. I think Bill Clinton, Jonathan Alter, and others are warranted to point out that not all opposition to Obama and his policies (specifically health care) is racially motivated. Clinton further suggested that opposition to health care policy would continue with or without the issue of race. This is a position that I agree with as well.

However, there is no question in my mind that race is a motivator in the loudest opposition to health care. By loudest, I mean the opposition that tends to garner the most attention. Most often, when Rush Limbaugh speaks, the media listens and reports. Most often, when protesters put a Hitler-stache on an Obama poster, it makes the front pages of the next periodical. Most often, when a civilian suggests that Muslims are taking over this country, this is the quote heard on CNN or MSNBC.

There is clearly a sensationalistic bias in the media today. To refute that claim is borderline insanity (certainly ignorance). Commonly, this bias is misrepresented as "liberal" or "conservative". (My opinion on this matter is there is little politically philosophical bias in the media "on average".) To get the most viewers, to entertain those viewers, and to dramatize issues far beyond their merit, the media exhibits these outlandish and sometimes downright dangerous voices. This is certainly a contributor to the "loudness" of these racially motivated denouncers.

However, there is also no question that such far-right racially motivated behavior is growing, or has always been existent, in this country. And these tendencies have led to occasional violence, such as the murder of a security guard at the National Holocaust Museum this summer. There is also no question that the community is mobilizing, with an increasing tendency for more organized and loud (though primarily peaceful) protests from these increasingly unhinged individuals.

I believe, as others have claimed, that factors contributing to this trend include resistance to change, "one-issue" fanaticism, ignorance of basic policy, and (more generally) lack of education. "One-issue" fanaticism is, perhaps, a primary reason violence crops up in these circumstances, such as the murder of Dr. George Tiller earlier this summer. However, the "issue" at hand here does not seem to be related to health care specifically, even though the debate is on the topic of health care. Words such as "socialism", "communism", and "fascism" have cropped up. Those who shout the claims commonly have little understanding of the terms, especially when they combine the terms, as the definitions of these terms differ dramatically and come nowhere close to the policies proposed by Obama and the Democrats.

Most protests involve people saying "No to Obamacare" or something similar. However, when reporters ask what civilians believe should be changed about the proposed policy, or what a new proposed policy should be, the incredible lack of actual knowledge of policy is stunningly apparent. Most people are opposing an ideal without any education about the actual substance (reality). This is nothing new, in America or elsewhere, but it is this very lack of knowledge combined with obsolete and malicious racial overtones, that amplify the opposing rhetoric that seems to overtake the grounded, educated opposition that does exist with Obama policies, from health care to foreign policy. This is why "overwhelming portion" does not mean majority, in this case.

Opposition to Clinton's health care reform was voluminous as well, but no (or relatively limited) mention of socialism, fascism, Nazism, Hitler, euthanasia, death panels, government-organized preferential treatment, etc. was proposed in that era. Why now? It may not be comfortable to admit, but racism is a very logical, very reasonable, very plausible explanation for these new protests. Guns at town halls? Continuation of already-disproven conspiracy theories ("birthers", "deathers", etc.)? A member of Congress shouting at the President during a joint session? Another member of Congress suggesting a person's race matters when opposition to Obama's policy is provided?

These issues keep coming up, at the expense of reasoned and educated debate about policy. It may not be a majority of people in this country, but it is certainly overwhelming and eliminating the discourse.