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The Rage Is Not About Health Care

Posted by dorian on March 29, 2010

Frank Rich photo: Fred R. Conrad/The New York Times

The Rage Is Not About Health Care

The New York Times Op-Ed Columnist Published: March 27, 2010

THERE were times when last Sunday’s great G.O.P. health care implosion threatened to bring the thrill back to reality television. On ABC’s “This Week,” a frothing and filibustering Karl Rove all but lost it in a debate with the Obama strategist David Plouffe. A few hours later, the perennially copper-faced Republican leader John Boehner revved up his “Hell no, you can’t!” incantation in the House chamber — instant fodder for a new viral video remixing his rap with will.i.am’s “Yes, we can!” classic from the campaign. Boehner, having previously likened the health care bill to Armageddon, was now so apoplectic you had to wonder if he had just discovered one of its more obscure revenue-generating provisions, a tax on indoor tanning salons.

But the laughs evaporated soon enough. There’s nothing entertaining about watching goons hurl venomous slurs at congressmen like the civil rights hero John Lewis and the openly gay Barney Frank. And as the week dragged on, and reports of death threats and vandalism stretched from Arizona to Kansas to upstate New York, the F.B.I. and the local police had to get into the act to protect members of Congress and their families.

How curious that a mob fond of likening President Obama to Hitler knows so little about history that it doesn’t recognize its own small-scale mimicry of Kristallnacht. The weapon of choice for vigilante violence at Congressional offices has been a brick hurled through a window. So far.

No less curious is how disproportionate this red-hot anger is to its proximate cause. The historic Obama-Pelosi health care victory is a big deal, all right, so much so it doesn’t need Joe Biden’s adjective to hype it. But the bill does not erect a huge New Deal-Great Society-style government program. In lieu of a public option, it delivers 32 million newly insured Americans to private insurers. As no less a conservative authority than The Wall Street Journal editorial page observed last week, the bill’s prototype is the health care legislation Mitt Romney signed into law in Massachusetts. It contains what used to be considered Republican ideas.

Barry Blitt

Yet it’s this bill that inspired G.O.P. congressmen on the House floor to egg on disruptive protesters even as they were being evicted from the gallery by the Capitol Police last Sunday. It’s this bill that prompted a congressman to shout “baby killer” at Bart Stupak, a staunch anti-abortion Democrat. It’s this bill that drove a demonstrator to spit on Emanuel Cleaver, a black representative from Missouri. And it’s this “middle-of-the-road” bill, as Obama accurately calls it, that has incited an unglued firestorm of homicidal rhetoric, from “Kill the bill!” to Sarah Palin’s cry for her followers to “reload.” At least four of the House members hit with death threats or vandalism are among the 20 political targets Palin marks with rifle crosshairs on a map on her Facebook page.

When Social Security was passed by Congress in 1935 and Medicare in 1965, there was indeed heated opposition. As Dana Milbank wrote in The Washington Post, Alf Landon built his catastrophic 1936 presidential campaign on a call for repealing Social Security. (Democrats can only pray that the G.O.P. will “go for it” again in 2010, as Obama goaded them on Thursday, and keep demanding repeal of a bill that by September will shower benefits on the elderly and children alike.) When L.B.J. scored his Medicare coup, there were the inevitable cries of “socialism” along with ultimately empty rumblings of a boycott from the American Medical Association.

But there was nothing like this. To find a prototype for the overheated reaction to the health care bill, you have to look a year before Medicare, to the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Both laws passed by similar majorities in Congress; the Civil Rights Act received even more votes in the Senate (73) than Medicare (70). But it was only the civil rights bill that made some Americans run off the rails. That’s because it was the one that signaled an inexorable and immutable change in the very identity of America, not just its governance.

The apocalyptic predictions then, like those about health care now, were all framed in constitutional pieties, of course. Barry Goldwater, running for president in ’64, drew on the counsel of two young legal allies, William Rehnquist and Robert Bork, to characterize the bill as a “threat to the very essence of our basic system” and a “usurpation” of states’ rights that “would force you to admit drunks, a known murderer or an insane person into your place of business.” Richard Russell, the segregationist Democratic senator from Georgia, said the bill “would destroy the free enterprise system.” David Lawrence, a widely syndicated conservative columnist, bemoaned the establishment of “a federal dictatorship.” Meanwhile, three civil rights workers were murdered in Philadelphia, Miss.

That a tsunami of anger is gathering today is illogical, given that what the right calls “Obamacare” is less provocative than either the Civil Rights Act of 1964 or Medicare, an epic entitlement that actually did precipitate a government takeover of a sizable chunk of American health care. But the explanation is plain: the health care bill is not the main source of this anger and never has been. It’s merely a handy excuse. The real source of the over-the-top rage of 2010 is the same kind of national existential reordering that roiled America in 1964.

In fact, the current surge of anger — and the accompanying rise in right-wing extremism — predates the entire health care debate. The first signs were the shrieks of “traitor” and “off with his head” at Palin rallies as Obama’s election became more likely in October 2008. Those passions have spiraled ever since — from Gov. Rick Perry’s kowtowing to secessionists at a Tea Party rally in Texas to the gratuitous brandishing of assault weapons at Obama health care rallies last summer to “You lie!” piercing the president’s address to Congress last fall like an ominous shot.

If Obama’s first legislative priority had been immigration or financial reform or climate change, we would have seen the same trajectory. The conjunction of a black president and a female speaker of the House — topped off by a wise Latina on the Supreme Court and a powerful gay Congressional committee chairman — would sow fears of disenfranchisement among a dwindling and threatened minority in the country no matter what policies were in play. It’s not happenstance that Frank, Lewis and Cleaver — none of them major Democratic players in the health care push — received a major share of last weekend’s abuse. When you hear demonstrators chant the slogan “Take our country back!,” these are the people they want to take the country back from.

They can’t. Demographics are avatars of a change bigger than any bill contemplated by Obama or Congress. The week before the health care vote, The Times reported that births to Asian, black and Hispanic women accounted for 48 percent of all births in America in the 12 months ending in July 2008. By 2012, the next presidential election year, non-Hispanic white births will be in the minority. The Tea Party movement is virtually all white. The Republicans haven’t had a single African-American in the Senate or the House since 2003 and have had only three in total since 1935. Their anxieties about a rapidly changing America are well-grounded.

If Congressional Republicans want to maintain a politburo-like homogeneity in opposition to the Democrats, that’s their right. If they want to replay the petulant Gingrich government shutdown of 1995 by boycotting hearings and, as John McCain has vowed, refusing to cooperate on any legislation, that’s their right too (and a political gift to the Democrats). But they can’t emulate the 1995 G.O.P. by remaining silent as mass hysteria, some of it encompassing armed militias, runs amok in their own precincts. We know the end of that story. And they can’t pretend that we’re talking about “isolated incidents” or a “fringe” utterly divorced from the G.O.P. A Quinnipiac poll last week found that 74 percent of Tea Party members identify themselves as Republicans or Republican-leaning independents, while only 16 percent are aligned with Democrats.

After the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was passed, some responsible leaders in both parties spoke out to try to put a lid on the resistance and violence. The arch-segregationist Russell of Georgia, concerned about what might happen in his own backyard, declared flatly that the law is “now on the books.” Yet no Republican or conservative leader of stature has taken on Palin, Perry, Boehner or any of the others who have been stoking these fires for a good 17 months now. Last week McCain even endorsed Palin’s “reload” rhetoric.

Are these politicians so frightened of offending anyone in the Tea Party-Glenn Beck base that they would rather fall silent than call out its extremist elements and their enablers? Seemingly so, and if G.O.P. leaders of all stripes, from Romney to Mitch McConnell to Olympia Snowe to Lindsey Graham, are afraid of these forces, that’s the strongest possible indicator that the rest of us have reason to fear them too.

Correction: Timothy Geithner’s title at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York was president and chief executive officer, not chairman, as I wrote here last week.

19 Responses to “The Rage Is Not About Health Care”

  1. dorian said

    so what’s it really all about, Frank? could my friend sammy be right? he said that all that anger is really about our country having a black president, a female speaker and a gay committee chairman, among other things. this country just ain’t the way it used to be 318 years ago and they’re mad as hell !!

    Like

  2. kay~ms said

    This article is too absurd to read all the way thru… the author does not get the concept of minority, or “the fringe”. I just don’t know what the problem is… but not acknowledging the actual reasons why people are angry over this bill is fast becoming a new problem in society.. and we just don’t need any more problems. To cry racism when it isn’t there FOR THE MAJORITY doesn’t do any good, on the contrary.. it is harmful…harmful to society and harmful to our President who’s job is tough enough as it is and doesn’t need this distraction.

    To insist that racism is the cause of dissension of a bill that IS going to change this country in a major and IRREVERSABLE way is just a sorry excuse because the left have nothing else to argue with. Anyone on the left who watches the news or reads UNBIASED articles KNOWS this bill is going to do more harm than good. And they’d rather tear down society before admitting that they are wrong. They’d rather make up problems based on the actions of the FRINGE lunatics than focus on the actual problems and issues. Because that is all they have.

    Like

  3. Princessxxx said

    It’s not racism, it’s christian bigotry, that’ what it is. hey kay, how,s thing going on at the militia? saying the lord’s prayer while the FBI ramsacks your trailer?

    Like

  4. dorian said

    the anti-government protesters before obama was president never claimed to be representing THE MAJORITY. where did that notion come from – that those angry mobs represent THE MAJORITY? just because they’re loud doesn’t mean most of the citizens feel the same way. our government takes care of its citizens beyond better than the rest of the world. it’s not about government for those angry people. it’s about who’s heading up this government. obama, pelosi, frank, reid, etc…racism? nah, bigotry. there ARE actual problems. like this recession. the mob should focus their protests on the lack of jobs and the bad economy. the healthcare bill has been signed, get over it. they’ll thank obama when they’re 65. oh yeah, P, what’s with the “christian” jihadists? i’ve never seen such half-baked anarchists. they should just keep the firepower limited to church service.

    Like

  5. kay~ms said

    The author, in his article, points to isolated individual incidents to support his claim that it’s “not about health care”. Yeah, it’s probably not about health care for these people. But they do NOT represent the majority of those who disagree with this bill.

    Then he tries to compare this bill to the other examples of the past (the Civil Rights act)… Making the claim that this health care bill is “less provacative” and therefore doesn’t justify the claimed increase of anger and violence. If we go by the left’s and this author’s guideline, the civil rights act was much much worse…

    “Meanwhile, three civil rights workers were murdered in Philadelphia, Miss.”

    As far as I know, no one has been killed thru all of this and the left has been just as vocal (and threatening) as the right especially lately. Which you probably won’t know anything about unless you’ve been watching Fox. The other biased channels don’t bother to mention when the left is guilty of the same thing it seems.

    And once again I want to point out the blatant ignorance by the author of the real problems with this bill. And the REAL direction that Obama is taking this country in…. it’s called socialism. It’s not that complicated… if you look at the histories of other countries who are now socialist or communist etc.. you’ll see a step by step process that leads to where they are today. And that is what the right sees happening right here with their very own country. Steps were taken in the past and they were faught just as hard.. and those presidents were WHITE. Once again liberals.. your arguments are ridiculous. Your desparation is showing by the tactics you use.

    Like

  6. Princessxxx said

    you are a stupid lying b!tch!!!!!

    Like

  7. Princessxxx said

    kay, do you know who’s desperation is really showing? why, bill keller of liveprayer gold for souls..of course.

    HEY DORIAN, CHECK OUT WHAT RACIST KAY HAS TO SAY ON HUFFINGTON POST REGARDING LIBERALS INABILITY TO DEBATE. HAHAH. AND THEN JUST BENEATH THAT YOU WILL SEE WHERE I READ KAY AND HER BELOVED PASTOR.
    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/steven-weber/foxy-lady_b_517967.html?show_comment_id=43574493#comment_43574493

    GOOD JOB PRINCESSXXX

    Like

  8. kay~ms said

    “you are a stupid lying b!tch!!!!!”

    Great argument… LIBERAL!!!

    Like

  9. Anonymous said

    IT’S NOT AN ARGUMENT, KAY, IT’S A FACT. NO ONE CAN DEBATE FACTS.

    OH, CHECK OUT BILLY KELLER’S LATEST LIE. AS YOU CAN SEE FROM THE LAST EMAIL. BILLY BOI CLAIMS HE WILL BE RETURNING TO TV THIS FALL. AND NOW LOOK WHAT HE SENDS ME:

    From: bkeller@liveprayer.com
    To: annanicoledahmer@hotmail.com
    Subject: Re: 1.7 million in debt?
    Date: Wed, 31 Mar 2010 13:47:49 -0400

    hate to break this to you..but he actually goes back on TV a week from Monday..LOL!!!!!!..tell your dadddy satan he is a LOSER!!!!!..LOL…
    Know that I am praying for you, be richly blessed,
    Bill Keller
    Founder, http://www.liveprayer.com

    DEBATE THAT YOU RACIST LIAR. WELL, I SEE NO MENTION OF HIS TRIUMPHANT RETURN TO TV IN HIS DULLVOTIONAL TODAY. JUST MORE BEGGING. WELL, WE ONLY HAVE A WEEK AND A HALF TO PROVE “ONCE AGAIN” BILL KELLER IS A LIAR.

    Like

  10. Anonymous said

    ANONYMOUS IS ME. OH , BILLY BOI SENT ME SO MANY NASTY EMAILS, GOING ON LIKE 12 NOW. I FORGOT TO POST THE ONE WHERE HE CLUES ME IN ABOUT HIS RETURN TO TV IN THE FALL.

    KAY, HOW CAN HE SAY HE RETURNS IN THE FALL AND THEN LESS THAN 24 HOURS SAY HE RETURNS IN LESS THAN 2 WEEKS. HOW CAN HE SAY THAT? BECAUSE HE IS A LIAR.

    From: bkeller@liveprayer.com
    To: annanicoledahmer@hotmail.com
    Subject: Re: 1.7 million in debt?
    Date: Tue, 30 Mar 2010 12:22:39 -0400

    LOL…the only loser is you…and your obsession with Dr. Keller is a bit frightening……and hate to break this to you..but Dr. Keller hasn’t got a CLUE who you are..but the 700 of us who answer the emails love the comedic relief you and your ilk provide..since most of our work is serious..dealing with the hurts and pains of real people…..oh..that “little internet show” reached more people each night than those clowns on MSNBC you love…..even the Cartoon channel has more viewers…btw..since you are such a fan…a little inside info for you…his new national program will be starting this fall…you see..there are people who love God.and a man with a 20 yr track record of faithful service..is someone people gravitate too..tell your daddy satan you are sorry for being such a poor servant ..LOLL..

    Know that I am praying for you, be richly blessed,
    Bill Keller
    Founder, http://www.liveprayer.com

    OH AND KAY, I ASKED YOU IF BILL KELLER’S RESPONSES ARE CHRISTIAN OVER AT THE HUFFINGTON POST. WHY DON’T YOU GO OVER THERE AND TRY TO MAKE THE SAME LAME EXCUSES FOR HIM THAT YOU MAKE HERE. THAT SHOULD BE FUN.

    Like

  11. PRINCESSXXX said

    From: bkeller@liveprayer.com
    To: annanicoledahmer@hotmail.com
    Subject: Re: 1.7 million in debt?
    Date: Tue, 30 Mar 2010 12:22:39 -0400

    LOL…the only loser is you…and your obsession with Dr. Keller is a bit frightening……and hate to break this to you..but Dr. Keller hasn’t got a CLUE who you are..but the 700 of us who answer the emails love the comedic relief you and your ilk provide..since most of our work is serious..dealing with the hurts and pains of real people…..oh..that “little internet show” reached more people each night than those clowns on MSNBC you love…..even the Cartoon channel has more viewers…btw..since you are such a fan…a little inside info for you…his new national program will be starting this fall…you see..there are people who love God.and a man with a 20 yr track record of faithful service..is someone people gravitate too..tell your daddy satan you are sorry for being such a poor servant ..LOLL..

    Know that I am praying for you, be richly blessed,
    Bill Keller
    Founder, http://www.liveprayer.com

    SEE THE LIE, KAY?

    Like

  12. PRINCESSXXX said

    OOPS, DOUBLE POST.

    Like

  13. Bill Keller, what a fag! said

    http://princessxxx.wordpress.com/2010/03/31/the-lies-of-bill-keller/

    hey, kay, i posted the entire email… enjoy.

    Like

  14. kay~ms said

    First, if you want me to keep responding to you your going to have to stop calling me names…

    I emailed Bill a little while ago to find out about the status of his show and it wasn’t him who responded. That is a first for me. He’s not answering his own email anymore? I don’t know. Something’s going on. I didn’t get a date as to when his show is supposed to be back on.. I was just told to keep reading his devotionals.

    I got 2 responses.. here they are..

    first..Dr. Keller has NEVER responded to any of these types of emails in over 10 yrs..he gets over 40,000 emails a DAY..there are over 700 retired pastors who answer them…and he will be back very soon..stay tuned to the Devotional..:)

    Know that I am praying for you, be richly blessed,
    Bill Keller
    Founder, http://www.liveprayer.com

    To get Bill Keller’s FREE Daily Devotional…sign up at the link below by
    putting in your email address and look for the confirming email you must
    reply to…

    http://www.liveprayer.com/signup.cfm

    —– Original Message —–

    Hi Bill,

    A fellow author on “A Different Kind of Blog” is posting your email responses which state that you are going
    to be back on tv in two weeks? or in the Fall? Or both? I hope this is true.. is it?

    https://tothewire.wordpress.com/2010/03/29/the-rage-is-not-about-health-care/#comment-17076

    2nd response…

    btw…Dr. Keller is the subject of about 300 blogs a day..most are read by 2-3 people..while he is reaching millions..blessings..
    Know that I am praying for you, be richly blessed,
    Bill Keller
    Founder, http://www.liveprayer.com

    To get Bill Keller’s FREE Daily Devotional…sign up at the link below by
    putting in your email address and look for the confirming email you must
    reply to…

    http://www.liveprayer.com/signup.cfm

    Like

  15. kay~ms said

    I have a comment in moderation…

    Like

  16. bill keller "impotent man of god" said

    kay, how’s about you stop calling people names first, ok?

    and besides, if bill keller is really a christian, then quite obviously it is ok to call people names.

    yes, email bill keller and tell his minions to stop calling people names, then i stop. until then, forget about it.

    ps, google bill keller and liveprayer and you will see that he IS NOT the subject of 300 blogs a day. in fact, it’s pretty much you and me that blog about him.

    well, we will just keep our fingers crossed on whether nor not she gets her show back. personally i hope she does because nothing funnier than watching her make a fool out of herself.

    Like

  17. Princessxxx said

    oh and the a-hole that is currently answering missy keller’s email is the same one that has been doing it for years. they are always the same, 700 pastors cannot possibly all be that ignorant.

    i would like to see the list of the 700 pastors, wouldn’t you. i mean what do they have to hide, if i had 700 good regfernces i would let everyone know. the truth is, there are no 700 pastors.

    Like

  18. Princessxxx said

    maybe i should become a christian so i can cuss everybody out. and still go to heaven.

    kay, i bet some days you wish you had never heard of me, but one day, you will become a liberal and we can be girlfriends.

    i see you praising glenn beck over at arianna’s, well, now everyone will know that even you think glenn beck is a satanic liar.
    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/03/31/joy-behar-to-glenn-beck-i_n_519860.html?page=5&show_comment_id=43689327#comment_43689327

    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/03/31/joy-behar-to-glenn-beck-i_n_519860.html?page=5&show_comment_id=43689327#comment_43689327

    Like

  19. Anonymous said

    Oi, are you guys really still banging on about all this crap? Give it up.

    Like

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