The past weeks have been a time of travel with a laptop with a failing wireless card in places with no wireless access or cell phone towers. From a wacipi at Wakpala to a former Swedish communal village at Bishop Hill in Illinois, we've been trying to cut through the fog of raging malevolence generated as health-care "debate" and look for the real issues. We found that the subtext that drives what purports to be political discourse is plain, old-fashioned hatred. When a black president was elected, many tended to think his ascension to the highest office in the land meant we had at last surmounted the racial history that motivated The Great American Holocaust. Rather, the smoldering embers of malice were re-ignited.
When a black man was invited to preside in the White House, a portion of the population took pride in its generosity at inviting a field nigger to serve in the great house. But rather than affably shuffle around answering the door, bussing the dishes, and doing what he was told to do, he actually presumed to preside. And the charges that the boy is not ready or capable of presiding and that he is motived by old field-nigger resentments pervades the conservative talk about Obama. Nothing angers those who hold to the "old values" like an "uppity nigger."
Paul Krugman euphemizes the angry health-care protests as "racial anxieties." We found that "racial resentment" is more accurate. We witnessed a man berating a Congressional staff member with the usual malicious fictions that are circulated against health-care reform. After he finished, he turned to walk away, then turned around again, approached the staff member with a thrusting finger and a flushed-face, and said, "And no black man can speak for me."
An epiphany of malice.
The question we ventured forth to have answered is "What will happen if there is no health-care reform?"
South Dakota has a population of 804,000. Of that population, 184,000 have no health-care insurance. That's 22 percent of the population. Another 340,000 are seriously under-insured. That means that their insurance coverage has caps and high deductibles so that their medical treatments take up a huge portion of their income and the insurance severely limits medical procedures covered. These people comprise 44 percent of the population. As it is now, heath-care insurance premiums and co-pays take up about 20 percent of household incomes for those who have it. The rate of those under-insured and uninsured mounts on a monthly basis as families have to make decisions about what they need to spend their income on. And the income of South Dakota families ranks at the bottom of the 50 states. That 66 percent in South Dakota who are uninsured and under-insured mounts weekly.
At a health-care forum, someone submitted a question about the 46 million of Americans who do not have health-care. The question was if the people did not have health-care insurance because they could not afford it or because they chose to indulge themselves with a new car. (The questioner seemed oblivious to the fact that American automobile manufacturers asked for bail-out money because they are broke from declining sales.) The questioner intended to convey that many of the underinsured are making irresponsible choices, but ignores the fact that we have a workforce that must have reliable trransporation to get to-and-from work and often to use cars in their work. A good car for many is a prior necessity to health-care insurance.
Josh Marshall at Talking Points Memo summarizes the outlook:
You 'solve' the problem of the uninsured by passing a law forcing them to buy health insurance which, by definition, most a) cannot afford or b) are gambling they won't need because they're young and healthy. Either you end up with low subsidies which still leave it onerous to buy, thus creating a lot of disgruntled people, or you get generous subsidies, which cost a lot of money.
It's sort of like reform with all the cool political downsides but none of the reform.
The anti-reform protesters obstinately refuse or are incapable of dealing with the issues current in health-care. To the question of whether reform is needed, the answers are either: no, we are happy with what we have; or, yeah but not if government takes over. They offer no viable solutions. Their objective is to destroy the president and his political party, the sick and injured be damned. They offer no options to what has been proposed that would actually make possible the expansion of health-care to those who don't have it or who have inadequate coverage.
The underlying question is, who should receive health-care> Most people believe that there is a moral and philosophical obligation to care for the sick and injured. For many it is a doctrine of their faith. But others believe that health-care should be provided for those who "earn it." That means if you earn a living on the wage scale offered in South Dakota, you probably can't afford full health-care insurance, and that means you haven't earned it. Oddly--or perhaps not--this comes from some who accuse President Obama of fascism, Naziism, and whatever nonsensical terms they can dredge out of their lexicon of hate.
Certainly, much of the vengeful scurrility comes from those who are quick to point out the invective directed toward President Bush. But we recall that most of that invective arose from evidence that the nation had been deceived about the need to wage war on Iraq, that 9/11 was used as a pretext for intruding on the communications of Americans, that in violation of the law and a long-standing American ethic torture and humiliation were practiced, and that thousands of lives were lost and billions of dollars wasted on the inept handling of a war that had no valid basis in the first place.
But the motives behind the anti-reform movement do not address the central question of what happens if no reform is passed.
We have wondered why the congressmen of both parties are treating the protests so gingerly. For some, like Sen. Grassley from Iowa, the reasons are clearly a matter of defering to what is perceived as the Republican Party base. Many Republican congressmen and women are openly pandering to the falsehoods that they think comprises grass-roots thinking. Sen. Grassley, who is one of the gang of six working on Senate proposals, may not be as perfidious as some of his fellows, but his duplicity is astounding. In a campaign letter, he asks his supporters to help him defeat Obama-care.
The protests are treated gingerly beccause they represent the Republican base. However, some prominent Republicans have taken a refutational stance to Rush Limbaugh and Glen Beck as spokesman for the party in recent days. But why have the Democrats either chosen to avoid the confrontations or responded with such caution?
An Illinois congressman offered an explanation. "We've got to keep the lid on this thing and see if the political process doesn't offer some real solutions in the end. Everybody is giving attention to the protestors, but no one is listening to those in hopes of getting some health-care coverage that has gone beyond their reach. They are the ones who are quietly and patiently waiting for what was promised in the election campaign. If they don't get it through the legislative process, they will revolt. And they won't care about political affiliations. They'll go after the system, and it may generate a crisis in government that could rival the Civil War."
Sen. Obama made his biggest strides in public support when he rejected the slash-and-burn brand of politicals in seeking the candidacy during the Democrat primary seasons and pre-convention time. He offered that same possibility of reason and conciliation during the election campaign. The Repubilcan Party has defined itself as obstructing any attempts at bi-artisan solutions and has supported the incivility. Their effort is totally toward some kind of politcal defeat of Obama and the Democrats.
So far, President Obama has given Congress the responsibilty to come up with proposals that address the uninsured and under-insured. By now he and those who elected him realize that the GOP is not interested in addressing the health-care problems. It is only interested in extracting some revenge for the election it lost. Playing to the protestors will not be tolerated as Congress reconvenes to take up reform.
With wars to resolve, the economy in a crisis, and past transgressions of decency to rectify, a failure to produce a significant health-care reform is very likely to trigger an insurrection that will make the Iraqi fight between the Sunnis and Shiites seem like a picnic in the park.
The more perceptive politicians know this. In recent weeks, the GOP has defined itself. Now is the time to see what they and the Democrats do with the definition.
To those who have no health-care or have inadeqate health-dare, it is a mater of deprivation.