Opinion

The Great Debate

America’s season of rage and fear

By Bernd Debusmann
April 1, 2010

Freedom in America will soon be a fading memory. American exceptionalism died on March 23, 2010. On that day, the United States started becoming just like any other country. Worse still, like a West European country. Socialism in the land of the free and the home of the brave!

In a nutshell, that’s how many conservatives see the health reform bill President Barack Obama signed into law on March 23, after a year of acrimonious debate. The language has been shrill and the superheated political temperature is reflected by worried headlines such as “The heat is on. We may get burned” (Wall Street Journal) or “Putting out the flames” (Washington Post).

Verbal venom is not restricted to radio talk shows or Internet rants that draw parallels between Obama and Hitler or Stalin. John Boehner, the leader of the Republican party in the House of Representatives, described the reform as Armageddon and a Republican congresswoman, Michelle Bachmann, voiced fears on national television for her country’s future because of the president’s “anti-American views.”

Today’s end-of-freedom arguments sound very much like the ideas set out in a 1961 speech by the late Ronald Reagan, then an actor working as a corporate spokesman, now venerated as a secular saint by many Republicans. “One of the traditional methods of imposing statism or socialism on a people,” he said, “has been by way of medicine.”

Reagan was raising the alarm against an early version of what became Medicare, the government-run health care programme for people over 65 which now has 45 million beneficiaries, most of whom rate it more highly than private health insurance, according to surveys. If the program were passed, Reagan warned, “behind it will come other federal programmes that will invade every area of freedom as we have known it in this country. Until one day… we will awake to find that we have socialism.”

Medicare was passed in 1965. Dark warnings notwithstanding, the United States remained the engine of global capitalism. It is also the world’s only advanced industrial country without universal health care (except for the elderly), with more than 40 million uninsured for whom illness can mean financial ruin or early death.

In the hubbub, which is growing rather than subsiding, it’s worth noting that people arguing from opposite ends are coming to the same conclusion — health care reform is not the underlying reason for the anger vented against the government.

CHANGING AMERICA

Example from the right, from radio host Monica Crowley: “Health care ‘reform’ was never about health care. It was about expanding government into every part of your life as an excuse to confiscate more and more of your private property, strip you of your constitutionally guaranteed freedoms and remake America into a two-bit, second-rate, debt-laden European socialist backwater.”

Example from the left, from New York Times columnist Frank Rich: “The… health care debate 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 American in 1964.”

That’s when the Civil Rights Bill ended segregation and black Americans were no longer required to sit in the back of the bus, drink from separate water fountains, or go to separate schools. It was, said Rich,”an inexorable and immutable change in the very identity of America, not just its governance”.

Another inexorable and immutable change has been underway for decades: demographics. Because of immigration, both legal and illegal, and the higher birth rate of immigrants, white Americans are projected to be a minority in the United States by 2042. According to the 2000 census (the 2010 count is under way now), white Americans have shrunk to a minority in 52 of the 100 biggest cities, including Los Angeles and Washington.

That demographic shift was paralleled by a rise in extremist groups on the right. Their number rose by more than 50 percent from 2000, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center, an organization that tracks radicals. Most groups on the lunatic fringe are small in number and big on conspiracy theories but then, how many people does it take to blow up a building?

Late in March, FBI agents arrested nine members of a far-right group in raids in Michigan, Indiana and Ohio to scotch what a government indictment called a plot to kill a police officer and then bomb his funeral. In the words of Attorney General Eric Holder, they stand accused of conspiring to “levy war against the United States.”

The appeal of such groups is limited but some of their anti-government rhetoric is echoed at rallies of the fast-growing Tea Party movement. Named after the 1773 act of anti-British sabotage in Boston that hastened the American revolution, it is a diffuse, predominantly white grassroots movement whose followers range from fiscal conservatives and libertarians to people hoisting posters depicting Obama as Hitler.

The star speaker at the movement’s first convention, in February, was Sarah Palin, the darling of the Republican right. The movement hopes to draw a million followers to a protest rally in Washington on April 15, the day Americans have to file tax returns.

Outlook for the political temperature: high and rising.

Comments
76 comments so far | RSS Comments RSS

Hey there “Old-Yeller 105″ Why don’t you look up the word PROGRESSIVE, then, stop referring to yourself as one. I believe the term that you’re looking for is “DEVIANT”.

Posted by PetesWs6 | Report as abusive
 

“Dear Conservative Americans,

The years have not been kind to you. I grew up in a profoundly Republican home, so I can remember when you wore a very different face than the one we see now. You’ve lost me and you’ve lost most of America. Because I believe having responsible choices is important to democracy, I’d like to give you some advice and an invitation.

First, the invitation: Come back to us.

Now the advice. You’re going to have to come up with a platform that isn’t built on a foundation of cowardice: fear of people with colors, religions, cultures and sex lives that differ from your own; fear of reform in banking, health care, energy; fantasy fears of America being transformed into an Islamic nation, into social/commun/fasc-ism, into a disarmed populace put in internment camps; and more. But you have work to do even before you take on that task.

Your party — the GOP — and the conservative end of the American political spectrum have become irresponsible and irrational. Worse, it’s tolerating, promoting and celebrating prejudice and hatred. Let me provide some examples — by no means an exhaustive list — of where the Right as gotten itself stuck in a swamp of hypocrisy, hyperbole, historical inaccuracy and hatred.

If you’re going to regain your stature as a party of rational, responsible people, you’ll have to start by draining this swamp.”

Posted by Jonesy | Report as abusive
 

In regards to the Tea Party people, there are posts making generalizations of these fellow Americans as being racist, uneducated, fat, right wing extremists, white trash, whiners, out of touch with the facts, etc, etc.

I’m an independent, common sense type person. I did attend a Tea Party gathering in my area out of curiosity some time ago. There are always a few knuckleheads in every group no matter what. By far, the majority of folks attending these are just average Americans of every age/race/gender and economic status.

I’m not defending Tea Partiers. They have every right to voice their opinions and have their events. If their opinions are different than yours, that’s ok. Instead of making these generalizations about your fellow Americans, go start your own movement.

Posted by DVM | Report as abusive
 

No one in their right mind is against health care. Adams was for (classical) common education so that our population was informed and able to logically participate in government and make choices to effectively govern and ensure both the rights of the citizen and the strength of the economy and government. The issues are not health care. Congress has health care, so does the V.A., so do the elderly with medicare, and those with children under 18 (medicaid). Wow be to the States who administer them! And then there are the lapses in coverage which should be addressed, those too old, but not old enough, those with expensive conditions, uncovered. All this before the healthcare bill. Adam’s noted GREED as our potential downfall, before Madoff or corporate bonuses way out of line or highly paid lobbyist or revolving door politicians. The bill recently passed, and the great amount of public outcry is about fiscal neglect and about a breech of trust. Medical bills are out of sight, my recent experience is $37k and counting for a 6 hour outpatient procedure (including recovery) with no insurance, with two more required or be physically disabled for the rest of my life. It has spelled financial ruin. But, I am not for Obama’s bill because it doesn’t address fundamental problems. It mandates more care without paying for the care we have and aren’t paying for. I am one of those in the cracks of health care but I also have a son who will be paying through the nose for the rest of his life, in a country way out of control, not focusing on jobs and job creation within a global economy, and i don’t want that for him or any young American citizen. This past week, social security became upside down. Our deficit is increasing so rapidly, now 14 TRILLION allowed? Check out what it was in 2003! What’s the deal with that, paygo not approved? Life is not Disneyland. Our schools are expensive and terrible, our justice system is not about justice but about winning, and our politicians thwart the will of the people and pass legislation, ramming it through when even children with pre-existing conditions aren’t covered for four yrs. while everybody is mandated to pay? and our current system is underfunded at best. Franklin used pretty and unsupported notes to float this country in the Revolution, but this is not that, it is gross neglect for our future and our wellbeing.

Posted by gadfly1 | Report as abusive
 

Dear Jonesy,

Being conservative does not mean being a Republican. Being conservative does not mean one is filled with hatred, prejudice, greed and intolerance. Like many others, you’ve chosen to label all conservative Americans as such so here’s a generalization for you. Generally speaking, you are a nut job.

Posted by DVM | Report as abusive
 

What I find hilarious in the the right’s venting of their spleen against the current administration, is their total amnesia regarding the massive deficit built up under G.W. and the incontestable fact that his administration was the one sitting like a rabbit caught in the headlights as Wall Street took everyone off the cliff. If team Obama had not pumped so much taxpayers money into bailouts and so called `socialist`work schemes, we would be in the midst of a severe depression and like everyone else, those voting Republican would have lost all their savings in the collapse of the banking and stock market systems.
For any society to exist as a society there must be an central government, unfortunately too many people in America want no government.

Posted by tomjeff | Report as abusive
 

DVM –
The problem is that the conservative movement attracts people with those very same issues: hatred, prejudice, greed, and intolerance (I would also add fear to that list). There are simply too many people in the conservative movement with those vices in their hearts to ignore. It is the current rally cry. I think that conservatives have truly forgotten what actually – let me repeat – actually made this country. Compromise.

Posted by bobSmith | Report as abusive
 

DVM,
Your judgements are based on what data?

Posted by Thats_It | Report as abusive
 

The most vicious hateful speech, protests, and assassinations in the United States have overwhelmingly come from the left. I’ve been to several Tea Party rallies. What I see is mostly educated people outraged at the path we’re on. A path to 1984. You’ve got it all wrong about this protest.

Posted by vincent1966 | Report as abusive
 

What Spin would you like today? Rhetoric is of course more powerful than data – even solid scientific data. You know why?

Because the majority of readers don’t care – to them, winning the rhetorical war makes it truth. In fact, there is a whole world of popular/common beliefs that are scientifically invalid.

But who cares?

People like to decide quickly and easily and nothing better than a “quickie” newsbyte to give their fix and help them feel they are conscientious citizens.

DVM – the majority of conscientious Americans who think for themselves and make up their own minds – mainly those who aggregate toward the center of the political spectrum – opposed Obamacare. It is not a politically conservative movement, though the right seems to be more interested in original intent to limit the powers of government.

Posted by MD_Grabe | Report as abusive
 

I think this article has cut straight to the heart of the matter. I’m conservative and I don’t hate anyone, I’m not stealing from anyone, and I’m not intolerant of others or their perspectives. I also don’t think it’s right that people in this country don’t have access to healthcare. (although I think it’s unlikely that this bill will really fix that problem)

This country is founded on a simple and truly wonderful idea, that Amercians should be free to pursue their dreams. I think many of the people posting on this board have forgotten this. I think our government has absoulutely forgotten this. I see things written here that imply we should be embarrassed or ashamed for what American is. Our own president talks to the rest of the world as if we’re wrong and evil. Do you know how many people have given their lives for the simple idea that is America? To create a safe place so all you folks on this board can convince yourself that anyone with a perspective other than yours is evil and wrong. It’s sickening to me, and that’s what I’ve had enough of.

In my opinon, what’s really happening in America is a fight about staying true to the ideals of our founding fathers. America is about active citizenship. There are many in this country that feel they know better than the citizens of this country. However, this country is governed by a set of checks and balances that prevent this from happening. The president of our country has clearly decided those rules don’t apply to him. He has apparently rationalized that the percieved importance of the cause outweighs these checks and balances. That however is not how our government is intented to work. Our president is supposed to actively support and abide by those rules, not ‘get around’ them when they don’t meet his needs.

That’s what all this is really about. It’s not about being a conservative, liberal, republican, or democrat. It’s about being an American. An active citizen in the world’s greatest democracy. Our government has lost touch with these ideals. I for one no longer intent sit idle and watch our current set of leaders destroy what so many have died to create… and neither should you.

Posted by SickofBamaWorld | Report as abusive
 

unfortunatelly, the far right has become a symbol of the downfall of america’s education system. this is not a real national phenomenon. why else is it that their following us mainly in “bible belt” of america. where racist feelings have always existed and irrational behavior have always been a part of the norm there. these people are incapable of being able to compete in a global economy and keeping up with an ever chaning world. they would only be satisfied with america if we went back to segregation, dropping bombs in far off countries and they were getting $30 a hour to press a button in some manufacturing plant while their company provided free health coverage for them and everyone in thier trailer park.

Posted by sidrock23 | Report as abusive
 

tomjeff: Massive deficit? Compared to what? Curious, how do you feel O’s spending compares to W’s? Try multi-fold more than W’s.

Posted by MD_Grabe | Report as abusive
 

sidrod23 – At least they know how to write – they capitalize their sentences. Common – is there any example of stereotyping and prejudice better than your accusations?

Posted by MD_Grabe | Report as abusive
 

So much stereotyping and conservative thinking (that is, people unable to think outside their political world view) — that liberals as well as conservatives suffer from. Ad nauseam!

Medicare isn’t necessarily a bad product, though my parents might disagree (mom just passed unexpectedly because Medicare required more pronounced symptomatology before it would pay for the tests she needed).

The problem isn’t the product or the idea. The problem is in the implementation of it and the government controlling of it. Private insurance companies can be greedy, but they also can be regulated – by government or by consumers through tort relief; but it will be very hard to sue the federal government. Moreover, so much power over our healthcare choices (liberties) will be granted to non-elected bureaucrats – including a tax (mandating by law w/ penalty to engage in commerce) simply for being alive!

What makes them more noble and magnanimous than business executives?

Getting back to Medicare, why is the Medicare program a problem? Medicare has been the largest, single most contributing factor to why healthcare prices have risen.

Did you get this? Medicare HAS INCREASE HEALTHCARE PRICES SUBSTANTIALLY!

Why? Because of two reasons: 1) Medicare prices paid are below what costs providers expend in Medicare patient care, and 2) law requires Medicare to be the sole, single payer. It is as if the intent of Medicare is to force providers to loose money.

Results? Billions at least in losses – actual losses – not lost profits. One major institution looses $600M annually due to Medicare – yet they expend the least per patient than most other places.

Effects? Losses have to be paid by someone, and so they are covered by those who pay full price. If average cost of care per category patient is $1,000, and Medicare pays $500, the remaining $500 has to be covered by higher prices charged non-Medicare patients.

Therefore, it is not just insurance companies or provider profiteering who are at fault with our “broken” healthcare system. It is also the federal government! But was there any discussion of such? No!

Has anyone wondered why there has been no government document outlining a comprehensive explanation of what is broken and how the solution will fix what is broken? I’m not talking about the political rhetoric or Obamacare advertisement campaign (hey what about truth in advertisement?)

Obamacare is one step toward single payer – total government takeover of the healthcare industry (by Obama’s own words – yes by his own words caught on video). This is of no surprise to Big Labor because single payer is actually a goal of Big Labor and their proponents. In fact, the videos captured were in Big Labor settings.

Looking at what Medicare could do the industry if it was the sole payer, do we really want the government to be a sole, single payer of healthcare?

The problem? You, Reuters; You AP! The American people do NOT know the whole truth because YOU won’t report it! Solid empirical science has proven most news sources are politically biased to the left almost as strongly as a spectrometer can prove the clear daytime sky is roughly blue.

There certainly are people against Obamacare simply due to their political world view. They may not even give a rip about others.

However, so many more are against it because they looked at the bill and looked at the relevant information news houses refuses to report – never in the headlines. No wonder the Dems want to regulate internet commentary.

You want to debate Obamacare? Are you willing to lay all the cards on the table and have a solid argument? Do you think the issue is simply for or against? Or do you think there is a whole world of solutions somewhere in between – where perhaps a thousand-fold better solution might be found?

Or do you simply want the government to take over everything? Are they more trustworthy than business? So somehow, the government bureaucrats that get hired are super human and are more efficient, more magnanimous, and not inclined to temptation (whether power or greed)?

Can you conclude (for yourself) independent of a political ideology or platform; independent of a bandwagon? Or must you identify with one group or another? Maybe the winning one is your group – whoever they may be.

The way I look at it is single payer will create two socioeconomic classes of patients: 1) those who can afford to pay out of pocket for whatever healthcare they want whenever they want it, and 2) the rest of us (who will receive care according to some bureaucratic government board at a time the depressed industry has availability).

Posted by MD_Grabe | Report as abusive
 

Here’s some info: Medicare though at the abstract a good idea (IMO) has these problems: 1) levels of symptomatology required to pay for needed tests or care is higher than often exists; 2) costs for Medicare patient care can only be paid by Medicare – Medicare forces on providers as the single payer; 3) Medicare pays below actual costs of patient care; and 4) we cannot sue the government for problems caused by Medicare.

Billions in losses caused by Medicare are compensated by much higher full-payer healthcare prices. It has become a major problem for every healthcare provider, and as the baby boomers retire, all providers are planning for the worse.

Thus, government-run, single-payer Medicare has been a significant factor in skyrocketing healthcare prices and resulting higher insurance premiums and inaccessibility to lower socioeconomic classes.

Do we want costs in our healthcare system to be entirely paid by a similar single-payer program?

Posted by MD_Grabe | Report as abusive
 

This “Founding Fathers” nonsense is really quite funny. Most of our “Founding Fathers” had slaves! And had no problem “bedding their female slaves”, after all what could their “slave husbands” or the Founding Father’s wives do about it. THEY HAD NO RIGHTS! We won’t talk about why the phrase “rule of thumb” came into being (the settler husbands used to beat their wives to death. Hence the law that you could not use a stick or branch bigger around than your thumb to beat your wife). Oh, and this little thing about “Manifest Destiny”, that about says it all. It was our Founding Fathers God given right to “do as they pleased” and force their idea of Democracy onto those that they happen to run across. But the “closer” was the fact that they were all “Land Owners” or, if you will, Property Owners. That property consisted of land, slaves and, of course, their wives. The idea that motivates most “conservatives” is “THIS IS MINE AND I’LL DO WHAT I WANT WITH IT”. Ergo, a longing for the Good Old Days. Everything else is smoke and mirrors, the founding fathers merely wanted the freedom to do with their property, whatever they wished.

It’s worth thinking about and a little researching.

Posted by MACV | Report as abusive
 

Sidrod23,
You’re a dumb A. To characterize an entire group of people by region and accuse them of racism is ridiculous. Have you ever been to the South? Have you ever done anything of note for that matter? Please, this is not about racism although its funny how quick people are to jump to racism because it gets people excited.

This is about one thing: Rights versus Opportunity.

America used to be about opportunity but now its about rights & entitlements and people getting what they deserve.

If a company can make billions or millions doing something well people get upset, no jealous, and the politicians jump on board. Remember the crusade against Exxon?! What happened to that, oh gas prices went down and it just fadded away!!

People, healthcare companies making money is not a bad thing. Every post I read about someone complaining that someone makes too much money is insane. That is what America is about, opportunity. Why do people feel the need to punish success?

The government is getting too big and spending with reckless abandon (please stop mentioning GWB – he is not the president and certainly not the cause of a real estate bubble and Obama is not entirely to blame either.

There is simply too much to write in such a little box but Obama is destroying the country and he is doing it by making you think he is protection you from evil people making money. Stop chanting “Change” and “Yes we can” and watch what he is DOING.

Healthcare and others making money provide jobs, innovation; and not least the taxes to pay your entitlements. It is competition that keeps prices low. Not government intervention and taxes. Why don’t you people get this?!

The problem with America is this belief that you all deserve something. You deserve O2 (oxygen for those of you that dropped out of high school) and that is it. You have a system, a country, in front of you that gives you every opportunity to succeed if you would just take it. But no, people think they deserve something. WHY? Where did this come from? Where did accountability go? Drop out of high school and expect someone to take care of you. Obama preaches “tough love” but what has he done except give “stimulus funds” 80% which just went to help state budgets and bank bailouts. But no, really, he is concerned about main street. SHOW ME

Posted by Andymc7 | Report as abusive
 

In 1973 I visited a small hospital 50 miles south of Cleveland, Ohio and in the waiting room were Amish whom I rarely saw before. I commented to the nurse about them and she said, “They only come here when their pain or cure cannot be taken care of by their home treatments.” Many people with hospitalization do that. Are emergency rooms visits required by laws to treat anyone that comes in? With the increasing numbers of poor in our country, USA, who is going to pay for the ER care providers; Capitalists or Socialists?

Posted by bigmikey | Report as abusive
 

If everybody could just cut down on the length of their contributions, and spread it a bit, we might even make the main page…

QED: Quad Est Demonstrandum

Posted by Ghandiolfini | Report as abusive
 

Andrec27:

Um, not sure how to put this but, you’re disgustingly wrong. The tax code has a stepped up tax rate which has higher income’s paying as much as 38% of their income straight to the Federal government. Those with lower income pay 10-15% and after tax credits and ‘making work pay credits’ most people end up with no taxes at all. Yes MOST.

Mint.com estimated that in 2009, 46.9% of Americans will have zero federal income. This data was from IRS.gov, taxfoundation.org and taxpolicycetner.org information. You are so wrong its laughable and scary. See for yourself:

http://www.zerohedge.com/sites/default/f iles/images/user5/MINT-TAXES-R3.png

This is part of why people are fearful & angry because 46.9% of Americans have incentive to vote the taxes from others to themselves. Point, case, fact, truth, cry and weep libs.

Posted by Andymc7 | Report as abusive
 

This whole debate, and the climate in the country, brings to mind a poem by the great Irishman William Butler Yeats. It was written a year after the end of World War I and includes these lines:

“Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.”

Will the center hold?

Posted by Komment | Report as abusive
 

I think the conservatives are merely boomers who are having flashbacks from some bad stuff they smoked back in the sixties. The young folks will not get involved because they are to busy with their face books and video games to really know what is happening. The press is fueling the fire. The government really doesn’t give a crap and is business as usual. As far as you conservatives are concerned, put away your protest signs. Take some Viagra had have another summer of love.

Posted by scrypton | Report as abusive
 

Thanks for that Komment, I always wondered where Chinua Achebe got the title of his book.

I am not sure how the aggregate taxes in the US works, and without going into too much detail, my effective tax rate:

Salary/fees: 30%
VAT: 14%
Fuel: 1%
Sin taxes: 1%
Financial instruments, e.g. an EFT: 1%
Property, let’s say: 1%
Others, undefined: 2%

Total: 50%

In other words, I give away 50% of every $ I earn, and I have no social security – I have to pay my own medical and pension. Am I a communist, socialist or capitalist ?
More like a ‘ComSocCap’.

To get back to the topic at hand, I am enraged and live in fear of the authorities, and that is not even the intelligence guys, because, they are intelligent as they work for the state and I pay their salaries, i.e. the tax multiplier effect, which takes me beyond 50%.

Posted by Ghandiolfini | Report as abusive
 

Dear Bernd Debusman,

You are correct. We are already Socialist and have been for some time. I am Republican and Conservative and your writing boviously has hit a nerve with many Americans.

I also find it hard to believe that a militia against the federal govt. would kill a policeman and then try to take out his mourners. It does sound like a clever story for a govt. agency to gain popular support to go arrest and break up these guys. Think about it what would they gain for their cause by killing police famillies?

We are no longer FREE. Just ask the citizens about Hate Crimes…why is what you do against Gays (or any group) worse than what you do against me? Special classes have more freedoms and protection than others.

Don’t even get me started about taxes…you think you own something? Since WWII income taxes were placed on property temporarily and have never left. Just don’t pay them on your house, car, trailer anything you think you “own”. The Government will sieze it and sell it for back taxes.

America if left on the current road will be gone inside 5 to 10 years. All the attackers are within…in fact Obama is leading those down the path Russia and other large Socialist/Communists have gone. Militia really don’t have to do anything but wait for the chaos to breakout.

I will keep praying that sanity will someday come to Washington. It can only happen if the silent majority step up and get involved.

Posted by bmize | Report as abusive
 

Fear and loathing in Las Vegas, Gonzo.

Smear and looting in Washington, Anon

Posted by Ghandiolfini | Report as abusive
 

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