At first glance, the placards carried by the “tea party” protesters (see accompanying photos) and the inflammatory rhetoric that drives them to increasingly excessive behavior defy explanation. How could anyone compare an effort to provide affordable health care for all Americans with the Holocaust? Why is President Obama being blamed for health care reform bills being considered in the House and Senate? What evidence supports the charge that Obama is a Marxist? And a Nazi? How can anyone claim that the federal government is “taking over” the health care industry and initiated the “takeover” of General Motors?
It just does not compute. It was General Motors, for example, that came cap-in-hand to the government begging for a bailout. And, if anything, Obama has been overly timid in pushing his agenda for health care reform. The bills that have provoked such outrage were cobbled together in Congress, with both Democrats and Republicans adding bits and pieces. Besides, what on earth does all of this have to do with Hitler’s holocaust? Or individual freedoms? Is health care reform going to include taking away America’s guns?
But the underlying rage is fueled by very real frustrations. With double-digit unemployment and unashamed looting of the federal treasury by financial institutions and their lackeys in government, the instict to lash out at someone – anyone – is understandable. Obviously this society – under Bush or under Obama – does not serve the best interests of “the people.” Obviously, for whatever reasons, the rich are coddled and the poor are neglected. And the gap between rich and poor grows ever wider. And obviously, the nation’s system of governance is broken, corrupted by the necessity for candidates to spend fortunes to get elected and the ability of special interests to buy their votes with campaign contributions.
It is also understandable, though totally unforgivable, that Republican Party leaders would be tempted to use grassroots resentment in a desperate attempt to regain political power. After two disastrous elections, the party was teetering on the brink of collapse, and old, reliable mantras like “what’s good for business is good for America” no longer resonated with the majority of Americans. What else was there to reignite the party’s political hopes but the smoldering anger of those who consider themselves victims of injustice?
The question the Republicans must ask themselves, though, is this: What credibility will they have with reasonable Americans who can see through the flimsy curtain of hypocrisy to the obvious manipulation behind the “protests”?
Not everyone is as ignorant as the protesters seem to be. This is the 21st century, and most people understand that social and economic problems are vexingly complex. Most people see that the world has become smaller and more inter-related, that America cannot act in isolation but must take global implications into consideration. Most people understand that the President cannot impose his will by fiat, that he must depend on the cooperation of a gaggle of elected representatives who are influenced by a multitude of interests, not only in Washington but also back in their constituencies.
But most people don’t march on Washington – unlike the thousands who responded to Representative Michelle Bachmann’s call (photo above) and assembled on Thursday at the entrance to the Cannon House Office Building to listen to House Republican leaders vilify the President and describe health care reform as a greater threat to America than terrorism or World War II.
Those marchers were a motley crew obviously bonded by ignorance and insensitivity, as their placards so clealry demonstrated. Some questioned President Obama’s citizenship, portrayed him as Sambo, and called him a traitor. One said, “Obama takes his orders from the Rothschilds.” Old ladies wore red T-shirts decrying “Obamao care.” The crowd also took spirited swipes at House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. At one point someone yelled, “Put down your Botox and show yourself.”
Consider this excerpt from an account in Salon:
A small mob had gathered there for what anti-choice kook Randall Terry billed as a sit-in to protest abortion-related provisions in the House health care reform legislation. They wound up mixing with some of the people who streamed in after Bachmann’s “House Call” rally ended to tell members of Congress how vehemently they oppose providing universal access to health care. Someone tore up all 1,990 pages of the reform bill and scattered them on the floor; a few of Terry’s pals got arrested; the crowd started chanting, “Kill the bill! Kill the bill!” and just like that, the police were clearing the hallway. “This is the people’s House, and we’re being kicked out?” one woman muttered as she walked away. “Nancy Pelosi can kiss my fat ass.”
How elegant is that? These “protesters” have exposed their ignorance and vulgarity. They have shown how easy it is for unscrupulous demagogues to use them for political and commercial gain. And they have forfeited any right to sympathy or support. But they cannot be completely ignored. Some of the injustices they cite are real, and the President should look beyond the unworthy messengers to the genuine causes of unrest in a society that badly needs reform.