It was never about health care


September 11 let the air out of many Americans’ sense of invulnerability. Fear filled the vacuum left behind and intensified the darkness already there. Fear of change. Fear of the unknown. Fear of the Other.

At dinner last night we talked about what was really behind the right’s histrionic response to enactment of health insurance reform — reform based in too large a part on Republican ideas. By the time the Sunday New York Times was online, Frank Rich had transcribed the essentially the same conversation under the title we might have given it, The Rage Is Not About Health Care:

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.

We looked back last night (as Rich does) to the the Civil Rights and Voting Rights Acts of 1964 and 1965. Although children, we could not remember the same level of widespread venom even then. And we knew — as Rich also recounts — that today’s rage was brewing long before the House and Senate drew up the first drafts of the health care bill signed last week. It was growing in the summer and fall of 2008 as Americans faced the reality that Barack Obama, not John McCain, might win the presidency that November. For many, that election night was their last contact with reality.

This weekend a friend recounted his experience outside a Buncombe County polling place just after the polls closed that night. A local policeman rolled into the parking lot and chatted with him and some women closing up the voting place. The officer told them he and his father had already purchased half a dozen handguns in advance of the election’s outcome.

Last summer an acquaintance in eastern Tennessee said the local Wal-Mart could not keep long guns and ammunition in stock because of people’s fear of an H1N1 pandemic. They expected to barricade themselves in the hollows, one supposes, and take out with a head shot any disease-ridden ghoul that came staggering slowly over the ridge.

Now people like this and this are telling their wives they need to buy still more guns and ammo because the biggest threat this nation faces today is debt tomorrow. And terrorism. And fascists and socialists and communists, Oh, my! And yes, as Digby wrote yesterday, many “would rather do without health insurance themselves than have the same benefit going to black and brown people.” But labeling it racism is too simple. As Dave Neiwert points out, the main targets of Glenn Beck’s (most recent) eliminationist rhetoric are progressives of whatever color.

All the chest-thumping, flag-waving bluster and boasts of firepower are more an exercise of fear than freedom. Fear of change. Fear of the unknown. Fear of the Other.

Health care? It was never about health care. It is about standing athwart history, yelling GO BACK!


  1. And it was and is mostly racist.

  2. Davyne says:

    I come from the people written about in the article. Basically good people, who’ve grown up in a time of unparalleled prosperity. They see they’re children not having the same options they had. Upper South Carolina was a place that gave each and every one of my Mother’s and my generation a piece of the American dream. White picket fenced home, job security, overall prosperity with little or no advanced education.

    Fast forward at breakneck speed/ from 1950 to now, the world has experienced more social, industrial and technological changes than ever before in recorded time. It’s unsettling and exhilarating at the same time. Some of us have been able to accept and go with the flow, others, want to put on the brakes and revert to the imaginary halcyon days of the 50’s…but before Elvis started the whole social movement, (just kidding).

    I was different than most of my family, I moved around, lived in Europe, got some advanced education…and consequently for the most part I find the sea-change in the world exhilarating, but I profoundly understand the fear in my relatives. The fear that something precious has slipped through their fingers and they may never get it back. And the fear gets fed by the tea-partiers, and the other propagandist, and it’s easier to blame than look at the reality. And do something that empowers rather than band together in collective fear.

  3. Susan says:

    In DC last weekend, the tea baggers numbered in the hundreds.

    The anti-war rally numbered in the thousands.

    The immigration reform rally numbered in the hundred of thousands.

    And who got all the press? the tea baggers. They are the ones supporting the pro-corporation agenda, and the corporate media knows that.

    And they are racist, but that does not change the fact that this health insurance reform bill is a bad bill. Not because it is socialist (as the teabaggers claim). It is definitely not socialism at all. It is a bad bill because it enriches the insurance companies, allowing them to get even more entrenched.

  4. Tom Sullivan says:

    Paul Rosenberg of Open Left points to Brad DeLong’s take on Romney-Care, that Heritage Foundation-inspired, “respectable, market-oriented, responsibility-based alternative” to government- or employer-based health care:

    Over in that alternative branch of the quantum-mechanical multiverse in which Mitt Romney was elected President in November 2008, this health care bill–with much smaller subsidies and no tax increases on the rich, and with other tweaks and modifications–passed the House of Representatives 352-83 and passed the Senate 79-20, with near-solid Republican support. Left-wing Democrats whined that it was not real reform. The David Broders and David Brookses of the world trumpeted it as an extraordinary victory for American bipartisanship.

    I won’t defend many of the fine points of the HCR bill. Owing to its “heritage,” there’s a lot not to like. Yet it’s been fun watching the right dodge the fact that the HCR bill owes so much to Romney’s efforts in Massachusetts. Point that out and they’ll disown it, saying RomneyCare is a failure.

    If so, it would be the first time in a long time conservatives have admitted to a failure of their ideas. Except, as we know, if their idea fails it was never really conservative in the first place. Q.E.D.