Have you noticed a climate of hate and mean-spiritedness in the land?
Whether inspired by racism or not, it certainly exists.
This isn’t a unique psychological phenomenon. Remember the brutal anti-unionism of the 1930s, the McCarthy-era anti-communist scare of the 1950s, and the Vietnam War protests of the 1960s and early 1970s?
President Barack Obama — the first black U.S. president — tries diligently to reject claims that racism underlies the public rancor against his health-care reform plan and other administration aspirations. He acknowledged recently that there are “some people out there who don’t like me because of my race,” adding: “I’m sure there are.” But he doesn’t think that’s a huge motivation.
Obama’s zippiest put-down of the racial question came earlier this week when he was interviewed by David Letterman on CBS. The host asked the president whether some of the vitriolic reaction to his health care plan was at least partly driven by racism.
Obama replied: “First of all, I think it’s important to realize that I was actually black before the election” — a witty reminder that the American people had overwhelmingly elected him president with full knowledge of his racial heritage.
After the audience’s uproarious laughter quieted down, Letterman quipped: “How long have you been a black man?”
It’s understandable why Obama does not want to dwell on the racial issue, even though — for some — it is the 800-pound gorilla in the room. The president also is trying to talk softly about health-care reform in hopes that Republicans in Congress will support a reform bill.
Forget it, Mr. President. The Republicans are not going to give you an inch. That also goes for the so-called blue-dog Democrats, who are really Republicans at heart.
Former President Jimmy Carter — a Southerner — says there is an “element” of racism in the fury displayed at this past summer’s town-hall meetings where members of Congress were shouted down when they tried to rebut the falsehoods peddled by conservatives.
The depth of the anger seemed outsized for a discussion about health care. Something else was lurking.
The dreaded word “socialism” is being invoked by opponents of any government involvement in health care. But try taking away Social Security, Medicare or Medicaid, and let’s see if anyone squawks about “socialism.”
When will the American people wake up to the bogus fears generated by scare tactics?
Referring to the president’s recent health care address to a joint session of Congress, The Nation magazine’s liberal columnist Alexander Cockburn wrote that “the president reached the apex of lunatic effrontery when he caused the assembled legislators to leap to their feet in stormy applause by pledging that ‘I will not sign a plan that adds one dime to our deficits.’
“This is the same president, these are the same legislators, who are committing billions in red ink for the war in Afghanistan and the continued U.S. presence in Iraq,” he added. Cockburn does an excellent job of lampooning our politicians for their hypocrisy.
I expect Congress will end up passing some bland version of health legislation, but it will be anemic and it will leave the same problems that bedevil the U.S. now: Millions of people who can’t afford insurance or the soaring cost of health care.
The biggest failure will result from the president’s reluctance to fight for a government insurance plan that would leave no one behind.