Saturday, August 15, 2009

Politics Is Whatever I Don't Agree With

I had a funny conversation yesterday with a co-worker from another department. It's probably a dangerous luxury to argue politics in the workplace, but since she began the exchange, I decided to indulge for once.

She overheard me and another worker talking about the state of health care in the US. I was showing him an article with another horror story about a person who'd been denied treatment by her insurance company. The other co-worker then intervened, asking us if we thought the government should take over healthcare. I said I thought so, and we were off. The trouble is, my interlocutor was either incredibly ignorant, or pretending to be: she claimed not to know -- in fact, she denied -- that Republicans have wanted to get rid of Social Security and Medicare since those programs' inception. I reminded her of Ronald Reagan, and she conceded and brushed aside the point in one dismissive wave: so did Clinton, she said. Right, I said, so he's going along with the Republicans -- but don't you want to get rid of Medicare and Social Security, which are government programs that let Washington run our lives? She brushed that aside too, saying that Medicare and Social Security are going broke, they don't work. Social Security is not going broke, I said, and if Medicare has problems it's because Republicans keep trying to get to get rid of it by whittling away at it. (Same with Social Security: if they can't get rid of it outright, they can at least cut benefits and raise the retirement age a little at a time.) She denied that too, which brought us full circle.

I mentioned that lots of Americans apparently don't know that Social Security and Medicare are government programs, which she also denied. (As Avedon Carol wrote at The Sideshow, "You actually hear people say with a straight face that they've never taken anything from the government and never will, they get by on Social Security and they have their Medicare. I can't help but wonder where they think it comes from."

My co-worker was aware of the horror stories about the American system, but was sure that things would be worse under a government-run system -- just look at England! So what did she want, I asked. Well, if They would just set up more free clinics all over the country, then people could get treatment! Who's "They", I asked. The government, of course. But I thought she didn't want the government to take over healthcare, and it would be too expensive. But if They just set up free clinics ... I had to keep asking her who They were; I guess that such vagueness about who's doing what is inevitable when someone gets all her news from Fox, which she proudly declared she did.

Now, this woman is not what most Democrats and liberals would recognize right away as a redneck. I was stunned myself at just how narrow and ignorant she was, having exchanged pleasantries with her regularly during the past couple of years. But then, I myself am out of touch with most of America, since I avoid the corporate media generally in favor of alternatives, and most of my fellow Americans evidently think that Fox News is alternative media. The rest seem to think that President Obama's press releases and speeches are alternative media.

Lately, too, I've made the mistake of letting a friend get me onto Facebook. (One of my Korean friends, who'd posted photos there that he took during my recent trip to Korea.) Next thing I knew, I was hearing from people I'd gone to high school with forty years ago, and while most of them aren't bad people, they're mostly Republicans and conservative Christians. (Yeah, I know, so are most gay people, but that's why I don't hang around with most gay people.) The Republicans are appalling, ranting about how Obama is going against the will of most Americans. "Republican ... Democrat ... Independent .... Liberal .... why don't our elected Congressmen and Senators listen to us and do what we voted them to do," one wrote. "...... we want structured, accountable change, backed by meaningful fiscal responsibility ...... do we have to have an American Revolution to get our point across."

I teased him a bit, pointing out that most Americans want a single-payer system. (I have to balance this: If many Americans don't know that Medicare is a government program, they are probably just as vague about what a government-run health system would be like. On the other hand, the polls don't ask about "single-payer" -- they describe the program, and most Americans still want it, as they have for decades.) Most Americans voted for Obama, thinking he was, if not a socialist, then at least an extreme liberal. Most Americans still like Obama. While there's no reason why this guy has to agree with them, he should at least recognize that he's in the minority and has to start from there. Second, they have to account for their silence during the Bush years, when the deficit spiraled upwards almost from the day Clinton left office. I think that they only turned against Bush, if at all, for his bailout package last fall -- but Obama was on board for that. Did they care about Bush's wars? They've forgotten about them. Did they care about the Patriot Act? Of course not; it's only when government surveillance might affect them that they suddenly doubt the benevolence and wisdom of those who protect us against the terrorists. I mean, if they don't have something to hide, what are they worried about?

He'd also linked to the Facebook page of Representative John Boehner (R-OH), who'd opposed Obama's stimulus program too. Boehner in turn linked to something called "The Freedom Project." (Big Brother would approve -- it's not really fair to call such twisted usage Orwellian.) The Freedom Project blogger trumpeted that "Democratic Leaders Call Voters 'Un-American' for Expressing Opposition"!!! Now, Freedom Project didn't give any actual quotations to support this claim, all he really had was a quotation from Rep. Boehner, who "ripped his Democratic counterparts Monday for labeling those disrupting lawmaker town halls as 'un-American.'" The blogger might be telling the truth despite himself; but so what? All through the past several Republican administrations, Republican leaders have called voters "un-American" for expressing opposition to their policies and programs. It's stupid and dishonest, but it's one of the perks of being the party in power. If Democrats could survive the accusation, so can Republicans.

I don't mind the disruptions of the town hall meetings per se, and I certainly wouldn't call them un-American: what is more American, more down-home and traditional, than a lynch mob? The trouble lies in other areas. One, that those who are attacking Obama's health care program from the Right are lying themselves blue in the face, parroting Fox News / Limbaugh / Palin / Republican National Committee talking points without having the first idea what they're talking about. But that's nothing new. Those who are surprised by this behavior have (conveniently?) forgotten what the Right has been puking up like green pea soup ever since Obama became a viable candidate for President; those who dismissed the ranting as the last gasp of a bankrupt Republican party were fooling themselves. Sure, racist fury at the existence of a mulatto President underlies a lot of their rage; a lot also derives simply from the fact that the Republicans lost the election -- I remember similar hysteria after the inauguration of Bill Clinton ended twelve years of Republican control of the Oval Office. The fact that many of their accusations are sheer dementia doesn't make these people less dangerous.

Two, there are too many problems with Obama's program for health care reform. I wrote in February about his stimulus package that "
It doesn't really matter if the bill is any good or not; if it fails to pass, Obama's credibility will take a hit, and the Republican media (by which I mean the corporate media) will swoop in like vultures to feed on his eyes while he is still alive." Obama's talking the same line now, trying to paint all opponents of his "reforms" (more Newspeak) as Republicans. One question I am grappling with now is how to deal with the Republican shock troops who see the conflict in the same either/or terms: either you support Obama, or you agree with them -- you're either for him or against him. Health care reform is just too damn important to let it turn into a football game, where you're cheering for one team or another. I oppose Obama's program, but I also oppose the frothing hordes of the Republican faithful. The enemy of my enemy is not my friend.