Thursday, September 10, 2009

Why the Visceral Hatred? (update) - And a Bonus Discussion of Healthcare

On August 5 I wrote a post entitled Why the Visceral Hatred? which began with the following:
Why do so many (presumably mostly on the right) have such a visceral hatred for President Obama? It is one thing to disagree with his policies ("I don't like his healthcare proposal because..." or "I don't think that the government should have bailed out the automakers"). I understand those sentiments; they lend themselves to discussion of the issues which is, of course, how the democratic process is supposed to work. But in the case of President Obama, there seems to be something else going on, something dangerous.
I answered my own question, in part:

I think that the answer really can be found in that little nugget that I decided to ignore when I began this post. Those who hate President Obama never seem to fail to use his middle name. Why is that so important to them? I wonder how many of them can even tell you the middle names of the last handful of Presidents, including what the "Dubya" stands for .... I think that the name "Hussein" reminds people that President Obama is "different" and maybe, just maybe, too much a name used by "the enemy" (I doubt that Richard Nixon would have been elected has his middle name been Stalin or Kruschev, but who knows). Add to that the obvious fact that President Obama is different (remember that whole, "first African-American elected to the Presidency" thing?) and I think you've found the real reason that many people hate him. Who he is, what he looks like, and where he comes from is the proverbial elephant in the room.

I think that many people who may claim not be racist are, in fact, racist, and whether they'll admit it to themselves or not, cannot stand the idea of a "black" in the White House (never mind that he's half-white); nor can they stand the idea that a man whose father was not an African-American, but rather an actual African, and who has a "funny" name that includes a common Arabic or Muslim name associated with a principal US adversary of the past 18 years (remember Saddam Hussein...?).

I think what we've seen over the last few days makes my initial question ever more relevant. And it makes me believe that my answer was, at least to some extent, on target.
Consider for a moment the seething anger at the idea of President Obama addressing schoolchildren (never mind that both Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush did the same thing; never mind that George W. Bush was reading to schoolchildren when the planes hit the World Trade Center on 9/11). What could President Obama have possibly said to our children that could have "indoctrinated" them (presuming of course, that indoctrination was his subversive goal)? Please, somebody, write the sentence that he could have used that would have turned our nation's children into a phalanx of little Marxists. And, before you do so, go back and read the text of President Reagan's speech where he did talk economic politics to kids.

Some have pointed to the proposed lesson plan for teachers from the Department of Education, focusing on the suggestion that children write a letter discussing "how they could help President Obama". Note that the question does not ask the children how they could help President Obama do __________ (insert your favorite Marxist-Socialist-Fascist-Terrorist goal), but rather, simply how they could help the President. I guess that the fear here may go back to Rush Limbaugh's statement that he wants President Obama to fail. I suppose that parents who support that viewpoint would be upset at their children being asked to talk about how they might help the President rather than how they might hinder the President. I've written before about how cynical that viewpoint is, but think of the lesson that we're teaching our children when we tell them that they should want the President to fail. That is the inverse of teaching patriotism and civic spirit, but it seems that the right only believes in patriotism sometimes.

Remember, too, that we're talking about kids. Do we really worry that some 3rd grader is going to be swayed such that he'll write a letter suggesting he'll help the President by joining the proletariat to throw off the reigns of the bourgeoisie; do we really worry that some 5th grader will be emboldened to write to the government to report that his parents failed to pay the appropriate taxes on their domestic help or illegally downloaded an MP3; and do we really worry that a 9th grader will suddenly become a supporter of publicly-financed abortions for illegal immigrants and ask to sit on a "death panel" to help euthanize grandma? I mean, really. Think about it. If people are so afraid that President Obama could have that kind of influence over their children in the course of a 15-minute speech, what does it say about the influence those people have over their own children?

Which of course leads me back to the initial question. What is it about this President, in particular, that creates this degree of hysteria, fear, and hatred? Why would people presume, on the basis of nothing more than the fact that President Obama planned to speak to schoolchildren and the suggestion that children be asked how they could help the President, that President Obama's speech was some secret plan to indoctrinate children? Why do people presume evil intent?

And then consider the heckling outburst from Rep. Joe Wilson (R-South Carolina) during President Obama's speech to a joint session of Congress last night.
I make it a point to try to watch the State of the Union every year, to watch every Presidential speech to a joint session of Congress, and to watch the inaugural address every four years. And I don't recall ever hearing the President of the United States heckled during one of those speeches by anyone, let alone a member of Congress! So what precisely is it about President Obama that led Rep. Wilson to be so consumed by outrage that he shouted "You lie!" as the President sought to debunk lies being espoused by those on the right? (And, for what it's worth, PolitiFact rated Rep. Wilson's statement "False".)

In a similar vein (though a bit off topic...), consider what the Republicans in Congress did and did not cheer during President Obama's speech. Most importantly, I noted that few if any Republicans applauded when President Obama talked about the fallacy of the "death panel" allegation. Query: Why would anybody not applaud the President for confronting a malicious fabrication that has served to scare elderly Americans? The debunking of this fallacy takes nothing away from legitimate arguments against President Obama's healthcare proposal, so why wouldn't Republicans welcome his efforts to "clear the air" and allow the debate to focus on real issues? The only reason that I can think of is that Republicans don't want to focus on real issues and have relied upon lies and distortions as their only means of combating healthcare reform.

As I was taking a break before finishing this post, I came across a statement from former Gov. Sarah Palin about President Obama's speech that left me ... well ... dumbfounded (that seems an appropriate word given the source):

In his speech the President directly responded to concerns I’ve raised about unelected bureaucrats being given power to make decisions affecting life or death health care matters. He called these concerns “bogus,” “irresponsible,” and “a lie” -- so much for civility.
Let's not forget that Palin was one of the early proponents of the "death panel" lie:

The America I know and love is not one in which my parents or my baby with Down Syndrome will have to stand in front of Obama’s “death panel” so his bureaucrats can decide, based on a subjective judgment of their “level of productivity in society,” whether they are worthy of health care. Such a system is downright evil.
And she wants to criticize President Obama for a lack of civility because he pointed out that she and others of her ilk lied? I'm sorry, but pointing out that a false "concern" -- raised for the sole purpose of scaring people and scoring political points -- is bogus and a lie and calling those who spread these lies irresponsible is not uncivil; no, it is patriotic and democratic. As I've noted repeatedly, our system requires a full and open exchange of ideas, but must be based on honest debate. Incivility can be laid at the footsteps of people like Gov. Palin for suggesting that then Sen. Obama "palled around with terrorists," allowing supporters to go unchallenged when they called then Sen. Obama a "terrorist" or shouted "kill him", and for scaring people on the basis of complete falsehoods.
Plus, for what it's worth, I would remind Gov. Palin that "unelected bureaucrats" are already (in her words) "given power to make decisions affecting life or death health care matters": They are the faceless, nameless claims adjusters sitting in cubicles for the insurance companies deciding which patients should not be insured, which patients should be dropped when they become ill, which claims should be rejected (whether for pre-existing conditions or cost or the experimental nature of the treatment or any of a myriad of other bullshit reasons). My wife and I have to deal with these unelected bureaucrats making life or death healthcare decisions relating to my wife's illness and medical regimen. I don't see Gov. Palin or the Republicans making much effort to be sure that those bureaucrats don't have such power; apparently, private bureaucrats seeking to make a profit should be encouraged to make these kinds of life and death decisions; insurance company based "death panels" are just fine. It's OK for an insurance company to kill grandma; just don't let the big bad government and evil President get involved. What a sick, twisted, and cynical view of our society.
Thus, I am left to ponder what the future holds for a society that holds so little regard for the truth, that is so willing to believe the worst about anyone, let alone the President, and that allows visceral hatred and malicious lies to replace reasoned debate and discourse. On that note, I strongly encourage people to read Pierre Atlas' terrific essay "Beware extreme rhetoric" published today in The Indianapolis Star in which he reflects on the consequences of political rhetoric of the sort that we're seeing today.
I understand a general distrust of government, but I don't understand the hatred and belief that President Obama is evil.

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