“None of this is about healthcare at all. It’s about extending a basic fundamental right to people who are less powerful.”

So says House Majority Whip James Clyburn about the rancor, anger and general unhinged-ness coming from the GOP and Tea Party protestors. And he’s right. So is Bob Herbert, in this must-read column.* Herbert details the Tea Partiers taunting a man with Parkinson’s, spitting on black congressmen, and shouting racial and homophobic epithets. Despite Republicans’ claims that it’s the Democrats who are divisive (kind of a laughable contention given the GOP’s behavior during the health care battles), the GOP not only stonewalls reasonable legislation put forth by Democrats, but stokes fear and hatred in its far-right supports — hatred that doesn’t just create political animosity, but capitalizes on genuine bigotry, racism, homophobia and misogyny. Herbert says:

For decades the G.O.P. has been the party of fear, ignorance and divisiveness. All you have to do is look around to see what it has done to the country. The greatest economic inequality since the Gilded Age was followed by a near-total collapse of the overall economy. As a country, we have a monumental mess on our hands and still the Republicans have nothing to offer in the way of a remedy except more tax cuts for the rich.

The toxic clouds that are the inevitable result of the fear and the bitter conflicts so relentlessly stoked by the Republican Party — think blacks against whites, gays versus straights, and a whole range of folks against immigrants — tend to obscure the tremendous damage that the party’s policies have inflicted on the country. If people are arguing over immigrants or abortion or whether gays should be allowed to marry, they’re not calling the G.O.P. to account for (to take just one example) the horribly destructive policy of cutting taxes while the nation was fighting two wars.

A party that promotes ignorance (“Just say no to global warming”) and provides a safe house for bigotry cannot serve the best interests of our country. Back in the 1960s, John Lewis risked his life and endured savage beatings to secure fundamental rights for black Americans while right-wing Republicans like Barry Goldwater and Ronald Reagan were lining up with segregationist Democrats to oppose landmark civil rights legislation.

Since then, the right-wingers have taken over the G.O.P. and Mr. Lewis, now a congressman, must still endure the garbage they have wrought.

The GOP certainly isn’t responsible for the actions of every single individual who votes for a Republican, or every hate-radio commentator. But they are certainly responsible for sowing the seeds of hatred and resentment, and for picking traditionally marginalized groups as their scapegoats — immigrants, people of color, women, gays and lesbians. They are certainly also guilty of using violent, heated rhetoric to get their point across, whether they’re calling health care legislation “Marxist” and invoking Lenin or suggesting that we put the Speaker of the House in the “firing line” or screaming out “baby-killer” in the middle of a Congressional debate. They embrace and even pander to the most far-right elements of their constituency, and they set a tone which enables and even promotes the kind of disgusting, inhuman behavior that the Tea Partiers exhibit.

And we aren’t just talking about right-wingers calling openly gay congressman Barney Frank a faggot or civil rights leader turned congressman John Lewis a nigger (although they did do that). We’re talking about crowds who yell at a black congressman, “Kill the bill, then the n-word.” We aren’t just talking about people who vandalize congressional offices (although they did do that). We’re talking about people who threaten to assassinate (their word) the children of congresswomen who voted “yes” on the bill. We aren’t just talking about people who leave anti-Semitic notes with swastikas on them at the offices of Jewish congressmen (although they did do that). We’re talking about organizers who will publicize the names and addresses of the family members of congressmen and encourage followers to “drop by” — followers who may then cut the gas line to the family’s home.

We’re talking about a major political party that does nothing to deter that kind of behavior, and instead quietly encourages it.

Part of the problem is media coverage. The kind of ugliness that the GOP and the Teabaggers exhibit isn’t as well-covered as it should be in the mainstream media, I suspect in part because of fears of being branded excessively liberal and unfair. Part of the traditional American media conceit is a veneer of impartiality — you get a quote from one “side” and a quote from the other “side,” and you’re fair and balanced. The problem, though, is that kind of reporting can lend credence to totally unfounded and out-there viewpoints — the people who think global warming doesn’t exist are about as credible as people who think the sun revolves around the earth, but they’re given equal time and say in mainstream media outlets, giving their totally marginal and flat-out factually incorrect viewpoints much more weight than they deserve. The same thing happened with abortion in the health care bill — Republicans and conservative Democrats spouted nonsense about how it was going to be an abortion free-for-all, and the media reported that view with the same weight as everyone else saying “No it’s not.” At no point did most media outlets simply say, “We’ve looked into this and these guys are either wrong or lying or both.” It’s enabled the Republican party to premise entire political arguments and platforms on lies, from Iraq to abortion to marriage equality to economic policy.

They’re doing it again with health care reform, from Marxism to death panels. They’re flat-out lying without consequence, and then whipping up their more whip-able constituents into a frothing rage, and then using violent and bigoted rhetoric, and then acting just shocked (if they respond at all) when the more angry, bigoted and violent of their followers act angrily, bigotedly and violently. It’s kind of like they’ve borrowed the anti-abortion movement’s playbook (not surprising, of course, since the GOP is fundamental to the anti-abortion movement).

I’m glad to see Bob Herbert actually holding the Republican party accountable for its actions, and for its embrace of radical bigots and violent lowlifes. It would be nice, though, if such denunciations weren’t relegated to the op/ed pages, and if the rest of the traditional media would similarly indict the GOP, the teabaggers and the radical right for the hatred and violence they sow.

*Heads up to Feministe readers who object to the use of terms like “insane” and “crazy”: Herbert uses both in the column.

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6 comments for ““None of this is about healthcare at all. It’s about extending a basic fundamental right to people who are less powerful.”

  1. becky
    March 24, 2010 at 12:34 pm

    a refreshing and brilliant comment by herbert, and great post, jill! i’m from germany, but have been attending college in arkansas last year. i was completely shocked when, what seemed to me, a wave of racist, misogynist, ill-informed wrath was washing over the healthcare debate last year. and i was even more confused when it would not subside, but instead got worse and worse to completely absurd levels…

    obviously, having grown up in a system where universal health care is acknowledged as a basic human right, it is rather hard for me to understand why people are fighting so hard for what seems to be their own disadvantages (masked as “liberty”. Well, i love the pseudo-liberalism-exposing saying “Sleeping beneath brides is forbidden for beggars and kings”…).

    i am far from defending every aspect of the german healthcare system, there are many flaws indeed, but at least i will never have to worry if i’ll be able to see a doctor, get the medicine i need, or be able to afford a necessary surgery, especially being a chronically ill person.

    the discourse the gop and the tea-baggers have introduced disgusts me. and the reports of the treatment of lewis and barney (and, i am sure, many nameless others) are infuriating. i sincerely hope that the people who have bought into the out-right lies about health care come to realise it’s just bs (and has been the same for a century: those damn reds, always out to destroy the usa, blah, blah, blah). i have lost all hope for the gop (let alone the racist tea fanatics), though…

  2. March 24, 2010 at 12:48 pm

    It breaks my heart to see this sort of behavior. The impact of long-used tactics which reduce one’s opposition to something less than human are also to blame, but the extent to which some have internalized this degree of fear and loathing is what really hurts to see.

  3. March 24, 2010 at 3:03 pm

    Great post, Jill.

    I was just reading a piece with a similar theme, but a far snarkier tone. It was pretty amazing.

  4. Kristin
    March 24, 2010 at 5:06 pm

    Jill–This is one of the best posts I’ve ever read from you.

    I don’t even have words to describe how I feel about the hatred spewing from the Tea Partiers (and the Republican Party) these days. For the first time in my life, I have no health insurance, and this legislation has become so personal to me that I can hardly bear to read about what these people are doing and saying. I’m terrified of them and what they might do. They represent a sizable subset of the US population and the only viable opposition party to the Democrats. That the political activity of the only opposition party seems more consistent with that of the brownshirts than with anything our system is used to should be…well, pretty terrifying. I fear that they will only get worse. The center-left mainstream newspaper in my urban area just published a letter to the editor that called for violent opposition to “Obamacare.”

    Two years ago, I was diagnosed with a chronic illness that made me uninsurable, or nearly so. I could have received shit benefits from Blue Cross for a sum of just $3000 per month due to my “high risk” diagnosis, meaning that it would be cheaper for me to live uninsured. Due to disability, I have not been able to work for some time. I had to leave graduate school, and with that, I lost my health insurance. I take life-saving medications that cost upwards of $2000 each month.

    In the state of Connecticut, I managed to get signed up for Medicaid within just two weeks. In no time at all, I was receiving prescriptions, though I had problems getting in to see a doctor. So few doctors were Medicaid-approved that there was a four month wait list for most of the providers. I am supposed to have all of my vital organs checked with lab work every three months, but I couldn’t get an appointment in time to do that.

    I was assaulted a few months after arriving in Connecticut and quickly had to relocate to North Carolina (where I grew up). After four months of bureaucratic purgatory, I finally received a denial in the mail. One must prove inability to work in the state of North Carolina, and apparently I was not “disabled enough” to qualify.

    After nearly six months of trying to be seen at a charity clinic, I finally managed to be seen by a doctor at a university hospital–through a federal program that pays for people like me, who fall through the cracks and cannot get Medicaid. I am a highly over-educated person, fluent in the dominant language, with the kind of highly skilled specialized experience that should make this kind of thing easy for someone like me. I cannot imagine how much more difficult this must be for people who are disadvantaged because they are non-white, or because they lack English fluency, or because they cannot easily provide the demanded documentation. I came very close to giving up. I became suicidal when seeking healthcare itself became a full time job.

    I have not been able to work the past several months as a condition of qualifying for Medicaid, which I still haven’t gotten… So, I’m broke, living with my mother at 30, and still unsure what to do… Would I be better off if I got a job and started pulling in some income? That will mean I’m disqualified from NC Medicaid for good. What if I need it though? What if this university program falls through? Does Medicaid count as insurance? If so, then maybe I’m better off not getting it… I mean, one has to be uninsured for six months in order to get into this new “high risk exchange pool” of insurance programs that will start up in 90 days. But I can’t go six months without my meds. I could die. These are the things that go through my head all day. And there’s no one–no one I’ve found anyway–who can answer them authoritatively. I get completely different answers from every bureaucratic office no matter who I talk to.

    It’s demoralizing and awful. I wouldn’t wish this on anyone. The disparities between states are appalling. I wish Obama hadn’t had to make such a huge concession to anti-choice Democrats, but I’d rather have anti-choice Health Care Reform than none at all. I don’t have the luxury of picking and choosing these days.

    I have very little to say to the Tea Partiers beyond Fuck off and DIAF.

    That is all.

  5. March 25, 2010 at 1:01 am

    If the tea party terrorists really hate America so much, then they need to get the fuck out of this country and move to Iran! I am serious. These people in the tea party are even worse than Osama bin Laden and the Taliban.

  6. Sarah
    March 27, 2010 at 5:33 pm

    The debate about this issue in the media has just been so shallow…I am against Obama’s healthcare bill because of the individual mandate to buy insurance from private companies, which is a fixed monthly cost that, even with subsidies, can really screw up budgets of people whose income varies month to month and who are making, say, from the teens to 20’s yearly–too rich for Medicaid, too poor for insurance. I would be for single-payer. I am also mad as hell that the bill doesn’t cover dental, which I had to pay over a thousand for out of pocket 2 years ago–luckily I live in a large urban area with sliding scale dental clinics. I want to hear REAL arguments against the bill in the media, instead I got “this is a historic piece of legislation” self-congratulation from “liberals” and “baby-killing socialists” scare-rhetoric from the “conservatives”. And then the liberals started using the scariness of the only conservatives who got any media attention as a way to deflect attention from the fact that “helping” people by forcing them to pay hundreds of dollars every month for a plan that only covers catastrophic IS restricting their freedoms, and hurts some of us economically in a real way.

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