There are few things more American than the right to make an ass of yourself. Perhaps it is the swine flu but lately it seems like the Republican Party is being gripped by a form of insanity. It must be a fever because what else could explain such delusional thinking of late? Substantial numbers of Republicans actually believe that Barack Obama is not a U.S. citizen, but was born in Kenya. Then there are these orchestrated protests at town halls being given by our congressional representatives and senators that seem to be attracting large numbers of orchestrated lunatics. It is one thing to be opposed to health care reform and to speak up in a civil manner. It is quite another thing to show up at these events, recite inanities if not outright falsehoods about health care reform and basically try to prohibit even a discussion on the topic from taking place. The National Republican Committee seems to be behind these protests, but they are also being whipped up by prominent conservatives like Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck too.
What is really going on here? What is happening is that America’s demographics are changing to the point where their impact is being acutely felt. What is really very scary to these protestors is that white privilege is losing its grip on America. For years the demographics of America have been trending less white and more multicultural. America witnessed a watershed moment with the election of Barack Obama. In the minds of most of these protestors, having an African American as president was insulting enough. It was just as insulting that Barack Obama would also try to rapidly enact the exact reforms on which he campaigned.
The opposition, as it always does, tries to push back. What is unique this time is the extraordinary lengths this group is going to in order to get attention. Obviously these people have been seething since the election. When a balloon pops, it pops at its weakest point. Today we see that when these feelings become overwhelming, they are articulated by their loosest cannons on the GOP ship of state.
Do not assume though that these loose cannons are rolling around the deck because their pins rusted out. The crew (in this case the National Republican Committee and prominent conservative commentators) has been actively working to pull out their pins. They do so deliberately because they know that talk has its limits and to effect change it must be followed by actions. These tactics seem to be working to some extent. People whose support for Obama was tentative to begin with might be persuaded to believe the incredible about him if sufficient numbers of their neighbors say so, particularly in a bad economy. Similarly, much of the disinformation about national health care reform feeds into general American paranoia about Washington and its surreptitious motives.
The general thrust of all these actions is arguably quite conservative. Conservatives by their nature do not welcome change. They resist change. Conservatives are used to a power structure where white men hold most of the political power. It is as American in their minds as George Washington and Thomas Jefferson. However, when you run out of convincing arguments and when the American people are generally not behind you, then in their mind some extreme tactics are required. Playing by the rules simply means they will become further marginalized. Go on the offensive using bizarre and unworldly tactics and at least you have attention and can attempt to direct the conversation. Trying to do so in gentlemanly conversations in Congress does not change the dynamics.
The attempt will likely prove futile. At best it may prove effective in the short term, but it will not prove effective in the long term. While there is an excitable minority that believes in conspiracy theories, most of us have brains that are more firmly attached to reality. For those of us who inhabit the real world, the silly belief that Barack Obama was born in Kenya, and is thus a “false” president, is laughable and ludicrous. It amazes us that anyone other than the tiniest fraction of the weirdoes could possibly believe something proven so demonstrably false.
Similarly, we wonder what these people are smoking when they worry about socialized medicine. We already have Medicare and Medicaid. Many of the people squawking the loudest are already receiving Medicare and would be unable to pay for their own medical care if it disappeared. Many of these same people choose to remain blissfully mindless that health insurance companies already effectively decide who lives and dies by deciding which treatments they will or will not cover. The only way to make sure that insurance companies will not deny necessary coverage is to have the law require universal coverage. In any event, America is a democracy. Who would you rather make this crucial decision, a representative democracy where at least you could petition for changes or an unelected insurance company accountable only to their stockholders?
America’s changing demographics is a trend that cannot be changed. America is already very multiracial. The biggest change is that changing is that the era of white male privilege is going away, and it is being noticed in the form of “scary” things like Hispanic Supreme Court justices, African American presidents and new policies that include audacious notions like health insurance companies shouldn’t be able to pick and choose who they cover. This is a privilege, by the way, that has been enjoyed by members of Congress and federal employees for decades with no complaints. No member of Congress, even the conservative Republican ones, is anxious to change their Federal Employees Health Benefits Plan so they could be excluded from coverage because of their preexisting conditions. Regardless of what happens to other Americans, they will give up their FEHBP coverage shortly after their cold dead fingers are pried off their guns.
The sad reality is that protestors trying to crash town hall meetings on health care or who push crazy ideas like Obama was not born in the United States are being manipulated by people who really do not have their best interest at heart. Except for the self made millionaires attending these rallies, attempts to avoid health insurance reform simply mean these very people are likely to be excluded for their own preconditions, if they have not been already. Moreover, they will likely soon be priced out of the health insurance market altogether as premiums continue to rise beyond their ability to pay for them.