Saturday, August 8, 2009

Talking About It

After running a 5K this morning, my dad and I visited a local running store. There was a collection of running medals hanging near the entrance - medals won by customers and donated to the store to be used in Special Olympics competitions. A little coincidence tonight, then, when I read that Congressman Frank Kratovil of the Maryland 1st serves on the Board of Special Olympics Maryland. I'm sure they do great work in Maryland, just as they do here. I also read that Rep. Kratovil attends Episcopal Church in his hometown, that he plays guitar, that he has a wife and four sons. Normally I don't spend so much time reading up on the biographical details of freshman members of the House, but I wanted to get a better sense of why someone thinks he'd be better off dead. This is Representative Kratovil, hanging in effigy at a healthcare protest in Maryland:

Politico notes that whoever tied the noose seems to know what they're doing.

The point of this post isn't to associate all opponents of healthcare reform with the smirking jackass pictured above; it's not to suggest that all conservatives are contemplating violence against elected officials - or anyone, for that matter. If the events of the last few months have shown us anything, it's the importance of precision in language. This photo is the most notorious icon of a debate that has turned unbearably sour. But in showing it and explaining my thoughts on this issue, I still want to be very clear that while Republicans might not all be polishing their effigy-making skills, the dishonesty shown by the party's leaders on healthcare is staggering. Even by their standards.

Not everyone has a massive forum like a television channel, a newspaper editorial page, or a blog with a million readers (though if wishing made it so!) - but anyone who has a forum at all, even a small one, needs to speak up. Even if it's just your co-workers in the break room, your friends on the email chain, or your relatives at the family get-together, healthcare reform is too important to lose for lack of conviction. On this issue, the worst are full of passionate intensity.

When Barack Obama was running for president, my family hosted a house party for neighbors who were supporters and others who were on the fence. We met a lot of people that night from the surrounding blocks, and at one point we discussed why the election mattered to us - and why we were supporting then-Senator Obama. One neighbor, a hospital nurse, explained to a room of about 25 of us why healthcare reform meant so much to her. Every day, she said, she sees sick and injured people brought into the emergency room. Many of those are children, and accompanying them are nervous mothers and fathers. As she choked up a little bit, she described to a silent audience the look she so often sees on the faces of fathers who quietly take her aside - out of earshot of their wives and children - to tell her that they can't afford to pay for their child's treatment. Grown men, trying their best to protect and provide the way their fathers and grandfathers did before them - reduced to humiliation and tears as they softly plead, "Please help me. I can't pay for you to treat my child."

In this wealthy nation, where we can provide for so much, where we cherish equality, where we rise and fall as one - this is unacceptable. Even beyond that, it is unacceptable on a basic human level that anyone should go without such a basic necessity when the means exist to guarantee it. We can fight over policy details, but we are compelled by our basic compassion to have a good-faith debate on how to solve this problem. A good-faith debate.

That is, a debate where facts and arguments are met with facts and counterarguments. Where ideas are listened to, considered, and responded to honestly. Not a debate where the GOP's last Vice Presidential candidate tells outrageous lies about "death boards" and killing off mentally-disabled children. Not a debate where FOX News, GOP members of the House, and the Washington Times spread completely made-up stories about the government euthanizing the elderly.

Oh, and by the way: a debate happens when two or more parties engaged in spirited argument about an issue. When people who lack any understanding of the proposed healthcare legislation show up at town-hall meetings to scream nonsense, it's not a debate, and it's not good for anyone. I don't know whether these events are being organized by shadowy GOP organizations, but I do know that they're being promoted constantly on FOX News - both its television and radio components - in the form of wall-to-wall "news coverage." When people who live in an information bubble are fed a constant diet of anger, hatred, and lies, it's no surprise that they become totally unable to engage in dialogue with their fellow-citizens over an important policy change. It's just sad.

So yeah, I have no problem that the White House is getting out in front of this mendacious bile. In fact, I think it's wonderful that they're soliciting material from disinformation campaigns so they can set the record straight. Are they collecting a list of names? No. Are they asking for the content of right-wing propaganda so they can combat it? Yes. The lies on the right are like insects crawling in the mud under a rock: when somebody exposes them to sunlight, they'll shrivel. I understand if they're unsettled by a fact-based campaign. They have a lot of lies to be ashamed of.

A great example of the disingenuous flap over this non-story is the increasingly-addled Peggy Noonan (she of the delicate sensibilities), who wandered into the fray in her recent column:

But most damagingly to political civility, and even our political tradition, was the new White House email address to which citizens are asked to report instances of “disinformation” in the health-care debate: If you receive an email or see something on the Web about health-care reform that seems “fishy,” you can send it to The White House said it was merely trying to fight “intentionally misleading” information.

Sen. John Cornyn of Texas on Wednesday wrote to the president saying he feared that citizens’ engagement could be “chilled” by the effort. He’s right, it could. He also accused the White House of compiling an “enemies list.” If so, they’re being awfully public about it, but as Byron York at the Washington Examiner pointed, the emails collected could become a “dissident database.”

I have a question for you, Peggy. Why is this harmful to political civility? Should lies go unanswered? And is there any evidence whatsoever that the White House is creating an enemies list? Have they asked for the email addresses of the people sending this stuff - and even if they collected those email addresses (a fantasy so paranoid as to be almost beneath consideration), what, pray tell, do you think they might do? It's not like they'd arrest people, throw them in some lawless prison with no charge and no lawyer, and then torture them to get evidence for a secret illegal trial with no jury while asserting the right to hold them indefinitely. It's not Bush we're talking about here.

So yeah, we need to have this debate. We need to talk about this issue. But I have no patience for dishonesty, hatred, demagoguery, or ignorance. Certainly not now, when the stakes are so high. Counter the lies with facts. Fight ignorance with knowledge. And if you hear people telling lies about euthanasia, enemies lists, death boards, or anything else, correct them - calmly and politely, but firmly. This is the time to win on healthcare. This is the time to score one for those fathers.

1 comment:

Alexander Haddad said...

As I wrote in response to some of these idiots calling "a measure designed by Soviet apparatchiks" - Really? Where was this righteous indignation for the eight years before Obama was elected? And even if they were collecting information on political dissidents, what are they going to do - spam their inboxes with Harry & Louise hardcore porn and offers for free trial memberships to senior euthanasia programs? Give me a break.

The real encroachment on democracy is the disturbing trend towards mob rule that's being showcased at town hall meetings across the country. One GOP congressman (wish I could remember who) spoke to a group of his loyal supporters about lynching someone in effigy - and was greeted by a roar of collective laughter. The GOP is backed into a corner, has no substantive countersolutions to ANY of the issues it is opposing, and instead, its only reaction is a nasty misinformation campaign consisting of scare tactics and viral rumors. Eventually, that kind of behavior is going to leave the party politically bankrupt, and that point doesn't seem so far away. I shudder to think of what might happen next, but the best that liberals can do is to act with discipline and levelheadedness, without engaging Republicans in the plane of mostly fantasy where their ill-termed "platform" currently operates.