Right’s anger could backfireTalk about sore losers. Just when you think the health care debate can’t sink any lower, somebody manages to punch through the floor. The ink of President Barack Obama’s signature was hardly dry on his health care overhaul legislation before reports of vandalism and death threats against congressmen on both political sides threatened to upstage the bill that apparently sparked the anger.
By: Clarence Page, Chicago Tribune, The Jamestown Sun
Talk about sore losers. Just when you think the health care debate can’t sink any lower, somebody manages to punch through the floor.
The ink of President Barack Obama’s signature was hardly dry on his health care overhaul legislation before reports of vandalism and death threats against congressmen on both political sides threatened to upstage the bill that apparently sparked the anger.
The FBI was investigating vandalism or threats related to the health care bill against at 10 Democrats and two Republicans. They included the closing Thursday of Democratic Rep. Anthony Weiner’s New York City office because of an envelope that reportedly contained a threatening letter and white powder.
Police investigated a broken window at the congressional office of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords a few hours after the Tucson Democrat voted for the bill to overhaul the nation’s health care system.
On the Republican side, Rep. Eric Cantor, the number-two House GOP leader, and Rep. Jean Schmidt of Ohio also reported receiving menacing messages. A bullet broke a window of Cantor’s office in Richmond, Va., although police said it probably was not related to Cantor. It appeared to have fallen through the glass after somebody fired it into the sky, according to news reports.
Yet there was no question about the steaming anger and frustration in the broadcast excerpts of voices of threats left on answering machines in congressional offices. Why all the anger?
Why, I wondered, is there so much viciousness in the backlash against a bill designed to expand health insurance coverage to the uninsured? Are people that angry over a safety net to those who worry about their current coverage being taken away — including many of those who probably are protesting against it?
Republicans allege that Democrats are making political hay out of the recent wave of crackpot threats and vandalism, most of which appears to be aimed at Democrats. But the Dems don’t really have to exploit such ugliness. It speaks for itself. It speaks in ways that don’t help Republicans win the support their party needs from moderate swing voters, if the GOP is to have any hope of taking back either house of Congress in the fall.
Polls confirm that anger and confusion over congressional debating and deal making has energized the right and demoralized the left as midterm elections approach. But polls also show broad support for many provisions of the bill that go into effect this year. They include expansion of prescription drug coverage for the elderly and new limits on the ability of insurance companies to deny coverage for pre-existing conditions. Most of the least popular provisions, such as the mandate for the uninsured to obtain coverage, go into effect years later.
So why is so much of the right so angry? Much of it, I suspect, is not out of concern that most Americans won’t like what this bill provides but that most of us will like it. We surely will want to make improvements in it, but basically there’s a good chance we’re not going to want to repeal it, as many conservatives are hoping.
That’s what happened in the 1960s when President Lyndon B. Johnson passed Medicare over the objections of conservatives like Ronald Reagan, who warned of “socialized medicine” and “the loss of our freedoms.” It also happened after President Franklin D. Roosevelt enacted Social Security over similar objections from the right.
The difference between those days and these is that our parties are more polarized today. Roosevelt and Johnson received some Republican votes for their measures, whereas Obama’s bill received none. Moderate Republicans as we knew them in the 1960s era of Nelson Rockefeller, Charles Percy or Edward Brooke are virtually extinct.
Today’s conservative coalition, like the Democrats of the 1960s, appears to be subdividing between the angry and the angrier. House Minority Leader John Boehner quite properly condemned those who threaten or vandalize and told them to “take that anger and channel it into positive change” in political campaigns and the voting booth. Good advice.
But who will tell Sarah Palin that it is not helpful, especially in light of recent events, to post a map on her Facebook page that puts crosshairs on 20 House Democrats in heavily Republican districts? Elisabeth Hasselbeck, conservative co-host on The View, called the imagery “despicable.” Good for her. But she’s not running for office.
(C) 2010 CLARENCE PAGE
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