On Health Care, It’s “E Pluribus” Without the “Unum”

Senator Arlen Specter listened to a critic of the healthcare proposal yesterday at a forum in Lebanon, Pa. One shouting participant left the room after security guards approached him. (Bradley C Bower/Associated Press)

Senator Arlen Specter listened to a critic of the healthcare proposal at a forum in Lebanon, Pa. One shouting participant left the room after security guards approached him. (Bradley C Bower/Associated Press)

In the sluggish news month of August we’ve been bombarded with endless tape loops of indistinguishable white men and women yelling at the top of their lungs, red faced and panting, at Democratic town halls across the country. The corporate media gobble up the spectacle because they love atmospherics and dumbed-down political food fights. But the Tea Baggers and other right-wingers who have descended upon these gatherings, denouncing the President and attempting to drown out debate, signify something far deeper than their own misinformed fears about the direction of national health care policy.

The election of the first U.S. president of African descent has challenged a lot of people’s self-identity and “self-presence.” The often loud, vicious, and unruly behavior we’ve seen is a collective expression of white trepidation. The hyperventilating about defending “the Constitution,” like that guy screaming at Arlen Specter on the front page of yesterday’s New York Times, has nothing to do with public policy and everything to do with defending white male privilege. Why else would there be the whitest man on Earth, Glen Beck, leading the charge?

What has really gotten under their skins is their sense of the slight diminution in the dominant position of white people in American society, what the much-maligned French philosopher, Jacques Derrida, called “decentering.” For Derrida, decentering is “the stated abandonment of all reference to a center, to a subject, to a privileged reference, to an origin.” Since their own identity depends on knowing what they are not, there is a “play of differences.” And these “differences” scare the hell out of them. This idea, along with deep-seated American racism, explains why the Far Right can so effortlessly cast Obama as “the Other.”


These people will never accept Obama as their president. They will oppose whatever he tries to do based on emotions and misinformation. They cannot bring themselves to acknowledge that their own destinies and the destiny of their country are intrinsically linked to the well-being of people on the margins of American society. People who they believe are not like them.

joseph-palmero.gifThe fact that nearly 50 million American citizens have no access to health care and when they get sick or injured they are either driven into bankruptcy or suffer from being denied care does not seem to register with these people. On that point they represent “E Pluribus” without the “Unum.”

Joseph Palermo

Originally published by The Huffington Post. Reprinted with permission from the author

Published by the LA Progressive on August 14, 2009
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About Joseph Palermo

Joseph Palermo is Professor of History, California State University, Sacramento. Professor Palermo's most recent book is The Eighties (Pearson 2012). He has also written two other books: In His Own Right: The Political Odyssey of Senator Robert F. Kennedy (Columbia, 2001); and Robert F. Kennedy and the Death of American Idealism (Pearson, 2008). Before earning a Master's degree and Doctorate in History from Cornell University, Professor Palermo completed Bachelor's degrees in Sociology and Anthropology from the University of California, Santa Cruz, and a Master's degree in History from San Jose State University. His expertise includes the 1980s; political history; presidential politics and war powers; social movements of the 20th century; the 1960s; and the history of American foreign policy. Professor Palermo has also written articles for anthologies on the life of Father Daniel Berrigan, S.J. in The Human Tradition in America Since 1945 (Scholarly Resources Press, 2003); and on the Watergate scandal in Watergate and the Resignation of Richard Nixon (CQ Press, 2004).