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On Town Halls and Health Care Reform: Wasn't Hitler the One With the Gun?

As the GOP and their allies have concluded that all is fair in their attempts to either destroy health care reform (of any kind) and/or gain political leverage against a popular President, I am feeling the need to don a bullet-proof vest.

There are a bunch of unhappy citizens purporting to "discuss" health care reform while toting guns to Presidential events, waving caricatures of a character I am supposed to recognize as "Adolf Obama," and brandishing the "Tree of Liberty" motto donned by Timothy McVeigh before he blew up the Federal Building in Oklahoma. They think the President wants to relocate them to reeducation camps, kill old people, and engineer a "socialist" takeover of the country. According to this determined and very certain-minded group, in Mr. Obama's seven months (count them!) in office he has simply gone too far -- these seven months representing a government intrusion so expansive that the loading up of Uzis is now in order.


So they bring their bullhorns, their guns, and their posters (I am not fond of seeing the President with a mustache, by the way), and expect the rest of us to listen long and hard while they air their complaints about wanting their country back. ("Back" from whom is another question - but we'll delve into that some other time).

Seven whole months -- each one of which has been marked by the slow drip of liberty being sucked out of their freedom-loving blood.

In the face of this maelstrom, I would expect policymakers on that side of the aisle to caution their partisans about this type of incendiary rhetoric. I would expect GOP statespeople to point out that, notwithstanding the party's disagreement with the health reform proposals on the table, the President is not trying to kill their grandparents and that brandishing semi-automatic rifles outside of Presidential events is the sort of inflammatory gesture that undermines civil discourse. I expect them to air reasonable points of disagreement and perhaps come up with a competing proposal that truly offers reform and relief to American consumers burdened by health care costs. In short, I expect a grown-up conversation about grown-up stuff.

I also, by the way, expect my dog to stop doing her "business" on the carpet.

Now, as between my dog and the GOP, guess who has let me down?

Take a wild guess. As the GOP and their allies have concluded that all is fair in their attempts to either destroy health care reform (of any kind) and/or gain political leverage against a popular President, I am feeling the need to don a bullet-proof vest. Indeed, adopting the motto of domestic terrorists and bearing semi-automatic assault weapons while in close proximity to our nation's Commander-in-Chief is apparently par for the course when people "stop having confidence in our government," as Senator Tom Coburn (R-Ok) put it on Meet The Press. As the Senator continued, "we've earned it. This debate isn't about health care, it's about an uncontrolled federal government."

Well let me tell you -- this is a big relief. I didn't realize that the swastika-waving mob was just worried about deficits. These fiscal caretakers are bringing their guns to protest out-of-control deficit spending! Inflation - beware! Someone is going to bust a cap in your a**!

Except - where were these gun-toting budget hawks when big-spending President Bush transformed what was supposed to be a $848 billion budget surplus for the 2009 fiscal year into a $1 trillion deficit? Indeed, according to a New York Times (6/10/09) analysis of Congressional Budget Office figures, only 7% of the deficit swing between 2009-2012 is attributable to the stimulus package Mr. Obama signed and only 3% is that swing is due to the President's health care, energy, education, and other proposals. (I know it's the New York Times -- bane of the right-wing's existence -- but math is math). While there may be some fluctuation in those numbers as the details of various reform packages are hammered out, that fluctuation wouldn't undermine the fact that new legislation signed by President Bush accounts for a far larger portion of the projected deficit increase between 2009-2012 than any of Mr. Obama's initiatives.

Perhaps the Bush/Hitler physical resemblance was not close enough to warrant making the posters.

But let's get back to health care. Remember, some of these good folks think the reform proponents are preparing poison pills (not the legislative kind, but the "kill-your-grandmother" kind) to be administered by "death panels." These panels, in the views of some of my fellow and sister countrymen, will assume for themselves the Stalin-esque task of deciding who among us shall be afforded the privilege of continuing to be among us. Scary stuff indeed.

Obviously, no one in this crowd is going to trust the views of "my kind" on this issue as we have nothing to offer in response except for banal and boring facts. I therefore decided to put the question to one of my right-wing TV sparring partners. Certainly, he could be trusted to clarify such a gross and inflammatory misrepresentation.

His answer, when I asked him whether health care reform would result in "death panels"?

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"Not directly."

I see. The "death panels" will be only an indirect consequence of providing all Americans affordable, accessible healthcare. Glad we got that one cleared up. (Truth being in such short supply these days, I suppose I should be grateful for that concession, such that it is.)

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Taking a break from processing this absurd bit of political theatre and (from my own snarkiness about it), we should 1) be very nervous about having our democracy commandeered by the most ill-informed of our nation's voices and 2) be prepared to hold accountable the politicians who pander to them. Enough is enough already. Call me an elitist, but I really do believe that you should know the facts about what you're opposing before you oppose it. So sue me. (Yes, I drink lattes and I am proud).

To be sure, all opposition to health care reform is obviously not premised upon the type of paranoid, hysterical nonsense that we are hearing from certain corners. When my friend Dennis Kneale, for instance, says reform is going to bankrupt the nation and is fundamentally unfair to the nation's high earners, I may think he's wrong but those are questions worth contemplating. We are absolutely right to crunch numbers, consider fiscal impacts, and review the merits -- economic and humanitarian -- of the proposals on the table. While it is obviously possible to come to vastly different conclusions about the benefit, cost and necessity of reform, as Dennis and I do, there can be some benefit to that conversation.

Conversely, when my not-friend Senator Coburn says that the government has "earned" the ire of people who bring assault weapons to presidential events, he should be lambasted for being an apologist for potential militia-like intimidation. When my not-friend Sarah Palin says that health care reform will result in "death panels" engaging in systemic genocide (the big words are mine, not hers), she should have just been dismissed as a self-promoting political profiteer struggling to remain relevant after she became too busy to be governor. Instead, she helped steer the debate in a way that should scare the hell out of thinking people.

(As a side note, her "death panel" remark is almost as bad as bad as when my other not-friend Glenn Beck says that that Barack Obama is a racist with a deep-seated hatred of white culture. I wonder which "white" culture he was talking about. The Asheknazi Jewish one? That of the Celtic descendants in the American Midwest? Glenn may not know his own kind, but "American Whites" are a diverse and varied people. He will never perfect his racial profiteering if he can't appreciate the distinctions among them.)

I am not suggesting that the protesters don't have a right to call the President names and say silly things about government-sponsored suicide (name-calling and bile spewing are vital parts of our democracy and far be it from me to curtail these time-honored traditions). I am suggesting, however, that waving swastikas and brandishing weapons does not a "guardian of liberty" make -- and to the extent that policymakers decide to make political heroes out of ill-informed bullies who deliberately misconstrue facts, the rest of us should do everything we can to hold those decision-makers accountable (leaving our firearms at home, of course).

tanya acker

What remains to be seen is whether we will -- or whether these stylized distractions will instead carry the day.

Scary times, these, but I hold out hope.

Tanya Acker

Originally published on Huffington Post; republished with permission of the author.

Follow Tanya Acker on Twitter @tanyaacker