John Ibbitson had an interesting piece in today's Globe on the tactics being used by foes of healthcare reform to inspire terror in the ignorant:
Opponents of health-care reform stoking fears
Citizens argue healthcare reform proposals on August 8, 2009 in Brighton, Colorado.
Shock jock Rush Limbaugh compares the White House's health office logo to a swastika and President Barack Obama to Adolf Hitler
Last updated on Tuesday, Aug. 11, 2009 02:41AM EDT
Barack Obama and the congressional Democrats are neo-Nazis who want to create “death panels” that will euthanize older citizens.
Or so some very prominent opponents of health care reform would have Americans believe. In what may mark a new low in political discourse, conservatives leaders, including some Republicans, are urging voters to pack town halls to show their displeasure with the Democrats' plan to reform America's broken health care-system. Others are spamming the Internet with distortions and outright lies.
In the process, they may have successfully wrested control of the debate over health care away from the Democrats, turning a narrative about expanding coverage while controlling costs into one about a socialistic undermining of core American values.
The Web is at the centre of the campaign to block the Democrats' proposed legislation. Just as President Barack Obama used the tools of social networking, such as Facebook and YouTube, to generate excitement and organizational support for his campaign, so too conservative organizations such as FreedomWorks and Conservatives for Patients' Rights are effectively generating anger and organization to oppose health-care reform.
At town halls across the country crowds are booing and shouting down Democratic congressmen trying to explain the legislation. As a result, many Democrats are putting off public forums, meeting voters instead in smaller groups.
The Democratic leadership has condemned the tactics.
“These disruptions are occurring because opponents are afraid not just of differing views—but of the facts themselves,” said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Majority Leader Steny Hoyer in an op-ed Monday in USA Today. “Drowning out opposing views is simply un-American.”
House Minority John Boehner said the Republicans have nothing to apologize for.
“To label Americans who are expressing vocal opposition to the Democrats' plan ‘un-American' is outrageous and reprehensible,” he said in a message to supporters.
But the leadership of the Republican Party seems to believe that any statement, no matter how outrageous, is justified in the cause of killing health-care reform.
Former Alaska governor Sarah Palin posted a message on her Facebook page Friday warning that seniors would be compelled to “stand in front of Obama's ‘death panel' so his bureaucrats can decide, based on a subjective judgment of their ‘level of productivity in society,' whether they are worthy of health care.”
She called this “downright evil” and it would be, except it is also complete fiction. Under the new plan, Medicare would pay for consultations between doctors and patients on end-of-life protocols—living wills, do-not-resuscitate orders, and the like. Any such consultation is purely voluntary.
That hasn't kept shock jock Rush Limbaugh from comparing the White House's health office logo to a swastika and Mr. Obama to Adolf Hitler.
Now what are the similarities between the Democratic Party of today and the Nazi party in Germany?” he asked his listeners last week. “Well, the Nazis were against big business … they were insanely, irrationally against pollution. They were for two years' mandatory voluntary service to Germany. They had a whole bunch of make-work projects to keep people working.” It was, apparently, like that all last week.
President Obama predicted Monday “that once we get into the fall and people look at the actual legislation that's being proposed, that more sensible and reasoned arguments will emerge, and we're going to get this passed.” He faces a town hall of his own in Portsmouth, N.H. Tuesday.
In the meantime, the White House has created a website dedicated to dispelling false claims about the health-care proposals. The Obama campaign employed a similar tactic to rebut false claims about the candidate—he's a Muslim, he consorts with terrorists, that sort of thing—during the election campaign.
For whatever reason, Ms. Palin has toned down her language. Her website Monday urged “civil discourse,” adding: “Let's not give the proponents of nationalized health care any reason to criticize us.”
But the situation is clearly confusing voters, and polarizing debate along lines of race, region and income.
A USA Today/Gallup poll released Monday reported that two-thirds of African Americans and six in 10 Latinos believe the biggest priority for reform should be expanding coverage, while six in 10 whites said reform should focus on controlling costs.
Westerners prefer expanded coverage; Southerners prefer controlling costs, while fewer than half of all seniors want to see any reform this year at all.
The Democrats may yet be able to pull everything together when Congress resumes in the fall. But generating fear-based schisms is an effective technique in undermining efforts at reform.