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This is about more than health care

Chris Fitzsimon

It’s not hard to figure out that much of the anger and rage on display at the town hall meetings on health care has little to do with the particulars of President Obama’s health care reform proposals.

The signs bearing racist caricatures of African-Americans; references to Hitler, abortion and gun rights; and the demeaning images of immigrants are disturbing evidence of that.

The anger erupting into hysteria that seems to have caught people off guard is not that surprising considered in the context of the anti-government hate and paranoia created by the well-funded groups on the right and the fringe elements they enable.

When President Ronald Reagan declared in 1981 that “government is not the solution to our problems, government is the problem,” it wasn’t a particularly new sentiment. Reagan was just giving voice to the message pounded home by the right since long before Barry Goldwater’s heyday in 1964.

The sentiment was then and remains today not just that government is the problem, but that government is the enemy. Any proposal that involves a role for the public sector prompts the talk of a communist takeover or Nazi Germany, phrases that also appear on signs at the current town halls.

A prominent right-wing Raleigh think-tanker often describes taxes as the government confiscating your money by force, and completes the metaphor by describing it as government “holding a gun to your head.” It’s government waging a violent war on you.

If that is your starting point, then any government program, investment or safety regulation is a threat to your life, a gun to your head. Former House Majority Leader Dick Armey said recently that Medicare is tyranny.

But that’s where the right’s master plan breaks down, at least for now. Polls show the vast majority of Medicare recipients give it high marks, a far higher percentage of people than those with private insurance who like their plans.
Medicare is not a gun to a senior’s head; it is a way for them to see a doctor and get the medicine they need.

The right-wing infrastructure of think tanks, talk radio, extremist websites and shock troops work every day to undermine public confidence in government programs, but they haven’t yet been able to fundamentally shake support for Medicare and public education.

The gun-to-your-head think-tanker wrote Monday that early-childhood programs, including Smart Start and More at Four in the state and Head Start on the federal level, do little if any good and ought to be abolished, maybe replaced with a tax credit, the right’s solution for every problem.

He cites a study or two and twists the conclusions of a couple more in his call to dismantle programs that help at-risk kids. There is a wide range of studies that prove the programs help kids get ready for school and make it more likely they will do well.
And do we really need studies to know that it is better to make sure a child knows his or her colors and maybe the basics of reading before he walks into a classroom for the first time?

While the eruption of rage at the town halls may not be surprising, taken in the context of the right’s decades-long rampage against government, answering it with a show of support for progressive health care reform is vital.

It’s just not about health care. It’s about child care, safety regulations, environmental protections, virtually everything government does to ensure a basic quality of life for people in America.

There’s still a long way to go in many areas, but we are making progress. Allowing the hysteria of the well-orchestrated campaigns of fear and distortion to derail health care reform sets it all back and plays into the hands of the folks who want us to think that government is always a force for evil holding a gun to our heads, not a force for good making possible our pursuit of happiness.

This is far too big a battle to lose.

Chris Fitzsimon is executive director of NC Policy Watch.

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