The wrong side of history

By Ronald M. Horvath | Mar 31, 2010

Historian Doris Kearns Goodwin has written, “The domestic bills that we consider historic have had one thing in common: They have extended social or economic justice to the American people.”

So, history has been made. Health care reform has passed. Obama and the Democrats have won and it’s all over but the shouting.

Well, maybe not. The Tea Party seems to possess inordinate capacity for shouting (an evolutionary adaptation, no doubt, for creating the illusion of greater numbers) and will probably take every future opportunity to loudly express their outrage at being finally and unquestionably proven a bitter, bigoted, narrow-minded minority.

Seventy-four percent of Tea Party types identify themselves as Republicans or independents who lean Republican. GOP legislators were seen in the last hours of debate cheering on their minions from the sidelines as they indulged in screaming racial and ethnic slurs at any legislator from the opposing side of the argument. Representative John Lewis of Georgia, who was beaten and brutalized during his days of civil rights activism decades ago, was cursed, slurred and spat upon by the gauntlet of Tea Partiers. They screamed names at Barney Frank, and a man with Parkinson’s disease was accosted and taunted by the same people for daring to show up at an anti-health reform rally. It was indeed an exhibition of the Tea Party’s true colors; undeniable evidence of what drives this corrosive core of conservative pseudo-Americanism.

Death threats, obscene phone calls, vandalism and bricks thrown through windows soon followed, the weapons of choice for the shock troops of ignorance. And the GOP, having sanctioned and encouraged this, still insists that it speaks for the “American people.”

As Bob Herbert wrote in the New York Times, “It is time for every American of good will to hold the Republican Party accountable for its role in tolerating, shielding and encouraging foul, mean-spirited and bigoted behavior in its ranks and among its strongest supporters."

And that may just be happening. As it turns out the Democrats have gotten a boost in the polls from their health care victory. Averaging polls by the Associated Press, CNN, and NBC/Wall Street Journal gives the Democrats a 9-point advantage on the question of which party would do a better job with health care. The Democratic National Committee reportedly raised more than $1 million in donations on March 23, without even trying. The Republicans, for all their efforts at misinformation, can’t reinvent themselves as anything but a pothole in the road to progress. Sen. Jim DeMint’s comment to fellow Republicans about health care reform being a “Waterloo” may have come true, for them.

Even John McCain, in his newest ultraconservative reincarnation (in response to a primary challenger), has proclaimed the atmosphere of Congress “poisoned” by the Democrats’ legislative maneuvering (despite a Republican record of doing much the same) and said the Democrats will get no help from across the aisle for the rest of the session.

 

Now this is a head scratcher. Exactly what help had the Republicans been up till now? Was the complete and utter obstruction by every Republican in Congress supposed to be some secret tactic for the bill's success? Well, if so, thank you Sen. McCain and we will all look forward to your non-help in the future (if you have one).

Of course, in typical fashion, one Republican has already tried to steal some credit for the health care reform bill. Sen. Charles Grassley of Iowa, who mouthed some of the worst fabrications of doom during the whole process, has issued a press release bragging that he “succeeded in persuading the Democratic majority to include several ... reforms in the new health care law” that he then voted against.

This has not gone unnoticed. In recent weeks Republicans have turned up their noses at their own favorite ideas, presented by an Obama administration, and more than 100 have been recorded taking credit for stimulus money in their districts, money that they voted against. Come November they may pay a price for such duplicity.

Even worse, the old platitudes of prejudice have risen in Republican rhetoric. One has claimed that African Americans were better off during slavery, and another referred to the Civil War as the “war of Yankee aggression.” One can only wonder what level of constituency these men were pandering to. I can only wonder how Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe must feel linked arm in arm with individuals who can mouth such repulsive sentiments while the ghosts of the Twentieth Maine howl in indignation.

So, is the GOP simply digging a deeper grave? Have they gone from the party of “no” to the party of nothing? Is hatred their only political capital? Already numerous voices are rising, among them former supporters and the few remaining principled conservatives, telling them not to expect any resurgence of legislative power from the upcoming election. The Democrats, in spite of themselves, have seized the forward position by virtue of proving that they can enact legislation in answer to a national problem while the Republicans have proven themselves, once again, to be the party of the status quo, of poorly hidden prejudice, of ideological rigidity, and of a narrow self-interest that knows no common good.

The truth is that though the bill has obvious imperfections it may just be the first foot in a long shut door that will lead to greater change and a more equitable system in the final run. It is a beginning, a crack in the wall of corporate domination over all our lives. As Doris Kearns Goodwin said, “By extending health care to almost all Americans as a right and not a privilege, this bill is indeed historic.”

And, once again, the Republicans are on the wrong side of history.

Ronald M. Horvath lives in Camden.

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