Saturday, March 20, 2010

The Politics of Polarization: Debating Health Care in America

I have just spent the day on Capitol Hill, surrounded by angry protesters shouting "Kill the Bill!" Called the Tea Party Movement after the Boston Tea Party, where unfair taxation (and the British monopoly on tea imports) was protested by destroying property, the modern anti-government reaction to the liberal revolution of 2008 is reaching a noisy and rambunctious crescendo. As the images reveal, the Tea Party likens the "Obamacare" bill about to be considered by the House tomorrow as "a total government takeover of health care," "the same as socialism that we see in Europe" and even the coming of Marxism and Communism.

In the United States, opposing viewpoints have an equal right to be aired in an open debate. The hallmark of our democracy is found in the First Amendment, where freedom of speech and the freedom to petition the government shall not be abridged by Congress. While I am deeply offended by many of the comparisons made by the Tea Party Movement, such as likening President Obama with Hitler, and the health care reform bill as communism, I believe these protesters differ from those who fought for civil rights, who struggled to bring about equal rights for women, or even those who called for tax cuts and smaller government during the Reagan Revolution of the 1980s. These protesters believe that only their way is the American way. If you believe that health care is a right and the government has a responsibility to preserve that right, then you are branded a communist or socialist. I saw a Tea Party protester point his finger at a man in a wheel chair with sign that said "health care for all." The protester got in his face and said "you don't deserve health care." This is not the America I believe in.

The arguments against the health care bill have merit, but the way these arguments are presented place those who disagree in an anti-American light. It's as though anyone who disagrees with the Tea Party movement should pack up and go to Canada, where socialized medicine is killing the population, according to their world view. What they forget is that last November the American people VOTED for the current Congress and the President on the promise that the health care and insurance system would receive a much needed overhaul. If the bill becomes a flawed act of Congress, then the American people can use the ballot box to remove those who supported the bill out of office. That is the real democratic process. Threats to assassinate the president and others, the use of racial and hateful epithets, and the use of intimidation only reveal the ignorance and reactionary nature of those who would use them.

One more thing. I am a Christian. If you know me, you know how deeply my faith in Christ runs. But I wonder how anyone can reconcile the hatred and lack of compassion that I saw today with their so-called Christian "faith," which they wear so proudly on their sleeve. Christians are called by their Lord to feed the hungry, help the poor and visit the captive. Jesus reached out to the sick to show how to be compassionate to those who had experienced misfortune and who were cast out by their society. How does "hands off my heath care" extend the Christian commandment to “Love your neighbor as yourself?" Sure, the politics of health care can be abhorrent, but it seems to be to be an example of hypocrisy to say you're a Christian and then treat the uninsured, and also those who disagree with your view, as though they were the enemy.

I support health care reform with all its warts. Congress needs to discard its fear of losing the next election and do the right thing for the American people. Once the vote is cast, liberals who brought the current Congress and administration in power must match the Tea Party movement with the same vociferous fervor and explain why it was the right thing to do. To quote Lincoln and Obama: "I am not bound to win, but I am bound to be true." Just as those who passed social security and Civil Rights had to overcome the vociferous opposition they faced, it is time to live up to this ideal.