20 March 2010
True Colors Revealed?
It's been a busy day on the protest front. I saw a bunch of Obamaphobes near the Colonie Center mall this afternoon waving yellow "Don't Tread On Me" flags and carrying various homemade placards with the predictable slogans. This is a popular spot for local demonstrators; Ron Paul's fans held the corner a year ago. Probably some of the same people were there today. In light of the latest news from Washington, which seems to confirm the worst assumptions of the anti-teaparty crowd, the question now is whether anyone's entitled to generalize from particulars. If a gang of hecklers at the Capitol proved themselves bigots (though I'm sure we'll see the accusers accused of lying momentarily), is the entire movement, or the entire opposition to "Obamacare" guilty by association? Rationally speaking, the answer is obviously not. Ideology has become a force in its own right in this country that can't be traced in every case to ethnocultural factors. We're dealing with people who really believe that a crypto-communist coup against the Constitution is in the works, and they'd feel the same way in all likelihood if Hillary or Bill Clinton or Al Gore or John Kerry were President now. At the same time, today's incidents appear to confirm the absurdity of any effort to claim that none of the Obamaphobes are racists or bigots in a broader sense. From my own perspective I can't help but think that there's a core of general misanthropy at the heart of the opposition to the principle of universal health care, leaving aside the merits and flaws of the current legislation. It seems to me that the opposition is motivated less by fear of having their own coverage taken away than by outrage at the idea of coverage being extended to those they deem undeserving. They can hide behind the Constitution and say that it includes no right to health care (nor does it deny the right, we should note), but their denials are really more sweeping. They simply reject the premise that a civilized society should do all in its power to maximize public health and extend everyone's lives. They can talk about charity or other safety nets that come into play when someone can't live up to their "personal responsibility" to secure proper healthcare, but since their principle remains the same whether these safety nets exist or not, they are saying in effect that people who don't live up to their standard deserve to suffer until someone feels the urge to help them. That contempt comes to the surface in different forms and finds different expressions depending on the individual. Some people, most likely the minority of the movement, express it in language designed to insult most personally whomever they confront. The majority will deny any contemptuous feelings, and some may affirm their confidence that everyone will manage to fend for himself, however reluctantly or complainingly they go about it. But their abhorrence of "dependence" upon the state, however inappropriate in a democratic state, is bound to become contempt for those who both propose and demand it as a human right. Republicans and entrepreneurial conservatives may prefer the smug smile as their default expression, but every so often the mask drops. You don't see the same thing under every mask, but it's rarely pretty.