Fall 2009

The more things change,
the more they stay the same

Ray McNiece, Poetry Co-editor

Artwork by Bill MacMillan
Artwork by Bill MacMillan

The election of Barack Obama was supposed to be THE big change, a biracial president ushering in a post-racial America—if not erasing the legacy of slavery, at least assuaging it.  Let the healing begin.  That was the hope.  So what does post-racial America look like:  the contorted, vein popping, bugged eyed faces of disrupters at Town Hall Health Care meetings screaming "Socialist! Baby Killer! Communist! Nazi!"  As I watch this mobocracy of Birthers, Deathers, gun-nuts, anti-abortionists and self proclaimed counter-insurgents, I flash back to black and white news footage of angry whites lining the streets of Little Rock, Selma and Boston, who also feared “their country” was being taken over, hurling similar epitaphs.

The so called Health Care debate provides an excuse for the festering stew of racism and xenophobia to boil to the surface once again.  Every time the American demographic shifts it happens.  It's not about health care.  Every reasonable American knows that the corporate insurance model is a scam—premiums going up by hundreds of percents while coverage goes down. And everyone of us has some pre-existing condition nullifying care.  At the very least it needs reform and regulation.  As does the Financial system.  The facts speak for themselves – follow the money trail from Big Pharma to Republican (and Blue Dog Dem) elected officials, follow the money from Web sites like Freedom Works that promulgate the town hall disrupters' scripts back to Health Insurance companies.  If nothing is done in ten years only the very wealthy will be able to afford medical attention.  The rest of us get a band-aid at the clinic.  Was it a mistake for Obama to open this up to a citizens' debate?  Not in a civil society where freedom of speech allows right wing ditto heads to shout "we're a Republic, not a democracy!"  But the funding for public school civics classes was cut a long time ago.

No, disrupters don't want the facts.  They want their darkest fears validated.  The details of the several plans working through the legislature (the people's branch of the government) have nothing to do with the disinformation being distorted in the echo chamber of cable news and the blogosphere that scaremongers a government takeover of good, god-fearing Americans' lives.  Obama is going to pull the plug on grandma! Or as one sign puts it, copping the Bush era anti war sign, Obama lies, Grandma dies. Anyway Obama's birth certificate is a fake (and Hawaii is not a state).  He's a Kenyan.  He's not one of US.  He's an illegal alien.

They must give their fears a shape, a face.  And that face is Barack HUSSEIN Obama's.  The iconographic HOPE poster from the campaign now wears devil horns and/or a Hitler mustache.  Visit any white supremacist or militia Web site and you'll see his face surrounded by a red bull's eye target.  Which is why, given our history of assassinations, the gun toters outside these meetings becomes so troubling.  One “patriot” with a semi-automatic pistol strapped to his thigh (for hunting?  for self defense?) wore a t-shirt perverting Jefferson's quote, The Tree of Liberty must be Watered with the Blood of Tyrants, a true son of the red state, white and blue-eyed revolution. It's the same T-shirt Timothy McVeigh was wearing in his mug shot after bombing the Federal Building in Oklahoma City killing mostly people of color.  There have been death threats on congressmen sponsoring the meetings and at least one instance of a mock lynching (echoing lynch him shouts at Palin rallies) by folks who want to 'take our country back.'  From whom?  Yes, things have changed all right, and we have to be ready to shoot that change down.  So buy a gun now before they confiscate them.  They're taking over.

We could see this simmering post election racism begin to percolate during the Sotomayer confirmation hearings when her "wise Latina" comment had old white senators agog, harrumphing that "her ethnicity might influence her decisions." As if theirs doesn't.  As if white is some neutral standard.  When you've been at the top for so long (did great granddad's plantation money have anything to do with that) you take it for granted that all other minority views are less than yours.  How dare she think she's wiser than us.  White privilege is standard operating reality.  And if you want in our club you'll keep the coloreds down.  At the same time Lou Dobbs was on CNN bashing Mexican illegal aliens like they were piñatas.  They'll get covered with health care!  If your own ethnicity is Irish, Italian or Jewish you've seen and heard this before about a hundred years ago.

The Gates incident also added fuel to the stew.  Coincidentally it happened just as the Health Care Reform plans were being presented, effectively knocking them off the lead story.  Instead  we got tangled in that old he said, he said, race conundrum.  Gates is arrested for disorderly conduct after allegedly  breaking into his own house—one step closer to home than driving while black.  Can you imagine the uproar had the roles been reversed, a black cop and a white, upper middle class man. Obama's jack booted storm troopers harassing citizens would be shouted from every right wing talk radio tower.  Instead, it's just another uppity N_____. See what happens when you give them power.  The average white male sits down after dinner to get his Fox news fix confirming Obama is a racist: Yes, he hates white people, including his mother. He's a race traitor.  Of course he never would have gotten elected if he had a white wife.  And all because he wouldn't apologize after saying the cop acted stupidly.  Of course that he later had everyone over to the White House for a sit down with a couple beers to sort it all out is only cosmetic.

So now some Americans continue to show up in front of the rest of us and act stupidly, with unapologetic incivility. As is their right.  And this fringe anger bubbles up into middle of the road, middle class resentment of tax paying citizens with insurance who don't want to pay for people "who are working the system." Honk, Honk, here comes the welfare queen in her Cadillac full of kids.  And who's that pimp daddy in the back seat, could it be Obama?  with guvmint hand outs for all the lazy minorities? As Rush often says, I'm not making this up: "Obama is deliberately trashing the economy so that he can give more handouts.  The objective is more food stamp benefits.  The objective is more unemployment benefits. The objective is an expanding welfare state. And the objective is to take the Nations wealth and return it to the Nations 'rightful owners.' Think reparations.  Think forced reparations if you want to understand what is really happening." After all, government is the problem.  That's what the Republicans run on every time for the last forty years, since them Kennedy liberals and the blacks started taking over. That's what they run on every time until they become the government and start handing our tax money in the form of corporate welfare, privatizing assets and making debt the public's problem.  So the choice is once again up to us.  Do we want a country for the (insurance) corporations, by the corporations, from the corporations, or do we want one by the people of every color and creed. Will we allow ourselves to be re-segregated into “real Americans” versus “that one” and those others?  Will the white sheets continue to haunt the American dream? Will ignorant slogans and the spit of hate hide behind free speech.

Or will we realize it is in all of our best interest to fix the broken health care system. It really is that simple.

Post-script: Given his life long dedication to civil rights and health care for all, let's name this Health Care bill for Ted Kennedy.