Lacking facts and reason, health-care foes use fear

Posted: Sunday, August 16, 2009

"Fear is the most powerful enemy of reason. Both fear and reason are essential to human survival, but the relationship between them is unbalanced. Reason may sometimes dissipate fear, but fear frequently shuts down reason." - from "The Assault on Reason" by Al Gore

"I'm afraid of Obama!" - woman at a town hall meeting on health-care reform

I have no opinion on H.R. 3200. Mainly because I haven't read it.

Pardon my presumption, but chances are beyond excellent that you haven't, either. The PDF file of the bill, otherwise known as the America's Affordable Health Choices Act of 2009, clocks in at 1,017 pages of often-dense legalese and jargon. I'd like to read it, but I'd also like to have a life, and the two are incompatible.

So excuse me, beg pardon, but it would be really valuable to hear an explanation of the bill by those who presumably have read it, followed by vigorous questioning. Instead, the circus has come to town.

I refer, of course, to the chaos that has erupted at town hall meetings as Democratic lawmakers try to sell the bill. The New York Times reports shouting matches, fistfights, threats, injuries and arrests. Georgia Congressman David Scott says he's had death threats and a visit from vandals who painted a swastika outside his office.

If you wonder what the Nazis have to do with this, join the club. It's an incoherent protest and where there is incoherence, naturally, there is Sarah Palin. The former governor of Alaska weighed in on Facebook with a claim that Democrats were proposing a "downright evil" system in which the fate of the elderly and the disabled would be determined by "death panels."

She said she was referring to Sec. 1233 of the bill, so I read it. It would require your doctor to regularly consult with you on the need for a living will and advanced care directives, i.e., decide ahead of time if you'd want to be kept alive in a persistent vegetative state. The requirement may or may not be a good idea but it's hardly "downright evil" and it bears no resemblance to the image Palin conjures: Granny forced to justify her continued existence before a panel of men in black hoods.

Conservatives would have you believe this pandemonium is spontaneous. Truth is, it's about as spontaneous as a shuttle launch. The Times account tells us a banner appeared on the Web site of Fox News host Sean Hannity inviting people to "Become a part of the mob!" A group calling itself Tea Party Patriots advises its members to pack the hall and "yell out." This is manufactured outrage.

And that's fine. If people choose to become part of a synchronized protest, they have every right to. Nor is there anything wrong with dissent. As many of us pointed out when George W. Bush's enablers sought to silence his critics, dissent is patriotic.

But shouting down those who disagree with you is not. Neither is threatening, shoving, hitting, painting swastikas or otherwise rendering reasoned debate impossible. That's not love of country, it's not dissent, it's not even civilized. It's boorish, oafish and crude, the rantings of people panicked beyond reason.

In other words, conservatives. OK, not all of them. But too many of them? Definitely.

By now, it has become reflex, this instinct of theirs to manipulate the debate and muddy the waters by stoking people's primal fears, whether of gays, Muslims, Hispanics or now, health care reform. "I'm afraid of Obama!" screams a woman. And doesn't that just say it all? Doesn't that speak volumes about the intellectual bankruptcy and decayed moral authority of the political right? With apologies to Franklin Roosevelt, the only thing they have to sell is fear itself.

And no, that's not patriotism. It is the cynical behavior of people who have little faith in their ability to win the debate. So they pick a fight and try to win that instead.

• Leonard Pitts Jr., winner of the 2004 Pulitzer Prize for commentary, is a columnist for the Miami Herald.



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