Our country is changing for the better

After running some errands yesterday, I saw a group of people in St. Clair Shores, MI protesting Obama and the health care reform. It was a group of normal white folks from SCS just hanging out in the parking lot of one of the older bars in the city. They were waving “Don’t Tread On Me” flags and, in general, exercising their right to free speech.

Good for them. But they aren’t really focusing on the true issues, just raising specters of socialism (and fascism, though I have to seriously question where these people were from 1/2001 to 1/2009 if they are crying “fascism”) and making Obama the face of their protest (while not keeping in mind that neither Obama nor the administration have put forward any legislation — everything has been happening in Congress in this regard).

But where is this going? Where is the name calling going? When a white congressman from South Carolina is disrespectful enough to call Obama a liar during a presidential address (prompting even Craig Ferguson to say the congressman went too far and was acting like he was on Jerry Springer, not a member of Congress), is this actually a debate about health care?

I don’t think so. I think this is about race and class. Let’s keep in mind that the right wing really harped on the “death panel” bit in the latest bill, but conveniently forgot that many of them voted for the same thing in the Medicare reform bill a few years back under Bush. How many of these folks have truly ever had to deal with an aging relative who needs this discussion? My grandmother, mother, and I dealt with it when it came to my grandfather a couple of years ago. My mother and I are now having to explore a lot of the same issues with my grandmother (though it’s a touch better than it was with my grandfather). Having some avenue to discuss all of the end-of-life options, someone who is competent and knows what they are talking about, is a necessity and that’s what the supposed “death panels” are.

Trust me, I’m not ready to put my grandmother down, no matter how aggravating she can be. I’ve read the language and that isn’t what would happen. So, clearly, the “death panel” thing just isn’t going to gain traction.

What about the expense? The massive expense of covering all of these people? What happens then?

Those people without coverage are already causing our expenses to go up. Every uninsured visit to the ER, every uncovered cost that ends up going to collection or sending someone into bankruptcy… we, as a country, end up paying for that. Is it that difficult to understand that? Every person who is un-, or under-, insured costs all of us. We pay the price in inflation, we pay it in increased personal bankruptcies across the country that, in turn, affect our ability to get credit or see our property values stay afloat. We are already paying.

Socialism? Perhaps we can call it socialism and make that stick, right? Wrong. Even the chair of the Republican Party, Michael Steele, has made it clear that he wants Medicare to be protected… but that program is socialized medicine, isn’t it? The chair of the Republican Party says he wants to preserve it.

That’s hypocrisy. If the right wing were calling for a full-fledged removal of the government from health care, then they could cry socialism. But if they even try to attack Medicare, their senior citizen constituents will turn on them so quickly that the Democratic majority in Congress would only grow next year… so they’ll just continue to pander instead.

So what’s left?

As Wilmore astutely points out above: Race. Not just Obama’s race, but the race and class of the people who will be affected by such a program. All of this is about the fact that the “country of our forefathers” no longer looks like that country.

I, for one, am grateful it doesn’t. This issue is about people scared that the color of their skin will no longer grant them carte blanche (no pun intended) to many things originally set aside just for them. Now anyone will be able to see a doctor, just like (eventually) two gay men or two lesbians will be able to marry each other… it’s fear.

It’s fear of the Other. I’m not going to a discussion of that (you can read more about it here), but I would argue that, in this case, the right wing sees the Other as anything that isn’t bourgeoisie, heterosexual, and Christian. As long as a man or woman fits those criteria, by the way, the right wing will forgive them their race (after all — they don’t have control over that, do they?), so I would make an argument that skin color is not a requisite feature (but I would also make the argument a white man, not Michael Steele, would be chair of the Republican Party if there weren’t a black man from the opposing party in the White House).

Think of the Other in the terms of the 1950s. If it would cause Mr. and Mrs. Cleaver to have a long talk without Wally and the Beav around, then you know that’s what these tea party protesters are scared of.

It’s natural to be scared of change. But change is a necessity. Human beings, by necessity, must push the race forward. We’ve moved so far in the past century and a half, yet it amazes me that such vitriol continues to be spouted.

This isn’t about “values” (as the right wing wants you to believe) — that discussion is long over.

This is about our responsibility to move the race (not white, not black, not American, but human) forward.

That is what we are supposed to be striving for. The past is for learning lessons from, not for yearning to return to. We cannot simply be content and complacent — we were both of those things, and the disintegration of the manufacturing economy is our punishment. What are the lessons we can learn from the past 70 or 80 years? What lessons can we pass along to other countries? What can we do to diminish our embarrassing infant mortality rates, or dramatically disturbing education levels?

We don’t have to occupy a country to encourage it to change. We don’t have to shoot abortion providers to discuss how to better handle that choice. We don’t have to be consistently contentious and at each others’ throats in order to come to a consensus.

It’s a difficult path we have set upon. We have the chance to take steps into a brand new world and shake free of the past that continues to shackle our discussions. But to do so we will have to let go of the petty differences, specifically our view of the Other (which we continue to cling to), and move towards better understanding of all.

I suspect we’ll all be happier in the end if we can go there.