Blog post

The passage of health care reform legislation in the House of Representatives last weekend was met with such a crescendo of hyperbole and vitriol on both sides of the political aisle that even William Shatner thought, "Jeez, tone down the theatrics.”

The passion is understandable but in some cases has crossed the bounds of political rhetoric and into strange and dangerous territory. In the last week, there have been multiple reports of death threats made against elected officials who voted for the bill’s passage.

Slaughter, a Democrat who chairs the House Rules Committee, said a caller to her office last week vowed to send snipers to “kill the children of the members who voted yes.” ...

Mike Troxel, an organizer for the Lynchburg Tea Party, posted what he believed to be Perriello’s home address on his blog this week, sarcastically urging other tea partiers to stop by and “say hi and express their thanks regarding his vote for health care.”

The address turned out to be the home of Perriello’s brother — who has four children — but Troxel told POLITICO he didn’t intend to remove it from his blog. “If they would like to provide me with the address of Tom, then I’d be more than happy to take it down,” he said. “I have no reason to believe it’s not his house.”

It’s tempting to dismiss these as isolated incidents and those who perpetrate them as fringe crackpots. I’m sure some of them are. But their anger and fear are far from isolated. I’ve often wished that carbon dioxide were visible, so we could actually see how much of the stuff we emit. I now wish the same for the flow of powerful emotions (and don’t talk to me about mood rings, okay?)—that we could somehow see when and how love and fear were passed from person to person. In these days of economic, environmental, and social uncertainty I bet fear would hang over many of our houses, neighborhoods, cities in varying layers of darkness.

The contagion of fear and anger can infect those you might least expect. Take the case of Chris Reichert who became an Internet sensation when he threw dollar bills hostilely at a man suffering from Parkinson’s Disease (video here: 1:15 mark). In the days following the incident, Reichert struggled to make sense of what he had done. He finally came forward to issue an apology.

"I snapped. I absolutely snapped and I can't explain it any other way… He's got every right to do what he did and some may say I did too, but what I did was shameful," Reichert said. "I haven't slept since that day... I made a donation (to a local Parkinson's disease group) and that starts the healing process."

Reichert said he is not politically active. He said he heard about the rally on the radio and a neighbor invited him to attend. "That was my first time at any political rally and I'm never going to another one," Reichert said. "I will never ever, ever go to another one."

Thanks to the massive reach of television and radio talk show hate-mongers, and the untold number of websites calling for violence and sedition, these days you don't even have to leave your house to join a mob. The mob will come to you.

And don't fool yourself in thinking that this is all just uncontrolled, and unorganized, populist rage. When nested fears meet vested interests, a cloud of discontent can turn into a raging storm. It's instructive to look at the role that corporate-minded special interest groups like Americans for Prosperity have played in the healthcare debate. 

In early November, thousands of protesters descended on Capitol Hill to hear Representative Michele Bachmann decry House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s “takeover’’ of health care. As they disembarked from their buses, they were greeted with doughnuts and coffee, and handed protest signs and talking points about socialized medicine. Few of the protesters were aware that a right-wing billionaire had paid for the meals, buses, or salaries of the helpful guides...

Across the New York social circuit, Koch is hailed for his donations to reputable causes, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art. But for years, Koch has also been funneling tens of millions of dollars to more subterranean efforts that reflect his conservative politics. His flagship group, Americans for Prosperity, sponsored Bachmann’s rally against health care reform.

David Koch is the ninth wealthiest person in the United States, worth an estimated $14 billion. How did his family make all that money? Oil and gas, of course.

If Koch and others are feeding fear to protect the profits of health insurers, just imagine the kind of fomenting we'll see when the stakes are even higher—when the energy and climate crises come front and center in the national debate. For a glimpse of what we could be dealing with, consider this: in 2008, just ten percent of the profits of ExxonMobil, the world's largest energy company, could have funded the campaigns of every single Congressional, Senate, and Presidential candidate. By that I mean every candidate.

Forget coffee and doughnuts for rent-a-crowds. Forget the signs littering the Capitol Mall and the halls of Congress comparing healthcare reform to laws in Nazi Germany. The battle over our energy future could make all this furor look like a real tea party.

If this reads like fear-mongering, it's not. All hope is not lost, but let's not fool ourselves in thinking that this will be an easy fight. Thanks to the recent, lamentable Citizens United v. FEC decision by the Supreme Court ("a ruling that may make the hundreds of millions spent in past presidential and congressional elections look like a pittance"), it's now abundantly clear who is David and who is Goliath. 

And our stone? Direct action. We don't need buses to deliver us at the doorsteps of Congress and the White House. Or not only. What if we respond to fear and anger with a shrug and a trowel? As Rob Hopkins wrote in this brilliant post during the Copenhagen Climate Conference last December:

How would it be if we all took a very different tack, if the approach of activists was one of ‘practically modeling the world we want to see’? ...We stay home and insulate whole streets, create community gardens, work meaningfully with our local authorities to do projects with them, eat local food diets for the duration of the conference, live without cars, insulate our schools, set up an area of the settlement in question as a model for what it would look like transitioned. We start bringing the future that we can imagine but which is still beyond the comprehension of so many, into focus.

The good news is that there are lots of ways to plug in to just such efforts. Our friends at are organizing work parties on 10.10.10 to make this very statement and, of course, Transition Initiatives are popping up left and right. It's not enough, but it's a start.

image source: Huffington Post

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Reader Comments


two remarks

From: Mary Wildfire, Apr 4, 2010 04:46 PM

On Hopkins' suggestion, while it is a good idea, we need to realize that at a time in which humanity needs to make enormous changes, we simply can't get there without policy change. We can do good things in our own localities, but meanwhile the money we kick into the commons is going for counterproductive or useless activities, when it's desperately needed for the transition. I don't believe any more that attempts to sway "our" members of Congress can bear fruit, but we need to be thinking about what might--working toward a second American revolution, I guess.
On the vitriol and craziness, I want to suggest that there isn't really as much of it as we are led to believe by a media working to ensure continued rule by the rich. Silencing voices from the left while handing a microphone to any wingnut who opposes plans to reduce the systems that enrich shareholders in drug and hospital and insurance and weapons and oil and coal companies, is a way of creating an impression that Americans in general oppose socialized medicine--or an end to wars, or creation of millions of green jobs, or a carbon tax, or an end to MTR coal mining. I don't believe many of the tea partiers realize what's behind their "movement."

Fear and Loathing of Health Care Reform

From: Garry Ehrlich, Apr 3, 2010 09:07 AM

Having declared my position regarding health care reform in
an earlier comment let me post a
fear. As a Federal retiree I receive government health care
benefits. Not Cadillac plans by
any stretch but not bad either.
Under a single payer system my
choices could be limited and my benefits could be reduced. Fear of the unknown could cause me to become skeptical of reform. In that
sense I understand the feelings of those that oppose the the efforts to reform health care. I cannot understand why anyone would choose some nut-headed group like the Tea Party movement to manifest such concerns.

Re: Health Services

From: Garry Ehrlich, Apr 2, 2010 10:06 AM

I strongly agree that every person has a right to health services without regard to income and a country of healthy people is richer than a country that cannot
afford health services to its' poor. As for the second issue I believe that emergency treatment at public health facilities in the US is now mandated by law for any person asking for them regardless of ability to pay or citizenship.
Having said that I realize that the
care given can be totally inadequate and sometimes administered under poor conditions.
But, as in Australia, no poor person in the US need go without medical attention-at least in theory.

As for scrubbing the system. That would be like unscrambling eggs.
It would be fiercely opposed by numerous vested interests. Not least by middle class America that
has nest eggs tied up in retirement acconts. I,for one, sure wish it would be possible to do just that and get a single payer system.

Health Services

From: Bazz, Apr 1, 2010 05:33 PM

Australians have sat and watched with amazement at the activities around the medical legislation changes in the US.

It is a fundamental human right to have access to medical services no matter how poor you may be.
You need to scrub the whole system and start from scratch.
Hilary Clinton some years ago suggested that the US adopt a system similar to the Australian Medicare.
Here insurance is not compulsory and you get a charge at tax return time if your income is above a certain level. If you want to have your doctor of choice you can have insurance which gives you other services such as dental.

When you go to the doctor he may bill the Medicare in bulk which means you pay nothing, or you pay the doctor and claim back around 80% of the fee from Medicare.

It works quite well and no one is refused medical attention even if they are totally destitute.

A country of healthy people is a lot richer than a country that cannot afford heath services to its poor.

Is Logic Worthwhile?

From: Garry Ehrlich, Apr 1, 2010 09:29 AM

I shudder along with David Gibson when I hear the vitriole of groups such as he cited and, more ominously, Tea Partiers. For me, these rants can be debunked by
applying two principles of logic:
1)fallacy of composition- assuming that what is good for them individually must be good for society as a whole;2)reductio ad absurdum- by showing that if such
rules were accepted a basically
non-functional totalitarian society would emerge. Perhaps I engage in sophistry by believing that any amount of logic would sway such fanatics.

Health Care Reform

From: David Gibson, Apr 1, 2010 05:38 AM

Watching the video of the hatred voiced by Reform opponents in Ohio helps me understand how the Nazi Party in Germany convinced their fellow Germans to send millions of people to the gas chambers. Have a nice day, America.

Two Books Worth Reading

From: Garry Ehrlich, Mar 31, 2010 04:58 PM

The first book is probably familiar
to most environmentalists, but just in case, it is: "Thinking in Systems: A Primer" by Donella Meadows. The second is a new release written by Ian Mitroff and
Abraham Silvers titled:"Dirty Rotten Strategies: How We Trick
Ourselves and Others Into Solving
The Wrong Problems Precisely".
Mitroff and Silver give us a new paradigm for tackling the perplexing problems that loom before us.


From: Richard Benton , Mar 29, 2010 08:41 AM

I recently contacted officials in Kansas,after reading about prairie dog problem.A local official called me on my cell phone,and made a death threat against my daughter.I never told him I had a daughter.How did he know?I called the FBI and they blew me off