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True Colors

There was an awful lot of stupid flying around Washington

There was an awful lot of stupid flying around Washington, DC, in the run-up to Sunday night’s historic House vote on President Obama’s health care reform initiative, and it didn’t stop with the dawn. A New York Times news analysis on Monday morning carried the following tidbit:

Now, armed with a specific piece of legislation that offers concrete benefits to millions of people – and that promises to guarantee insurance for many who found it unaffordable or unattainable – the White House and Democrats believe they may have gained the upper hand.

But there is no doubt that in the course of this debate, Mr. Obama has lost something – and lost it for good. Gone is the promise on which he rode to victory less than a year and a half ago – the promise of a “postpartisan” Washington in which rationality and calm discourse replaced partisan bickering.

Never in modern memory has a major piece of legislation passed without a single Republican vote.

The direct message intended by this passage is that Obama failed to follow through on a campaign and administration promise to end the madness of political partisanship and work together to get things done. Got that? It’s Obama’s fault that not one Republican voted in favor of this very Republican bill.

That, right there, is some magical stupidity. The reason this process has been so drawn out and berserk is because Obama did everything but give Congressional Republicans the shirt off his back to try and garner even a few of their votes on his health care legislation, and in every instance, he was rebuffed. There are any number of reasons for this, not one of them involving presidential fault

Press play to listen to author William Rivers Pitt read his column, “True Colors”:

Press play to listen to author William Rivers Pitt read his column, “True Colors”:

For one thing, the rhetoric aimed at him and at Congressional Democrats by the right-wing punditocracy was so feverishly deranged that GOP Congress people had no choice but to vote against it, lest they be shredded by wild mobs of Tea Partiers who were roaming the halls of Congress shouting “Nigger! and “Faggot” at Democratic lawmakers. It was the right-wing media who got these people all ginned up for a riot, and no Republicans wanted a piece of that action.

The stupid didn’t stop with the shouted slurs, either. Republican Rep. Randy Neugbauer of Texas shouted “Baby killer!” at Rep. Bart Stupak (D-Michigan), arguably the most anti-choice Democrat currently alive on the planet, after he switched his vote to “Yes” upon reaching a deal on abortion language in the legislation. Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli vowed to sue over the passage of the legislation, citing it as unconstitutional, and rumblings suggest several such nuisance suits will be brought by like-minded state officials around the country.

And then, of course, there is the moment when stupid tips over into crazy and dangerous. A conservative blogger named Solomon “Solly” Forell posted a pair of threatening messages on Twitter in the run-up to the House vote. The first read, “ASSASSINATION! America, we survived the assassinations of Lincoln and Kennedy. We’ll surely get over a bullet 2 Barack Obama’s head!” His next Twitter message read, “The next American with a Clear Shot should drop Obama like a bad habit. 4get Blacks or his claim 2 b Black. Turn on Barack Obama!” This message ended with the Twitter tag, “#TCOT.”

“TCOT” stands for “Top Conservatives on Twitter.”

Mr. Forell’s Twitter account has since been deleted, and at last report, the Secret Service is actively investigating him for making threats against the president’s life. Taken in combination with the slurs and general ugliness displayed by the GOP base, however, what we have here is a pretty clear picture of the mind and soul of today’s Republican Party … but, yeah, it’s Obama’s fault he couldn’t get these people to work with him.


Former Bush administration adviser David Frum had some pointed observations about this particular tribe of maniacs, and about the “entertainers” who egged them on:

There were leaders who knew better, who would have liked to deal. But they were trapped. Conservative talkers on Fox and talk radio had whipped the Republican voting base into such a frenzy that deal-making was rendered impossible. How do you negotiate with somebody who wants to murder your grandmother? Or – more exactly – with somebody whom your voters have been persuaded to believe wants to murder their grandmother?

I’ve been on a soapbox for months now about the harm that our overheated talk is doing to us. Yes it mobilizes supporters – but by mobilizing them with hysterical accusations and pseudo-information, overheated talk has made it impossible for representatives to represent and elected leaders to lead. The real leaders are on TV and radio, and they have very different imperatives from people in government. Talk radio thrives on confrontation and recrimination. When Rush Limbaugh said that he wanted President Obama to fail, he was intelligently explaining his own interests. What he omitted to say – but what is equally true – is that he also wants Republicans to fail. If Republicans succeed – if they govern successfully in office and negotiate attractive compromises out of office – Rush’s listeners get less angry. And if they are less angry, they listen to the radio less, and hear fewer ads for Sleepnumber beds.

So today’s defeat for free-market economics and Republican values is a huge win for the conservative entertainment industry. Their listeners and viewers will now be even more enraged, even more frustrated, even more disappointed in everybody except the responsibility-free talkers on television and radio. For them, it’s mission accomplished. For the cause they purport to represent, it’s Waterloo all right: ours.

There it is in a nutshell.

In the end, this could have and should have been a far better bill. Those who wanted more, who heard Obama’s campaign pledges and public option rhetoric and then watched as he dealt them away in a sad attempt to corral conservative support, are rightfully upset today. It falls to these lawmakers to do what they said and make improvements on America’s still-pitiable health care system, to take this “first step” and make it count with a second step, and a third, and a fourth, until health care becomes the right it should be and not the privilege it is.

This reality, however, cannot justify or explain away the insanity displayed by the Republicans, both in and out of Congress, throughout this grueling process. The GOP thinks the passage of this bill will help them in November, or at least that’s what they’re saying. That remains to be seen, but in the meantime, they have a bigger problem on their hands. They and the right-wing media mouthpieces who support them have kicked over a very large, very angry and very active hornet’s nest by embracing the Tea Party fringe. Now they’re stuck with them.

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