At this point, you certainly don’t need me to tell you how much damage is being done to our country by the group of right-wing zealots in Washington who call themselves legislators. This nation elected a president who, in his first term, signed into law a sweeping health-care plan that, among other things, provides medical insurance for millions of people who previously could not afford it. The law is not perfect, as one might expect of such a transformative piece of legislation, but it is a huge step forward in addressing not only the shameful reality of 45 million uninsured people in the richest country on earth, but also the skyrocketing costs of medical care for everyone.
We then re-elected this president, by a substantial margin. To a great extent, granting a second term to Barack Obama was a referendum on his signature piece of legislation. He has a clear mandate to press forward with the Affordable Care Act. Nevertheless, the Republican Party, captured by its most extreme element, is determined to undermine a law that was ruled constitutional by a Supreme Court whose own dominant political persuasion is to the right of center.
The shutdown of much of the federal government is a lot more serious than just having to cancel that trip to Yellowstone. The National Institutes of Health told ABCNews.com that 10 children with cancer won’t be able to begin their clinical trials, and the Washington Post reported that 19,000 children in 11 states will be deprived of access to Head Start programs, leaving their working parents with no childcare option. But the extremists may not be satisfied with putting 800,000 public employees out of work. They may also decide to allow the U.S. to default on its credit obligations, which could set the table for a global economic catastrophe.
All of this is being orchestrated by radical Republicans who represent districts that have been gerrymandered to ensure that they face virtually no opposition—including our own 6th Congressional District, which includes all of Flagler County, and is represented by Ron DeSantis, one of Congress’ tea party zealots. So, voters in those districts never get to hear that they are overwhelmingly among the number of Americans who stand to benefit from the Affordable Health Care law. The far right, through its house organs Fox News and talk radio, has persuaded many working-class Americans that “Obamacare” is a handout to people too lazy to work or even look for work. Nothing could be further from the truth.
I know that many on the right consider The New York Times to be the official voice of socialism in America, but I would suggest that, to truly understand the facts of health care in this country, this morning’s column by Eduardo Porter should be required reading. As Daniel Patrick Moynihan famously said, “You are entitled to your own opinion, but not your own facts.” And here are the facts as outlined by Porter:
“Almost two-thirds of uninsured Americans have a full-time job … A further 16 percent are employed part time. The Department of Health and Human Services recently estimated that nearly six in 10 uninsured Americans could qualify for health coverage in the insurance market for less than $100 per person per month.” Porter continues by pointing out that some eight million uninsured “earn more than twice the poverty level of $47,100 for a family of four.” Deadbeats looking for a freebie? I don’t think so. This represents a broad swath of the American populace—maybe even someone you know. Or maybe you.
Porter sums it up: “As it turns out, the core Tea Party demographic—working white men between the ages of 45 and 64—would do fairly well under the law.”
So why is our country being held hostage by a group of extremists in the House, who may be nominally representing their districts, but not their district’s best interests?
I offered you the facts, and I invite you to form your own opinion, but here’s mine: We are in a new era of Know-Nothings (the name given to a loud political faction in the 19th century), in which people who have no business gaining elective office are occupying seats in the U.S. Capitol. These are the people whose agenda includes a denial of science—evolution and climate change are just liberal hogwash to them—and an embrace of conspiracy theories about federal agents in black helicopters that has them defeating any sort of sensible gun legislation.
It is difficult for people who consider themselves progressive thinkers to deal with this sort of ignorance. But our nation is in crisis not because of the Know-Nothings, who are always out there, but because people who know better are afraid to hold them to account. Instead of parking the extremists in a dark corner where they belong, legislators like John Boehner have allowed them to take over one of our two major political parties because they fear for their own jobs in districts that they used to think were “safe.”
Pardon the awkward segue, but it was often said of Yasser Arafat that the reason he could never achieve any real peace with Israel is because he cared more about his own survival than about the survival of the people he represented. Fearing he would face the same fate as that of Anwar Sadat, the Egyptian leader assassinated in 1981 for signing a peace treaty with Israel, Arafat forfeited any claim to being a statesman and instead became just another political hack.
I don’t think the legions of Republicans-Who-Know-Better fear for their lives at the hands of the Tea Party, but they definitely have consigned themselves to the dust bin of political hacks, and in so doing have done grave damage to our nation.
Steve Robinson moved to Flagler County after a 30-year career in New York and Atlanta in print, TV and the Web. Reach him by email here.