This week, President Obama signed into law a health care reform bill that finally made it through congress. In brief summary, the bill strives to make healthcare more affordable for people and disallows preventing access to healthcare for children and adults with pre-existing conditions. The bill encourages doctors to see all patients regardless of income, and has a special focus on making sure that children are covered. The bill also attempts to defray the cost of such changes.
After the law was passed and signed, protesters in Washington, D.C. shouted racial and homophobic epithets at lawmakers. These protests quickly escalated to death threats and acts of vandalism at the lawmaker's homes and offices. On the face of it, these epithets, death threats, and acts of vandalism seem puzzling: could it be that people are truly that angry about healthcare coverage for all Americans that they feel like destroying property or even killing? There may be legitamite disagreement about aspects of the new law - there usually is - but this level of rage seems extreme.
In their most recent issue of the Intelligence Report, the Southern Poverty Law Center discusses such acts in "Rage on the Right: The Year in Hate and Extremism." According to this article, hate groups have been at record levels, having been rising 54% between 2000 and 2008. Paramilitary groups have jumped 244% in 2009, apparently spurred by the economic crisis, the election of an African American president, and increase in immigration. One member of such a group, for example, has been charged with murdering two Black people and planning to kill as many Jews as possible on the day after Obama's inauguration.
From this perspective, the rage and hatred that surged with the passage of the bill may make more sense. Perhaps it is not just the concept of making relatively small changes to our healthcare system that has people so angry. Perhaps it that old but effective mixing together of economic hardship and need to blame - and minorities such as Blacks, Jews, immigrants, and gays are always the easy targets.
Just to be clear, I do NOT fail to see how this bill would escalate tensions for people. Also, as I stated in the article, I DO understand that people have legitimate arguments about the bill. I think disagreement, and healthy debate, are good for the health and well-being of the country. And I acknowledge that there are groups and people who are engaged in that debate. I do not take issue with disagreement, frustration, or even anger. I do, however, take issue with racial and homophobic slurs, vandalism, and death threats. To me, this speaks of deeper psychological, cultural, and sociological problems. There apparently remains, in this country, a deep need for healing among some individuals and groups. This is what the article attempts to speak to.