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OpEdNews Op Eds    H2'ed 3/21/10

The Specter of Bigotry in Health Care Debates

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by Walter Brasch

The Republican leadership, after several hours of official silence, apologized for racist and anti-gay comments made by some citizens, Saturday, against Democrats who supported the health care bill.

Anti-reform demonstrators at the nation's capitol had yelled racial slurs against three Black congressmen, including Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.), who had marched with the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. One demonstrator spit at Rep. Emanuel Cleaver (D-Mo.). Several protestors yelled anti-gay slurs at Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) "I heard people saying things today that I have not heard since March 15, 1960, when I was marching to try to get off the back of the bus," Rep. Jim Clyburn (D-S.C.) told reporters at the Capitol.

Rep. Mike Pence (R-Ind.) told CNN the attacks were "contemptible." Eric Cantor (R-Va.,) told ABC-TV that "nobody condones that at all." Michael Steele, chair of the Republican National Committee, claimed that the racism and homophobia was just from "a handful of people who got stupid." John Boehner (R-Ohio), the Republicans' House minority leader, called the incidents "reprehensible." But he then said that the incidents were isolated and that the real issue was that "millions of Americans want no part" of health insurance reform, and claimed that it would be "Armageddon" if the Congress passed reform.

But the racism, bigotry, and homophobia although "contemptible" and "reprehensible" were not from just a "handful" of people, nor were they "isolated." They were heard from crowds who attended Sarah Palin rallies during the campaign of 2008, although John McCain specifically condemned them, and Palin only smiled. They were heard at most "tea party" rallies. They were heard at almost every anti-health care rally for more than a year.

While most of those who opposed health care reform didn't resort to venomous hatred in public, dozens, often hundreds at every rally, did so to make it not isolated incidents of a political party that long since gave up the notion of the "big tent" philosophy of inclusion. More significant was that dozens of conservative Republican politicians on the day before the historic vote, Sunday, cheered the crowds of largely White Americans who had become uncivil in their contempt for reform. Sen. Jim DeMint, who had demanded that Congress defeat health care reform in order to give President Obama his "Waterloo," was vehement about the protests. On his Twitter account, DeMint declared he was "grateful for the thousands of patriots who are storming the Capitol today protesting government healthcare and defending freedom." Either in denial of the truth, or extending willful and deliberate misinformation--something the rabid conservatives had done for more than a year about health care proposals--was Rep. John Culbertson (R-Texas). In a 30-second video, Culbertson said that the crowds were "polite and respectful," that "every time there's a rally of conservatives on the grounds of the Capitol that out folks are respectful, polite, pick up after themselves." At least two of those "polite" people were arrested for disorderly conduct.

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Walter Brasch is an award-winning journalist and professor of journalism emeritus. His current books are Before the First Snow: Stories from the Revolution , America's Unpatriotic Acts: The Federal Government's Violation of (more...)

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