"A child's learning is the function more of the characteristics of his classmates than those of the teacher." James Coleman, 1972

Friday, August 07, 2009

Will Obama Inspire or Let Hope Expire?

While President Obama sits in Washington playing footsy with the white corporate money in order to keep them from further fomenting the white moneyless mobs who, in the end, would rather be white than right, the moral highground of fairness, equality, civil rights, and equity remain abandoned and shrinking territory. The President's advisors seem to think that there is some deal that can be cut with the Corporate Borg, so that humanity may be only half-assimilated with the other half left free to quietly resist. Handing the Oligarchs of the Borg urban public education to privatize just whetted its appetite.

Meanwhile, the Coalition of the Decent that Obama was able to galvanize last year with his soaring oratory and piercing gaze waits for that leader to emerge, to once more inspire our better angels, to speak truth to the powerful forces of racism and hatred, bigotry and privilege, oppression and backwardness. The longer President ignores what is going on, the more empowered the mobs will become. And as Paul Krugman points out below, the more remote universal health care becomes and the closer we come to mob rule. From the Times:

. . . .Robert Gibbs, the White House press secretary, has compared the scenes at health care town halls to the “Brooks Brothers riot” in 2000 — the demonstration that disrupted the vote count in Miami and arguably helped send George W. Bush to the White House. Portrayed at the time as local protesters, many of the rioters were actually G.O.P. staffers flown in from Washington.

But Mr. Gibbs is probably only half right. Yes, well-heeled interest groups are helping to organize the town hall mobs. Key organizers include two Astroturf (fake grass-roots) organizations: FreedomWorks, run by the former House majority leader Dick Armey, and a new organization called Conservatives for Patients’ Rights.

The latter group, by the way, is run by Rick Scott, the former head of Columbia/HCA, a for-profit hospital chain. Mr. Scott was forced out of that job amid a fraud investigation; the company eventually pleaded guilty to charges of overbilling state and federal health plans, paying $1.7 billion — yes, that’s “billion” — in fines. You can’t make this stuff up.

But while the organizers are as crass as they come, I haven’t seen any evidence that the people disrupting those town halls are Florida-style rent-a-mobs. For the most part, the protesters appear to be genuinely angry. The question is, what are they angry about?

There was a telling incident at a town hall held by Representative Gene Green, D-Tex. An activist turned to his fellow attendees and asked if they “oppose any form of socialized or government-run health care.” Nearly all did. Then Representative Green asked how many of those present were on Medicare. Almost half raised their hands.

Now, people who don’t know that Medicare is a government program probably aren’t reacting to what President Obama is actually proposing. They may believe some of the disinformation opponents of health care reform are spreading, like the claim that the Obama plan will lead to euthanasia for the elderly. (That particular claim is coming straight from House Republican leaders.) But they’re probably reacting less to what Mr. Obama is doing, or even to what they’ve heard about what he’s doing, than to who he is.

That is, the driving force behind the town hall mobs is probably the same cultural and racial anxiety that’s behind the “birther” movement, which denies Mr. Obama’s citizenship. Senator Dick Durbin has suggested that the birthers and the health care protesters are one and the same; we don’t know how many of the protesters are birthers, but it wouldn’t be surprising if it’s a substantial fraction.

And cynical political operators are exploiting that anxiety to further the economic interests of their backers.

Does this sound familiar? It should: it’s a strategy that has played a central role in American politics ever since Richard Nixon realized that he could advance Republican fortunes by appealing to the racial fears of working-class whites.

Many people hoped that last year’s election would mark the end of the “angry white voter” era in America. Indeed, voters who can be swayed by appeals to cultural and racial fear are a declining share of the electorate.

But right now Mr. Obama’s backers seem to lack all conviction, perhaps because the prosaic reality of his administration isn’t living up to their dreams of transformation. Meanwhile, the angry right is filled with a passionate intensity.

And if Mr. Obama can’t recapture some of the passion of 2008, can’t inspire his supporters to stand up and be heard, health care reform may well fail.

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous8:31 AM

    Three decades of teaching to the test, little civics education and the disappearance of "real" social studies and history education has brought us to this place.

    Angry mobs are a manifestation of ignorance and frustration. This, combined with a deep economic hole that is going to go down as the great depression of 2010, has made this country ripe as a Jersey tomatoe in August for the rise of a fascist leader to lead the angry, ignorant mobs who are looking for someone to blame.

    Get your passports in order - and watch out for the armed angry mob with guns - it's not even safe to work out at the gym any more.

    But have no fear, Bloomberg's mayoral victory over the schools in New York for another six years will save the state from ruin. As governors across the country continue to use education as a fig leaf for all our troubles, they will lead this nation back to its rightful place as a leader in the global economy. Let the Race to the Top begin!