Hysteria over health reform

BY TYLER HAKES | MARCH 31, 2010 7:30 AM

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There’s something especially unnerving about how some of the biggest critics of health-care reform have responded to its passage. I’m not talking about the GOP vowing to repeal it after regaining control of Congress or the rampant protests. Those are all, at least, reasonable responses within the realm of good democratic practice.

I’m talking about the use — and threat of — violence.

Rep. Bruce Braley, D-Iowa, has gotten death threats.

And Rep. Dave Loebsack, D-Iowa, has received “disturbing messages”; his office wouldn’t comment any further.

The passage of health-care legislation has sparked a sense of fear in people unlike anything seen by our generation. It’s as if people think the legislation will rescind their right to health insurance or make it less widely available (save that for the Republican platform in November).

Plenty of political rhetoric has painted the legislation as less-than-ideal, from both parties. But, some of the most vehement opposition to the shifts in health-insurance regulation have come in the form of misinformation and downright ignorance.

I won’t rehash them all, but here’s the quick rundown of “facts” that never were reality: death panels, abortion funds, government takeover, socialized medicine, and illegal immigrants receiving free health care.

All of these things, it turns out, are not true. And yet people are furious about some of them. So furious that they’ve resorted to violence, vandalism, death threats, and a cornucopia of dubious activities.

People who respond this way to things that are imaginary are usually called insane. But there’s something even more portentous surrounding all of the political outbursts than just the direct consequences of such actions.

The use of fear-mongering and the resulting violence is disastrous to future political discourse. The net effect is one of lasting chilling, turning citizens off from the public discussion of political matters and making levelheaded debate nearly impossible.

A professor of mine recently likened the backlash to the struggle for civil rights in the 1960s. In a class last week, he recounted the days of massive protests and rallies against the integration of African Americans into what was considered white society.

The institution of segregation was, of course, leading to unfair treatment of minorities. But opponents didn’t see it that way. To them, including African Americans in their exclusive club was a threat to their way of life — and conservatives capitalized.

We now look back on the civil-rights movement as a progressive step in our nation’s history that extended fair and equal rights to a large portion of the population. And those who opposed it so feverishly through physical violence are now seen as ignorant or bigoted to stand in the way of such clearly beneficial changes.

The moral of the story is that history repeats itself. Not that all those who oppose the legislation are ignorant or bigots, but that the types of threats thrown at our legislators are unwarranted.

Those falling into fits of anger and turning to violence to express their discontent with the legislation are hurting politics. They are damaging the reputation of our country as one deeply rooted in fierce — but civil — debate and free thinking. Those who resort to violence in the face of political opposition only succeed in creating an echo chamber of animosity.

Iowans should use reasonable, meaningful, and democratic forms of protest, not resort to fear-driven reactions. Use your vote as your voice — not violence.

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