In the wake of the Tucson shootings and President Obama’s call for dialogue, not diatribes, there’s plenty of talk about greater civility in US politics. This week’s House of Representatives debate on repeal of healthcare reform will give an early indicator of whether Republicans really mean it.
The healthcare debate is a test for Republicans because, at least on this subject, they’re responsible for lowering the tone of the discussion. They’ve spread disinformation about a government takeover of healthcare, death panels of bureaucrats (from the government, as opposed to the insurance company variety) killing Grandma, that no one in the US goes without healthcare they need, that the best route to reform is more power for insurance companies, and that US healthcare is still the best in world. They confused the issue so much that people declared, “Government hands off Medicare.”
The biggest injection of invective came from dubbing reform “ObamaCare.” It echoes use of “HillaryCare” during the Clinton administration’s failed reform effort. As with invoking the name of Hillary Clinton – Christine O’Donnell was hardly the first alleged witch in politics – attaching Barack Obama’s name to reform was designed to turn people’s attention away from the issues and recast the discussion in terms of Obama’s inherent evil.
In other words, it made the debate personal. When it’s personal, there’s no room for rational discussion or compromise. How can there be, when one side represents good and the other side is evil? If politics are going to start getting civil, then politicians will have to stop making things personal. To measure whether it’s happening, check the healthcare reform repeal debate for use of the term “ObamaCare.”
Before the Tucson shootings, here’s what Brad Dayspring, a spokesman for House Majority Leader Eric Cantor said about healthcare repeal: “ObamaCare is a job killer for businesses small and large, and the top priority for House Republicans is going to be to cut spending and grow the economy and jobs. Further, ObamaCare failed to lower costs as the president promised that it would and does not allow people to keep the care they currently have if they like it. That is why the House will repeal it next week.”
Here’s are Dayspring’s post-Obama Tucson speech comments on healthcare reform repeal: “As the White House noted, it is important for Congress to get back to work, and to that end we will resume thoughtful consideration of the health care bill next week. Americans have legitimate concerns about the cost of the new healthcare law and its effect on the ability to grow jobs in our country.”
Those comments alone took two points off the ObamaCare index, indicating the House Republican leadership has changed its tune. Stay tuned to see whether Cantor’s new tone carries over to the actual debate and filters down to the rank and file.
This week also marks 50 years since John F Kennedy’s inauguration. As I wrote in November, JFK’s inaugural address would be mocked in this age of politics as blood sport.
Like Obama’s words in Tucson, Kennedy’s speech also included a formula for civility among enemies holding differences far deeper than Republicans and Democrats. Re-reading Kennedy’s stirring words after the Tucson shootings, under the shadow of JFK’s assassination and that of Martin Luther King, the other great American we celebrate this week, reminds us how much work remains to become the nation future generations deserve.
Totally globalized native New Yorker and former broadcast news producer Muhammad Cohen is author of Hong Kong On Air, a novel set in his adopted hometown during the 1997 handover about television news, love, betrayal, financial crisis, and cheap lingerie.