President Obama has a rough task promoting health care that will provide coverage for most Americans and reduce the cost of this basic service so that it doesn’t bankrupt the economy.
In selling this obviously beneficial idea, he and his congressional allies have already made many compromises – to insurance companies and pharmaceuticals. But Obama must also pretend he runs an indivisible nation with liberty and justice for all, not one of warring classes, races and ethnic groups, most of whom identify as Americans only by sharing a common spiritual life centering around shopping, TV and NASCAR watching, car-washing and lawn mowing. He must also act as if he presided over a republic, not a world-wide empire in which 800 military bases “guarantee” security for our people – meaning, of course, large corporations and banks.
Indeed, teachers don’t encourage American school children to question words in the pledge of allegiance – “to the republic for which it stands.” The adult TV-watching public also shares uncritical assumptions, virtual cultural axioms that no longer apply to the once greatest and now declining empire. At sporting events, unseen announcers express gratitude to the service men and women, the imperial canon fodder who find themselves in Iraq and Afghanistan; during the seventh inning stretch, baseball fans now routinely sing “God Bless America,” an arrogant demand on the Supreme Being that He “stand beside her and guide her.” How should He treat other nations, presumably lesser entities, morally inferior to Americans who can order God to bless them?
Judging by TV show popularity, however, it appears that “blessed” liberals, right wingers, Latinos, blacks and evangelicals all remain fixated on criminals and cops, not God’s ordained emissaries — preachers, priests and rabbis – unless they become criminals and thus attract public attention.
Unity through common TV dramas, however, remains screen deep. The far right eschews political unity. Rush Limbaugh and acolytes want Obama to fail. They want power to cut all taxes on the rich, except those that provide police and fire protection for property owners and, of course, unlimited military spending on imperial adventures under the false label of defense.
This perverse “conservatism” spawns murderers of abortion clinic personnel on the grounds that “human life is sacred.” It provokes hatred of gay marriages – and gays – and all those who attempt to regulate gun use. Affirmative action and government help for the poor, the young, the old and so-called minorities gets labeled “socialism.”
Those in isolated utopian realms – Berkeley, California, Madison, Wisconsin, Ann Arbor, Michigan – don’t routinely listen to extreme right wing radio talk shows. I do. I consider it slightly less painful than wearing scrapers between my thighs. The Rush Limbaughs, Sean Hannitys, Glen Becks, Ann Coulters and Michael Savages teach the use of verbal and visual sneers as bonding mechanisms with millions of apparently angry (frightened) and desperate members of their audience.
The American dream has eluded their listeners, just as it has arrived for their messengers. Rush and company became multi millionaires by imitating religious charlatans whose sermons inevitably end with: “Give me your money and I’ll ask God to save your sinful, miserable soul.” Rush fans the flames of their disappointment, channels their energy into hatred and profits. But right wing radio mountebanks, don’t address the issues facing their listeners. Rather, they substitute a snide tone of voice to blame “liberals,” those villains who have caused the current state of unfairness that favors less worthy people – blacks, Hispanics and women – in the great game of “Success.”
The predominantly white listeners catch the barely hidden racism, which appeals to their deep discontent. The liberal government has used their hard earned tax money to give away to black welfare cheats who use it to buy evil drugs and vodka. But like his evangelical preacher cousins who regularly got caught practicing what they preach against -– money laundering, naughty women, underage girls and boys – Rush also got caught with illegal drugs. In 2006, cops nabbed him with quantities of oxycontin (rural heroin). In that same year, Rush flew into the country from the Dominican Republic with a phony prescription for Viagra. Police did not file charges, according to a CBS story, because he “cooperated” with authorities. This grandiloquent preacher of traditional values has married and divorced three times, has no children and could earn a good living posing for “before” in a before and after diet commercial.
Rush, miserable in bloated body and still unrealized sexual identity, does communicate with others whom “life” has let down. Callers compliment him: “You say words I want to say. Thank you, Rush.” A “Dittohead” praises him for attacking liberals who have unfairly taxed him to pay “lazy people,” which is similar to how Rush and company characterize the proposed new health legislation.
“It’s socialism,” intoned Bob Grant, subbing for Sean Hannity on July 29. “The government will choose your doctor,” he warns, as if your current health plan didn’t choose your doctor and limit what he (not she) can do to help you.
Grant, nee Gigante, declared proudly on one talk show that he was “a white man,” as if identifying himself in a nation where darker skinned intruders had invaded a once unique place not designed for them. Grant chortled over the “socialistic” health plan being designed by Henry Waxman (Chair of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce). Grant repeated, slowly: “Wax,” pause, “man” – in case you didn’t know he was Jewish.
Grant’s voice sneered over the absurdity of the proposition that “a Waxman” could have any real interest in the health and welfare of genuine Americans.
Members of that right wing audience need health care – including mental health. Over 27 million Americans took antidepressants in 2005, twice the number in 1996, according to USA Today, citing the August 3, 2009 Archives of General Psychiatry. But most anti-depressant users had not gotten treatment for depression because their health plans don’t cover “mental illness.” Regular doctors prescribed these medications not for the depression reported by patients, but for back and nerve pain, “fatigue, sleep difficulties or other problems.” (USA Today, Aug. 3)
How many of these depressed souls listen to Limbaugh et. al? Right wing bellowers of bombast feed bold-faced lies to their unhappy and often unemployed or underemployed listeners. Sean Hannity scares his audience: “If you don’t have private insurance the year that this bill is passed, you can’t get that later on from your employer.” Limbaugh avers that the bill would “outlaw individual private coverage.” Republican National Committee Talking Points claim “Democrats are proposing a government controlled health insurance system, which will control care, treatments, medicines and even what doctors a patient may see.”
None of the statements are true, but the liars profit by helping divide the nation in the name of patriotism. Indeed, they hate collective health insurance but raise to the sacred the collective singing of “God Bless America.” Obama will need serious rhetorical weapons to sell health care to those whose American dream turned into a nightmare.
Recent videos show right wing hecklers breaking up congressional Town Hall meetings. The goons serve the health insurance monsters, the pharmaceutical ogres and other narrow corporate interests that have bought a significant percentage of Congress. The issue is simple: Health, representing a need of the vast majority, versus profit, for which a small minority claims God, “traditional” values and white skin. Hey, why would anyone want to unify with those people?
From April through June of this year, the pharmaceuticals and health product industries spent $67,959,095 on lobbying, the insurance industry forked over $39,760,477. Lobbyists for hospitals and nursing homes spent another $25,552,088. The three month total: $133,271,660 — not counting what the Chamber of Commerce and professional associations kicked in for their lobbyists. (Center for Responsive Politics)
It worked on some legislators. After receiving some $4 million from health insurance lobbies, South Carolina Republican Senator Jim DeMint associated socialism with the Devil. DeMint, of course, like all Members of Congress, enjoys a fabulous health plan paid for by the government. Center for Responsive Politics.
The forthcoming health plan will have problems that a single payer national health plan would solve. I detect a maturity in the tones and textures of the right wing callers’ voices. I put that together with unemployment data for those over 55. They “are at their highest level since the Great Depression” for whites (6.5%). Those above 55 also spend more time than ever between jobs (27 weeks).(USA Today, July 31, 2009).
Right wing radio natterers will seek new listeners in this disappointed group of aging middle class whites. For Obama, their sense of desperation, added to the growing list of misery, should induce him to fight harder, not compromise, and keep repeating the facts – like single payer is better — to the people.
SAUL LANDAU’s A BUSH AND BOTOX WORLD was published by CounterPunch / AK Press.