Deny Me Health Care or Give Me Death
(or, Nazi Commie Illegal Space Aliens are Going to Kill White Grandmas)
(Read the full comic here. Digby's featured it before, but ya can never get too much Tom Tomorrow. Oh, and be warned this is a long-ish post.)
Angry conservatives are fighting against their own interests, they’re unappeasable, and dishonest politicians are fanning the flames. Yet national Democrats seem terribly shocked by this, as does the media - who then give angry conservatives the microphone. The more liberal perspectives are often lost in the shuffle, of course. We've seen this basic story before, although this time it does seem uglier and more dangerous.
I'm curious as to the exact breakdown – how many of the eager mob are birthers? How many believe in death panels? How about internment camps? Where do they draw the line? How many of them supported Bush to the bitter end? How many would score high for authoritarian traits? I would guess there's significant overlap, but the particulars might be interesting. Is there a guy out there somewhere who's saying, "Whoa, of course Iraq had WMD and Obama's a Muslim born in Kenya, but death panels? That's just crazy!"
During the Bush presidency, some conservatives eventually acknowledged he was a disaster and jumped ship. Others, when pressed, would admit he was horrible, but they remained convinced that those damn Democrats would do far worse. Some conservatives, when pushed, will even admit that Rush Limbaugh exaggerates and sometimes outright lies (Al Franken used to have his childhood friend and dittohead Mark on the radio and present him with Limbaugh's latest BS). On the other hand, some conservatives think Stephen Colbert is a conservative. And authoritarians will often defend directly opposing beliefs, or insist on a belief in the face of strong contradictory evidence, even when a simpler explanation is available (see Bob Altemeyer's The Authoritarians, especially pp.120-121). At least one study found that when conservatives were presented evidence suggesting one of their beliefs was wrong, it actually reinforced their convictions. (Perhaps it's just that social dynamics – the "oh yeah?" reaction – is stronger than empiricism, but conservatives apparently have a stronger affinity for that.)
Social conservatives often put a premium on what they view as the natural social order. Get the right kind of people with the right "values" in charge, and all shall be well (or at least better than it will be otherwise). Authoritarians tend to define right and wrong mainly based on group identity – torture is right when we do it, wrong when done to us, and so on. Re-read Ron Suskind's classic article on "Faith, Certainty and the Presidency of George W. Bush" and you'll see similar dynamics. That approach does make decisions much easier, and absolute certainty is comforting in a way the "reality-based community" may not be.
Rush Limbaugh doesn't provide information as much as flattering confirmation bias for his fans. Most of them probably wouldn't believe - or simply wouldn't care - that he just makes shit up. He offers rituals to share grievance and reaffirm tribal superiority. Limbaugh delivers the psychological equivalent of comfort food to the rabid faithful, only in an extended version of the Two-Minute Hate.
To the conservative, right-wing base, Obama is both a socialist and a fascist, and simultaneously a weak appeaser to foreign rulers but a ruthless dictator domestically. Bush's monarchial power grabs were just fine with them, and anyone who spoke out then was a traitor, but now that Obama's president, America's being ripped asunder. Internment camps were once a swell idea, but not now. Elections have consequences, but for the right-wing, only Republican politicians have legitimacy. There's a range of sincerity to the craziness, of course – Betsy McCaughey's a vile hack, Sarah Palin's more of a demagogue, while many in the rank and file believe every evil tale they're told (and invent new ones). Regardless, they're bad news, and the conservatives trying as usual to blame their own craziness on liberals and Democrats are particulary loathsome. Journalists pretending that "both sides" are somehow equally hostile, irrational and dishonest is sadly not surprising, but it is highly irresponsible. The 'Deny Me Health Care or Give Me Death' movement is fascinating from a psychological standpoint, and may make for good headlines, but oddly enough, the republic doesn't work very well when the stupidest, meanest, greediest and most dishonest citizens get to set the agenda.
Michael Savage and other conservatives of some prominence are shilling conspiracies about internment camps, but I'm more intrigued by an example Sadly, No caught. Go over and read the piece, but basically, on an airplane flight, a right-wing pastor/blogger sees what he thinks are internment camps. He's heard some people say they're for holding illegal immigrants, but he reasons this can't be, because the government has shown it doesn't care about that. "To think that the federal government intends to place thousands of illegal aliens in internment camps borders on lunacy," is probably the best sentence, since the author also imagines the camps may be intended for those the government is suspicious of: "Christians, conservatives, people who support the Second Amendment, people who oppose abortion and homosexual marriage" and so on. Of course he works in a reference to Nazi Germany and concentration camps. At the risk of mischaracterizing his specific flavor of paranoia, I find his assumption about internment camps and illegal immigrants fascinating, and very much in line with many other paranoid right-wingers. I think the mindset is self-feeding, and goes something like this, however unconsciously: Obama can't be trusted because he doesn't hate the right people. And surely Obama must hate us as much as we hate him.
As Digby's pointed out, euthanasia conspiracy theories have been around for some time. Similarly, while I don't want to diminish what a singular piece of counter-factual, idiotic, craven crap Jonah Goldberg's Liberal Fascism is, accusing liberals of being Nazis is also a pretty old game. Another Sadly, No post, "Godwin Shrugged," (Feb. 2009), looked at the The Washington Times' habit of comparing liberals to Nazis. The specific cause was an uncredited op-ed attacking the Democrats. It claimed that efforts to use computers and standardize medical records were really a "chilling" invasion of privacy designed to spy on Americans. (I'll note that editor Tony Blankley penned an op-ed, "Yes, we need censorship," about the dangers of allowing civil liberties – including privacy - the very next goddam day. Yes, they have no coherence, nor shame.) The health care op-ed also suggesting that the Democrats were proposing something "fully in the spirit" of the Nazis' "euthanasia" program. I'll get to that in a moment, but Sadly, No's Gavin M. made some excellent observations:
What we learn today from the Washington Times is that medical records must not be digitized as the Obama plan proposes, but can only exist in paper form because YOU KNOW WHO LIKED EFFICIENCY HITLER THAT’S WHO...
But it’s also the case that these tantrums represent something different to the wingnut mind than to the clinically normal one. To the wingnut mind, or according to the wingnut assessment of what would shock and upset liberals (a nearly identical consideration), the notion of the totalitarian dictator naturally refers to Barack Obama, and to a chain of previous images of Obama-as-cult-leader, Obama-as-false-prophet, Obama-as-Manchurian-Candidate, as usurper, as dictator, as “chosen one,” as false Christ. “Imagine,” the editorial is saying, “If Obama could access our medical records. What would stop him from euthanizing the weak, the so-called ‘unfit,’ or the ‘politically incorrect?’”
It’s not that wingnuts literally believe such things (or care what happens to the weak). They don’t really believe anything in the ordinary sense of the term, but rather make instrumental, conditional use of certain kinds of beliefs, much in the way that other kinds of people make use of thrill sports or porn.
The attraction of extremist politics is that it allows its devotees to indulge irrational, basically infantile impulses; and while the American conservative movement has in a sense chained itself to the devil in becoming a willful gratifier of such impulses, it’s also the case that the wingnut type has no fundamental affinity for conservatism per se, and will switch to any flavor of extremism that will cater to its needs. Wingnuts only care about the drama.
The elements of the wingnut drama are outrage, spite, self-pity, and gloating; and any irresistible fact or narrative will hold the possibility of at least two of these, together or in sequence...
I think there's a great deal of truth to this, although I would argue that authoritarianism strongly lends itself to conservatism, and both are reactionary to social and economic change, whereas liberals seek change in the name of a more fair society. Additionally, modern movement conservatism is pretty obsessed with gaining and maintaining power, outward displays of aggression and strength, dominating an unequal socioeconomic structure and attacking even basic diplomacy and cooperation as dangerously feminine. Real men bomb the shit out of brown people in foreign lands, because who can tell them apart anyway, and even if they didn't do anything, they were thinking about it. Plus, surely the ungrateful foreigners we're "liberating" must hate us as much as we hate them. (And one of them somehow got in the White House, in the greatest conspiracy since global warming!) So, yes, there are definitely crazies who aren't conservatives, and conservatives who aren't crazy, although the right-wing political ideology does not have much merit nor integrity. However, especially in contemporary America, it's not accidental that angry zealots trend conservative.
I did want to address the op-ed's specific claims about Democrats, Nazis and health care, especially since we're seeing similar crap these days. Read the whole of "Health 'efficiency' can be deadly," for yourself, but here's the thrilling conclusion:
There is no telling what metrics will be used to define the efficiencies, but it is clear who will bear the brunt of these decisions. Those suffering the infirmities of age, surely, and also the physically and mentally disabled, whose health costs are great and whose ability to work productively in the future are low. And how will premature babies fare under the utilitarian gaze of Washington's health efficiency experts? Will our severely wounded warriors be forced to forgo treatments and therapies based on their inability to be as productive as they once might have been? And will the love between a parent and child have a column on the health bureaucrats' spreadsheets?
Consider the following statement: "It must be made clear to anyone suffering from an incurable disease that the useless dissipation of costly medications drawn from the public store cannot be justified."
This notion is fully in the spirit of the partisans of efficiency but came from a program instituted in Hitler's Germany called Aktion T-4. Under this program, elderly people with incurable diseases, young children who were critically disabled, and others who were deemed non-productive, were euthanized. This was the Nazi version of efficiency, a pitiless expulsion of the "unproductive" members of society in the most expeditious way possible.
The program was publicly denounced in 1941 by Clemens Galen, the Catholic Bishop of Muenster, who said in a sermon, "Here we are dealing with human beings, with our neighbors, brothers and sisters, the poor and invalids ... unproductive - perhaps! But have they, therefore, lost the right to live?"
The efficiency-based approach to health care reform is a betrayal of the compact between those who are most capable of work and those who are least capable of defending themselves. And we have come a long way from what was supposed to be a "targeted, timely and temporary" stimulus bill.
This is shameless fear-mongering, even if The Washington Times portraying itself as the voice of compassion is laughable. Civil rights are very important, but some people don't care about such things only when a Democrat is president, and the day before they argue against rights. Accusing the Democrats of mistreating returning troopers is especially brazen and hypocritical. Of course, those monstrous Democrats will also destroy the bond between "a parent and child." Is nothing sacred? Still, I must say portraying as evil efforts to make our horrible health care system more "efficient" is pretty ingenious propaganda. The Nazi analogies are particularly appalling, though.
It just so happens I have a post on the Nazi T4 "euthanasia" program right over here. (it was for International Holocaust Remembrance Day, 2008.) For the Nazis, euthanasia and "mercy killings" were really murder, of course. They started with sterilization of 'undesirables,' then moved to murder, with the T4 program providing a ghastly test run for the later series of death camps and methods of murder such as gassing. They used propaganda, including a number of films, to try to sell murder to the public (alas, I could only provide two clips). Invoking the Nazis and their "euthanasia" program does not ultimately work in conservatives' favor. For one thing, in their propaganda, the Nazis deliberately conflated voluntary euthanasia (suicide or assisted suicide) with involuntary "euthanasia" (their murder program). For another, they warned of the dangers of "inferior" people out-breeding "higher quality" people. Additionally, they continually expressed outrage over the cost of caring for the supposedly inferior, as in: "60,000 Reichsmarks is what this person suffering from hereditary defects costs the People's community during his lifetime. Fellow German, that is your money too."
Our current political battles are very different, of course. But if we must make comparisons, it's not really a secret which side is conflating personal end-of-life decisions with murder, who's talking about white people being outbred, who's expressing outrage over the cost of providing health care for the uninsured, who's talking about the country being tarnished by the unworthy, who's for letting people die in the street and who's praising Hitler as a role model. Obviously, conservative opponents of health care reform are not Nazis or anywhere near as bad. Screaming that a living will is a murder plot, that some people deserve to die or fighting to deny Americans health care is callous, unconscionable and even evil, but it's nowhere near the evil of state-sponsored murder and genocide. (I've also got an older post about the value and limitations of Godwin's Law, if that's a concern.) Invoking the Nazis shouldn't work in conservatives' favor – but it's not likely it will stop. And as long as that prevails, and the craziness and demagoguery continues, it's important to call it out, from the usual skullduggery to hate speech to proto-fascist stirrings. We might not be "there" yet, but standing up for civil rights, good government and decent treatment of everybody tends to head it off at the pass. The current insanity shouldn't go unchallenged.
The diehard right-wingers view Obama as a dangerous usurper - they can all agree on that. The only real question among themselves is what boxes they check off on their hate list – Democrat, liberal, black, Muslim, foreign-born, socialist, fascist, trying to take your guns, trying to kill grandma, trying to put conservatives in camps, trying to give the unworthy health care on your dime... It's just slightly different flavors of bullshit from the hacks and varying flavors of batshit from the zealots.
However, far more Americans can agree that our current health care system is often atrocious, and many people know someone with a health care horror story, or have their own. Their stories should be told. Every "death panel" lie should be called out, and countered with a piece on Remote Area Medical or something similar. Instead of phantoms and paranoia ruling the day, attention must be paid to this struggle's many human faces.
I don't say he's a great man. Willie Loman never made a lot of money. His name was never in the paper. He's not the finest character that ever lived. But he's a human being, and a terrible thing is happening to him. So attention must be paid. He's not to be allowed to fall in his grave like an old dog. Attention, attention must finally be paid to such a person.