I don't know of any peacetime campaign that has relied as extensively on lies, deceit, obfuscation, and fear as the Republican campaign to defeat healthcare reform in this country. Tactics so intense and extreme are usually part of a propaganda campaign of one nation against another in a time of war. Indeed, it sounds at times as if the Republican Party and their supporters in the insurance, hospital, and pharmaceutical industries have declared war on much of the American public and are completely ignoring all of the facts about healthcare.
Of course, there is nothing new in the nature of what the Republican smear machine is doing. Politicians have been telling lies since the beginning of time. Unruly citizens have been packing and breaking up political meetings for centuries. Lobbyists have been taking money to spin reality since the founding of the Republic. But never have I seen these tactics — and others — used with such total disregard to the long-term effects on the nation's health and safety and to its political process.
Anonymous e-mails go out daily to thousands of gullible citizens, saying that healthcare reform will mean giving up their doctor, will mean filling out a form telling some bureaucrat how you would like to die. One unsigned e-mail was so egregious — it contained no less than 43 separate fabrications — that Healthcare for America Now sent out its own e-mail to counter the lies in the anonymous e-mail. (See a copy of the Healthcare for America Now e-mail on my blog at charlestoncitypaper.com/blogs/thegoodfight.)
One e-mailer not ashamed to use his name was Scott Wheeler, executive director of the National Republican Trust PAC. In a mass e-mail sent last week he wrote: "We do not want some bureaucrat to check to see who we voted for before telling us whether or not we can have the operation needed to save our lives ... Obama wants to own your life with this healthcare bill."
Wheeler was soliciting $500,000 in contributions to allows his PAC to fill the airways with Republican rage and misinformation during the congressional recess.
What is going on in America right now is nothing less than the "swiftboating" of this critical issue, much as Sen. John Kerry was swiftboated in the 2004 presidential campaign. You remember the 2004 campaign, in which one malicious and groundless book — together with weeks of television ads distorting the historical facts — took a decorated Vietnam War hero and branded him a fraud and a coward. Kerry lost the November election by two percentage points to George W. Bush, who certifiably used family influence to dodge the draft and get out of Vietnam service. Such is the power of money and the media to distort reality for political ends.
Republican operatives have begun breaking up town hall meetings and shouting down Democratic members of Congress who are known to favor healthcare reform. These thugs have been compared to the "Brooks Brothers Brigade" of GOP staffers who were paid to disrupt the 2000 Florida vote recount. Several have been arrested in various sites. New York Rep. Tim Bishop cut a town hall meeting short and suspended future meetings when he saw that the process had been hijacked by protesters more interested in shouting and booing than holding a discussion.
"I had felt (meetings) would be pointless," Bishop told Politico.com. "There is no point in meeting with my constituents and (to) listen to them and have them listen to you if what is basically an unruly mob prevents you from having an intelligent conversation."
These mobs have been organized by Republican operatives, as a leaked GOP memo makes clear. These uprisings are not spontaneous outpourings of populist anger. They are orchestrated efforts to undermine the democratic process.
Not surprisingly, First District Congressman Henry Brown has joined the cacophony of half-truths and misinformation. In a July 30 op-ed in The Post and Courier, titled "Healthcare solution needs right to choose," Brown tossed around a lot of questionable numbers dealing with the cost of the Democratic healthcare plan, without mentioning how much Americans would save by doing away with the current health-care mess. Brown likes to talk about the "right to choose" in planning one's healthcare, but one choice he is determined not to let Americans have is a public option for insurance. Without a public option, we are stuck with the same corrupt and greedy corporations that got us into this crisis in the first place.
Aside from what this debate means for America's healthcare, there is also the question of what it means for our democracy and for our civil society. These are the issues we are going to be deciding over the course of the next few weeks, and Congressman Henry Brown is clearly standing on the wrong side of history.