The disgrace that is America’s health care system, with its millions of uninsured, runaway costs and arbitrary, profit-driven decision-making, has finally met its match in the disgrace that is America’s health care debate. Since Congress adjourned for its summer recess, and lawmakers dispersed to hear from voters, Americans have witnessed scene after scene of public forums reduced to screaming and shoving matches.
Thousands of Americans have turned out this August to meet their representatives and discuss the pros and cons of reform. Determined opponents of reform have turned out to prevent those discussions from happening. Too often, they have succeeded. Decent citizens nationwide have been denied their rights by mobs of bullies.
In some cases, the bullies are organized by conservatives and corporate lobbyists. In other cases, the outbursts represent genuine rage among ordinary Americans fearful of reform. Even they, however, are driven largely by manufactured fears, products of absurd falsehoods cynically disseminated by those same lobbyists.
As public indignation grows over the bullying, conservatives have begun wrapping themselves in the First Amendment, claiming their rights to free speech are being threatened. The truth is the opposite: The tactics of the mob are subverting the First Amendment rights of Americans who want to assemble and speak openly.
It’s a sign of our debased discourse that the two sides have taken to calling each other Nazis, the ultimate mark of illegitimacy. This happens to be a topic on which this newspaper can claim some authority. And we protest: Using Hitler as a debating tool is almost always out of bounds. Unless you mean that your opponent intends to exterminate an entire class of people, the accusation is itself an offense.
But the guilt isn’t evenly distributed. Anti-reform bullies invent imaginary crimes and call them Nazi-like. Critics of the mobs complain of tactics that were, in fact, a calling card of fascists in their march to power. No one has described this better than commentator Bill O’Reilly of Fox News.
“This is exactly what the Nazis did — they disrupted rallies, they came in and shouted people down,” O’Reilly said. He was speaking in 2005 about Connecticut students shouting down a right-wing lecturer. His words are still true.