The Tea Party Rot

Today in Tupelo, a news agency reported the following words of Elizabeth Smith.

I’m so hurt about what’s going on in our country. It’s hurt my heart. I was so patriotic as a child. It makes me cry cause I have grandchildren coming up they’re not going to have what I had.

What Ms Smith has, and what she presumes her grandchildren will have not, is uniquely American: the world’s most expensive and most technologically advanced health care system — a system which bids millions of uninsured citizens Best of Luck (while still outspending all other countries per capita to get inferior outcomes) and which manages furthermore to bring into co-habitation the inefficiencies both of the public and private spheres, with few of either’s advantages.

Well, never mind that. Let’s cry with Ms Smith and her fellow Tea Party protesters over the forthcoming triumph of more efficient, universal, single-payer insurance. Let’s tear our garments and roll in the dust, our spirits broken by the diminished corpulence of the country’s 1,300 private insurers, whose profit hungry bureaucrats, CEOs, and investors devour thirty percent of every health care dollar.

I am able to respect a difference of opinion when it is informed by intelligence and principle. But concerning the health care debate, isn’t it rather time for the J’accuse which will dissect these Tea Party Neanderthals? No: worse even than that, for their tropes are not simply unintelligent or under-developed. They are plump with the malevolent blue veins of racist innuendo and other bigotry.

It takes a certain vileness of character, for example, to introduce into a health care debate the immoral cuteism “Obama-Bin-Lyin” or the birther charge that the President is a Kenyan Stalinist. Or to de-historicize the proper noun Nazi, as if it could ever be a respectable synonym for over-reaching government. The Tea Party protestors are not morally serious, but their fear and loathing of all that is foreign or in any way different are genuine. They appear to know nothing of the cultures, histories, or health care systems of the world beyond, nor to care to. Enough for them are ahistorical and closed-minded prejudices — that the Founding Fathers were a uniform cast of pious Christian evangelicals, that America has nothing to learn from the rest of the world, and that a wink toward the foreign pedigree of anything is sufficient to render it contemptible. This is the deeper rot beneath this xenophobic movement’s willful abuses of language, and those of us familiar with the Germany of the 20s and 30s know rot when we see it. For these are not the unfortunate mischaracterizations of ill-informed bumpkins. The people who level these charges know precisely what they mean to say, and their filth ought therefore to be given none of the benefits of doubt.

They are hateful people, and civilized folks everywhere ought to be saying so.

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