Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Political Cancer

The health of our democracy requires acute care.

What started last summer as incivility during town hall meetings on the proposed health care legislation has escalated with passage of the landmark reform bill into outright intimidation and physical abuse. Last summer’s occasional gun-toting protester now threatens to turn into a fully armed insurrection led by and condoned by right-wing demagogues masquerading as leaders of the Republican Party and the Tea Party.

How can we demand that imams and leaders of the Muslim world speak out against terrorists when our own leaders don’t denounce violence but rather rationalize its causes, as Karl Rove has? How can we accept without rebuke the not-so-veiled language of Sarah Palin who urges her followers to re-arm themselves and uses cross-hairs to identify (target) congressional seats that should be taken back from Democrats?

The health care protesters are couching their dissent in the words of Barry Goldwater—”Extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice.” But Goldwater never advocated physical, violent disobedience.

Whether you favor the health care bill or not, it was voted on according to rules of the Senate and the House. Proper legal challenges are an acceptable means of dissent. But physical attacks on people and property are not. They demean our democracy.

We have already witnessed parallel outcomes when leaders are lax in denouncing illegal activity. The Right to Life movement created the atmosphere that allowed acolytes to murder doctors and blow up abortion clinics and Planned Parenthood centers.

Our nation has a long history of civil and no so civil disobedience. The American Revolution, after all, was the ultimate act of disobedience. In more recent times, the civil rights movement and the anti-Vietnam War movement had violent fringe factions. As tenacious as the FBI was in pursuing those factions, so too should law enforcement be in vigorously tracking down those who would threaten elected officials.

It is often said that one learns more from a defeat than from a victory. The same can be said for recognizing the quality of our leaders. How they react and respond to setbacks is more illuminating than how they handle triumphs. Sadly, we are observing the moral bankruptcy of the party of Lincoln, Grant, Teddy Roosevelt and Ronald Reagan.

I’m not a doctor. But I can recognize political cancer when I see it. And I’m afraid it is metastasizing to the GOP brain.