FRANK RICH, as he so often does, connected the dots and articulated the unease and ugliness around the health care debate: Hate haltingly stenciled onto cardboard signs; lawmakers spat upon; nooses arriving in the daily mail bag. And so on. This weekend in his column, “The Rage Is Not About Health Care,” Rich went right to the heart of the roiling problem:
“When L.B.J. scored his Medicare coup, there were the inevitable cries of “socialism” along with the ultimately empty rumblings of a boycott from the American Medical Association.
But there was nothing like this. To find a prototype of the overheated reaction to the health care bill, you have to look a year before Medicare to the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Both laws passed by similar majorities in Congress; the Civil Rights Act received even more votes in the Senate (73) than Medicare (70). But it was only the civil rights bill that made some Americans run off the rails. That’s because it was the one that signaled an inexorable and immutable change in the very identity of America, not just its governance.”
Rich goes on to, point by point, explain that this shrill “debate” has less to do with health care and more to do with the measurable changes that have been occurring in our country every day, every hour, every moment — the numbers are changing, the face of the nation looks very different and will continue to. What we’re seeing, hearing and sadly what journalists are busy recording are a death rattle of sort; the horrible sputtering of the end of things — a “majority.” Writes Rich:
If Obama’s first legislative priority had been immigration or financial reform climate change, we would have seen the same trajectory. The conjunction of a black president and a female speaker of the House — topped off by a wise Latina on the Supreme Court and a powerful gay Congressional committee chairman –would sow fears of disenfranchisement among a dwindling and threatened minority in the country no matter what policies were in play. It’s not happenstance that [Barney] Frank, [John] Lewis and [Emanuel] Cleaver — none of them major Democratic players in the health care push — received a major share of last weekend’s abuse. When you hear demonstrators chant the slogan “Take our country back!,” these are the people they want to take the country back from.”
Post-race? No. Not in this census year.
photo caption: freedom riders, 1960