With the historic U.S. House vote on Sunday night, the promise of universal health care first floated by Teddy Roosevelt in 1912 came a step closer to reality. Some 31 million Americans—including about 6 million Texans—will get health coverage. And health-insurance companies will have to behave, at least in some respects, like halfway decent corporate citizens.
It’s a damn fine—if not quite great—moment in American history. But the hatred that flared up among the anti-health care crowd over the heated final weekend of debate—whipped up in no small part by Texas Congressmen Louie Gohmert and Ted Poe—added a troubling undercurrent to what should be a celebration of democracy working, for once, to the benefit of millions of Americans and Texans who need and deserve help.
We don’t yet know which Republican congressman hollered “baby killer!” at pro-life Democratic Rep. Bart Stupak as the health-care debate wound down—though the slur sounded just as Southern-accented as South Carolina Republican Joe Wilson’s infamous “You Lie!” But one thing’s for sure: Anti-health care forces showed their vicious, intolerant side for all to see. With Poe, Gohmert and their ilk whipping the “tea party” mob outside the Capitol into a frenzy, House Majority Whip James Clyburn (D-SC) told reporters that the spitting, anti-gay and racial slurs reminded him of the civil rights demonstrations in the ’60s. “I heard people saying things that I have not heard since March 15, 1960, when I was marching to try and get off the back of the bus,” he said.
(UPDATE: The congressman who shouted “Baby Killer!” has been positively ID’d. Surprise: It’s a Texan, Rep. Randy Neugebauer of Lubbock. He’s apologized, and says he was referring to the bill, not to Stupak.)
Gohmert was instrumental in firing up the mob on Saturday when he told the protesters to “remember the Alamo” and said that the only difference between that fight and the health care fight is that “if we lose this battle millions of Americans are going to die.”
Earlier in the week, Gohmert had set a tone for the proceedings by informing the crowd that “demons” has possessed the Capitol and lying that that the House bill would appropriate $700 million for abortions.
“I brought an abortion to show you today,” he said, brandishing a copy of the health care bill in his right hand. The crowd responded with a chant of “Abort the bill!”
Who says Texas isn’t sending any real leaders to Washington anymore?
Poe was only a tad bit less incendiary, invoking poor old much-abused Thomas Paine: “’Tyrrany, like hell, is not easily conquered,’” he quoted. “Our choice is clear. The American people don’t desire more obtrusive government that takes away our personal liberty.”
Clyburn had the single smartest analysis of what the opposition’s fury boiled down to: “A lot of us have been saying for a long time that much of this is not about health care at all. And I think a lot of those people today demonstrated that this is not about health care… it is about trying to extend a basic fundamental right to people who are less powerful.”
As Rep. Sheila Jackson-Lee of Texas noted, “The bill will help those who cannot help themselves.” And that is a repulsive notion for folks like Poe, Gohmert and Sen. John Cornyn, who has vowed to gum up the works in the Senate later this week with another round of procedural highjinks.
This whole vile display raises an interesting question about the 2010 mid-terms. It’s long been assumed that Republicans would benefit from Obamacare-bashing in November. But now that the opposition has so vividly shown what it really opposes, is it too much to hope that might there be a bit of backlash against health-care haters in store as well?
On Sunday night, soon after the bill’s final passage, Texas GOP Chair Cathie Adams dispatched a press release decrying the expansion of health care.
“Make no doubt about it,” she prophesied, “come November the people of Texas will come to the ballot box in droves to vote for Republican candidates who will listen to them and focus on creating an enviroment (sic) that promotes jobs in the Lone Star State—not a government takeover of their healthcare.
“To those Obama-Reid-Pelosi Democrats in Texas, today we send a message: In November, Texans will remember.”
After right-wing Republicans’ revealing outburst of hatred and dishonesty, it might just be a good thing for Democrats if Texans and Americans remember what-all went down in Washington this weekend.