[previously published at Examiner.com 3-14-12]
A conversation I had with an old friend yesterday should strike fear in the hearts of all Democrats.
“Hey, what’s with this Obama guy?” my friend asked.
“What do you mean?” I replied, trembling. I was reasonably sure if I heard one more usually apolitical friend spouting Republican talking points my brain would explode.
“You know, I used to like Obama,” my buddy explained, “but he wants to force everybody to buy health insurance.”
Obama the Tyrant
Fighting the urge to bury my teeth in his neck, I calmly explained to my friend that the mandate for everyone to purchase insurance was necessary to get insurance companies to agree to insure people with preexisting conditions. It was also the only way Obama and the then-Democratic majority in the legislature could get insurance companies to stop un-insuring people when they get sick and/or leaving them high and dry when their medical bills got too big. In other words, in order to persuade the insurance companies to operate their businesses in an ethical manner, the government had to promise them a whole bunch of new premium payers — that is, every adult in the country.
“Oh,” said my friend, clearly surprised by my pushback. “I guess I don’t really know that much about it.”
Repeat the Lie Long Enough…
In fact, until that moment, the only thing my buddy “knew” was that “this Obama guy” was tyrannically forcing Americans to buy insurance — whether they wanted it or not. Why? Who knows? It’s just the kind of thing tyrants do.
I suppose after months of Republican presidential contestants on TV repeatedly characterizing Obama and “Obamacare” as the Devil and the Devil’s work, respectively — repeatedly characterizing the Affordable Care Act as a government takeover, job killer and fast-track to Socialism — it shouldn’t be too surprising that some of the rhetoric managed to ooze through a few Americans’ “Wait, this makes no sense” barriers. The expected overturning of the law by five-ninths of the Supreme Court probably didn’t help much either.
But here’s the kicker: My intelligent, talented and usually reasonable friend also happens to be a quadriplegic. Due to a decade-old medical condition, he was one of those unfortunate, uninsurable souls with a preexisting condition when he fell and broke his neck three years ago. Needless to say, his finances were quickly reduced to zilch by subsequent operations, therapy and round-the-clock care. So today, Medicare and Social Security pay for his board and care at a convalescent/rehab facility in the Valley.
That my friend’s opinion of Obama and the Affordable Care Act — a law with such dramatic influence on his life — had been informed by the ravings of Herman Cain, Michelle Bachmann and Rick Perry is disturbing. That these soundbites might even have influenced his vote this November and prompted him to side with the party that has repeatedly vowed to straight razor the very safety nets that are keeping him alive — well, I’m hoping that our little talk will keep him from leaping off that particular bridge.
But if Romney, Santorum and friends were able to plant the Obama-as-tyrant idea in my friend’s head with just a few months of Republican primary news coverage, what will a sustained campaign of Citizens United-fueled, anti-Obama TV and radio commercials do?
This will be our first presidential election since the landmark Supreme Court decision made a present of our democracy to corporations and other special interests. It will be interesting to see how democracy holds up.
Already, Karl Rove and the Koch brothers are planning to spend $500 million to defeat Obama. Who knows how much money large corporations and other “one-percenters” are planning to contribute to the same end?
The Great Equalizer
Although Mitt Romney may very possibly be the least appealing, most gaffe-prone, no-there-there presidential candidate in modern American history, there’s no telling what kind of equalizer a half-billion dollars shouting, “Obama is an American hating, communist-fascist-despot-sissy-foreigner” over and over again for six months might turn out to be. Toss in a sluggishly recovering economy, a disappointed left and a weird, vestigial racism simmering in a disgraceful number of American hearts and it’s easy to see that this election will be no cakewalk for the president.
The big question in our new Citizens United world is how on earth do real, individual human beings fight back?
I don’t know.