Sunday, March 21, 2010

A Victory Over Discrimination

Whatever else may be said for tonight’s Congressional action on health care, it represents a political victory — a victory over discrimination.

Regardless of the excuses conservatives might offer for their opposition to health care, the real energy behind the opposition to health care comes from a gut feeling among many in the Republican base, a feeling that tells them that some people are inherently better and more deserving than others. To be blunt about it, what they really want, when it comes to health care, is health care for certain kinds of white people, and not for anyone else. They are so appalled by the thought of black people getting access to health care that they will vote to take health care away from their own grandchildren to keep that from happening.

This energy does not describe the majority of Republicans in Congress, of course. Republican House members are not talking openly in the floor debate about withholding health care from blacks, although astonishingly, gripes about the cost of health care for American Indians have been mentioned. But the energy of spite and division describes a significant part of the Republican base. And Republicans in Congress stand united, unanimous, in trying to impress this group — a tactical error that may only serve to hasten the decline of a party that, in Washington at least, has already made itself irrelevant by going on strike. Whatever the reason or rationale, this anger based on racial hatred is the energy that the conservatives and Republicans are trying to draw on to advance their own cause.

But — and this is the most important point — they are in the minority. After tonight’s planned votes in the House and Senate, we will be able to say that the most important policy decisions in the United States are not made on a foundation of racial hatred. We will be able to say that most Americans just want things to be fair.

There are problems in the health care bill, of course. But in the short term, the cost savings in the bill — immediately, perhaps one billion dollars per day for U.S. households and businesses, and developing over time, larger savings than this for the federal government — are essential for the economic recovery that the country is looking for right now. And with some measure of economic improvement, perhaps the other fixes that are still needed in health care will not be so hard to address.