Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Now Panic and Freak Out!

It's been a rotten day at Black Rock. Not just the dreary rain, or that, politically, the sky is falling--but I awoke this morning to chants on the radio. Having won the crucial election in Massachusetts, Republicans were reciting "41,41,41." over and over again. Having successfully reduced the democratic majority from its crucial 60 votes in the Senate to 59, they have realized their oft-stated dream of making health care reform "Obama's Waterloo" and were gloating over this victory. Or so it seems.

"Reporter to a Brown voter in MA yesterday. Was your vote for Brown a vote against the Health Care Reform bill? Voter's response - "Yes".

Reporter - "what in the bill specifically are you against"?. Voter - "well, I don't know really other than it will create death panels, it will raise my taxes, I won't be able to see my doctor anymore, I'll have to wait 8 hours to see a doctor, it will pay millions to those wanting abortions, and some government flunky will determine what services I need and what doctors I can see.I guess that's pretty much it."

As it happens, those elated Republicans were not the only ones chanting on NPR this morning. Hundreds of miles away, in the ruined city of Port-O-Prince, Haitians were chanting "Hallelujah," and singing hymns of praise, for solace. Many of them, a long and nightmarish week after the earthquake first hit, still have not received any aid in the form of food or water. The diastolic and systolic of all this seems extremely surreal and disheartening. I hate to ask, but how long can they possibly survive like this? I'm not sure such monumental misery can ever be remediated. The Haitian government remains invisible and no one is really in charge. The sheer scale of the disaster may yet prove to be beyond human reach, with 250,000 people injured, and 1.5 million homeless, left without anything. Where can they possibly go?

Somewhere, anywhere. NPR also told the tragic story of Maria Josef, a woman their reporter found, waiting at the ramshackle bus stop with her 7-year-old niece. She wanted to leave, to go to Cape Haitian, but didn't have twenty dollars to pay the bus fare; she hoped one of the drivers would take them along for free. I had to wonder, with all those millions of dollars in aid donations, why was no one posted at the bus stop to simply hand out twenty-dollar bills to people like Maria Josef?

I'm not exactly sure why I take it all this so much to heart, but I do. It didn't help that I went to see "The Road" right in the middle of it all--its post-apocalypse images of a devastated world, inhabited by scavenging marauders brandishing knives, hardly distinguishable from those menacing Haitian youths you now see wandering around their ruined city brandishing machetes and wearing bandannas over their faces, making trouble. Moving from the violence and unspeakable desolation of the movie (fiction) to the devastating TV images in Haiti unhinges the mind. This is not the image of a pipe. This pipe is real. This pipe is the canary in the apocalyptic coal mine.

So what happens now, not just to Haiti, but also to health care reform, after these body blows? Will Democrats panic and freak out, succumb to what Andrew Sullivan calls "the Rovian psych-out," and lose their political nerve even more, as Sullivan writes:

"...heightened by the almost unimaginable irony of Ted Kennedy's seat being the death-knell for insurance reform, the end of the hopes of many that they might have a chance to buy some affordable insurance, that they could get insured despite a pre-existing condition, that the rest of their lives would not be filled with economic stagnation and profound personal insecurity. Well, the GOP has a clear message to them: 'Tough shit. We needed a way to break a reform presidency and your lives were the mechanism.'"

Andrew claims the answer to this will be revealed in how Obama responds."The glee with which the GOP is greeting the end of any access too health insurance for millions of the working poor," he writes, "even as they propose nothing in its stead to help them or to restrain soaring costs for everyone else, is instructive. This really is a game to them. But to the sincere progressives who backed this moderate bill as the best they could get, this is, simply, tragic. And to those of us who wanted politics to become something more than a game, given the accelerating decline of this country on all fronts, it's a body blow."

"I know now more than ever before why I could never be a Democrat and feel it vital to defeat the current Republican nihilism," he adds. "Which leaves me with Obama. This is a critical moment. How he responds will be everything. I think there is a response and that, oddly enough, his chances of re-election in 2012 just rose. He must not return to Clintonism. He must reignite the center around him. More thoughts on how he can forthcoming. But out of every crisis, opportunity. And the stakes are far too great and this country's crisis far too deep for surrender to the old politics now."

Stay tuned. Andrew, I await your further thoughts on this. (Illustration cribbed from The Daily Dish)

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