‘A National Health Service, free at the point of delivery - what’s not to like? The sight of Americans. many of them elderly, demonstrating so vehemently against the Obama administration’s healthcare reform plans in recent weeks - often on grounds lacking rhyme, reason, coherence or even common sense - has unnerved and annoyed many in Britain and caused a national groundswell of support for our NHS, for all its faults, from the prime minister downwards.
‘There are rational criticisms to be made of the US reform plans, on practical as well as political grounds, but these have been drowned out by all the sound and fury. The current insurgency falls into a distinctive, age-old pattern: both a fear of outsiders and what the historian Richard Hofstadter once described as “the paranoid style” in American politics.
‘Through American history, at least back to the Pilgrim Fathers, politicians have stoked fear of outsiders and their schemes to force change on an unwilling population. Because such subversives obviously could not do so by democratic means, the argument goes, they must be undermining the state by plotting and conspiracy.
‘If all else fails, lying helps too. They did it against the Quakers, the blacks, the Irish, the Jews, the Communists and, more recently evolutionists, feminists, gays and Muslims. Obama himself, of course, is an archetypal outsider, hence the questioning of his right to be president by some of those who lost the election last November.
‘In recent decades conservative republicans have been particularly adroit at exploiting fears, often quite cynically; does Charles Grassley, the Iowa Republican senator, accusing Obama of planning “death panels” really believe it? As Michael Tomasky pointed out on the Guardian America website, Grassley himself has previously supported very similar plans, to discuss end-of-life care for elderly individuals.
‘The right’s campaign is aided by the spread of the internet, allowing scurrilous gossip to circulate unchecked and unmediated and the ubiquity of rightwing and raucous, opinionated news and comment programmes, stoking outrage and acknowledging no need for balance. Such messages can be very persuasive in a society where many have retreated into communities of the like-minded, all watching the same television, reading the same newspapers, attending the same church - not unlike the early settlers behind their stockades, barred against the outside world.’
- Stephen Bates, author of God’s Own Country: Religion and Politics in America
See here for Stephen Bates’ article ‘Why I’m so glad I broke my leg in Britain, not in America’