219-212. A big f–king deal. Socialism. Call it what you like, but the events of this past week were momentous and a watershed moment in American politics. I have to admit that I’ve been quite down on the bill for the most part – it’s not nearly what I had hoped for, which was regulation with some public option at the very least. Unfortunately, considering the lack of backbone amongst the Democrats in Congress, we should probably take whatever we can get. On the bright side, it is a landmark bill and there is a certain mental inertia that goes along with policymaking – it tends to be harder to start a new initiative than continue one. We can only hope, then, that although it looks like we’ll get hammered in the midterm elections the beginnings of reform can eventually become the robust public option that most of us want.
The aftermath of the vote, however, has been quite worrying. There have been death threats sent to Congressmen and even some attempts to frighten – if not kill – legislators. Some commentators have suggested that recent events are similar to those of the mid-1990s militia movement that culminated in the Oklahoma City bombing. Taking a brief glance back at history, though, I can only think of one period when one side so clearly decided that violence was preferable to discourse, and that was the time before the Civil War.
While that parallel may seem shocking, and I do not make it lightly, I don’t think that it is unreasonable. The rhetoric on the other side has been over the top, and worse, the Republicans refuse to own the connotations and repercussions of their statements. I’m no one for martial law or extraconstitutional action but the fact that the NRA can organize a mass meeting in northern Virginia where members are encouraged to bring their guns as a show of force show that events are accelerating out of control. Not to harp on this for too long, but there is a significant difference between the way that we showed our opposition to, say, the war in Iraq, which was through peaceful protests, and the way that the other side is showing their opposition to the health care bill by waving guns around.
There isn’t a simple way to deal with this, of course. Any attempt to pacify the teabaggers with guns (somebody needs to come up with a creative name for them) seems likely to end in a shoot out. At the same time members of Congress – and us rank and file Democrats as well – are threatened by gun-toting conservatives and they should be disarmed. I don’t know of a solution now, and I certainly would not advocate bending over backwards to them by passing some bills to placate the angry mob. Perhaps some quiet in Washington will calm everyone’s nerves. I must say, though, that I am dubious about it and I fear that things could end badly. The nation is not divided in the same way as it was in 1860, and a civil war is a logistical impossibility, but the potential for violence exists and it appears that many of our compatriots have traded their placards for firearms. This, I feel, can be the defining moment of President Obama’s administration. May he continue have the wisdom and placidity that our nation needs.