Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Health Care Reform Prompts Expressions of Hate

Disagreements about the future direction of America’s health care system have some Members of Congress facing discrimination over more than just their views. Recent health care tensions have given rise to an outbreak of hate crimes against representatives who support reform. According to CNN.com, African-American Congressman David Scott of Georgia “received death threats and found Nazi graffiti outside his office.” The Atlanta Journal Constitution explained that the escalation of negative calls, letters, and racial slurs was after an argument Scott had with a citizen who opposed health care reform at a town hall meeting. The CNN.com report also profiled some of the hate mail Congressman Scott received, such as a cartoon of Barack Obama, depicting the president as a clown with a swastika on his head in addition to a swastika painted on a sign outside his office suggesting that those who support the reform policy promote a Nazi socialist state.

Unfortunately, Congressman Scott’s situation is not isolated. Democratic Congressman Brian Baird from Washington has also reportedly received death threats that convinced him to cancel several public appearances. The Atlanta Journal Constitution also reports that, “Brad Miller of North Carolina, has received death threats for his support of health care reform. Two other Democratic Congressmen, Lloyd Doggett of Texas and Frank Kratovil of Maryland, were hanged in effigy by protesters opposed to President Barack Obama’s health care reform.”

These prejudiced attacks serve as perceptible evidence of the passion and anger the health care topic has stirred up in Americans. But, their significance spans far beyond the political realm. Threatening our elected officials with racist symbols and hate mail in lieu of the legislation they support sets a disturbing precedent that must not spiral out of control. Turning a blind eye to these acts could condone hate as an acceptable way to express one’s discontent. Hate crimes could grow in popularity and receive less severe prosecution if the government does not aggressively fight against these incidents now. Congressman Scott himself acknowledges the “hate and racism bubbling underneath the surface” in America and wonders if the health care debate will be the catalyst for its ultimate release. The popularization of hate crimes would be dangerous for minority communities of all ethnicities and religions in the United States who already suffer from persecution. It would ultimately cause Americans to take one giant step backwards in their fight for equality.

Going forward, the amount of media attention these hate crimes are receiving serves as a dilemma for the Republican Party. Huffington Post comments that despite the media attention, the GOP now, “risks being perceived as tolerant of an angry mob-like mentality that freely throws out charges of Nazism against the President of the United States,” proving they are also knowledgeable of the potential downfalls of these expressions of hate.

The country is approaching a defining ethical moment. As citizens, and active participants in forming the policies of our national government, it is important to not let freedom dissolve into displays of bigotry and hate. Spokesman for Representative Betsey Markey from Colorado leaves Americans with this advice, “Even as tempers flare on both sides of this debate, we need to remember that we are all Americans and we all want the best care for our families and our loved ones. And to that end we need to have a respectful and constructive conversation about one of the biggest issues that our country is facing."


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