Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Hell no, we won't go!

I finally figured out what the rowdy town hall meetings about Obamacare remind me of: anti-war protests during the Vietnam War. The protesters today are older and plumper and their hair is shorter - or non-existent - but there is the same distrust of government, the same fear for their lives and the lives of their loved ones, the same anger at their representatives. I wonder if it’s the life and death aspect that makes the two sets of protests, separated by forty years, seem so similar. This is not government raising your taxes or not filling potholes or subsidizing ethanol; people might grumble about that but they don’t usually get so outraged they have to be escorted from the building. This is government possibly encompassing the end of your life.

Bizarrely there’s even some of the same government push-back. Today’s protesters are unAmerican evil-mongers led astray by Republican demagogues; yesterday’s were unAmerican hippies led astray by Communist propaganda. Today’s protesters don’t understand the complexity of health care and what the government is trying to accomplish here; yesterday’s protesters didn’t understand the complexity of the Cold War and what the government was trying to accomplish in Southeast Asia.

Does this mean I think both sets of protesters are right or both wrong? No. I honestly have no opinion on the Vietnam War, its rationale and conduct, or its protesters. It’s one of the issues that I had to slide into the “Undetermined” column when I moved from being mostly liberal to being mostly conservative. I realized that what I thought I knew wasn’t altogether accurate but I haven’t acquired enough new information to come to any conclusions.

By contrast, I think the town hall protesters are right. Even if every single thing they believe about Obamacare is incorrect, I still think they’re right. The change is too big, the money is too much, and the process has been far, far too swift to allow for anything like a reasonable discussion of alternatives and unforeseen consequences. The town hall protests may look like the anti-war protests of the late 60s and early 70s but they’re not; they’re more like what anti-war protests could have been if in August of 1961 - or 1964 - the protesters had demanded the government slow down and think about what it was getting us into.

I wonder how many of the bitterly divided people on either side of the Obamacare issue look at the town hall protesters and realize that many of them are the same generation - and possibly the same people - who were chanting “Hell no, we won’t go” forty years ago. And are still chanting it today.

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