The Word War

Why rhetoric almost drove me away from politics

Have you ever hit a wall doing something you love?  This phenomenon is often associated with runners who have to muster up every bit of strength and intensity they can to breach an invisible barrier that threatens to derail their run.

Health Care Protest

Courtesy of

Well I hit a wall (metaphorically speaking) a few weeks ago when the health care debate reached a fever pitch.  I’m usually one who appreciates the idiosyncratic aspects of the political game.  I cognitively distance myself from the rhetoric and emotion, choosing instead to observe the often comedic routine that is political posturing.  But the health care fight took all the fun out of political debating – it became downright ugly.

I’m all for using language strategically and effectively; it’s one of the reasons that I’m in public relations.  However, I draw the line at language that drives the public to behave heinously.

I know that my more conservative readers will offer their “proof” as to why I’m wrong to identify the following talking points as inflammatory lies intending to incite nothing less than riots.  Let me offer a disclaimer.  This blog post is intended to be anecdotal.  It was drafted to retell the story of my mounting frustration, so regardless of whether you dispute the validity of my claims, their effects on my psyche were very real.  With that taken care of, lets discuss what had me so darn flustered.

Remember back to the Joe Wilson scandal?  When he screamed “you lie” during President Obama’s health care address to Congress? Everybody flipped.  The GOP demanded he apologize for his inappropriate outburst and the Dems were out for his head.  That anger was fueled by an understanding that political rhetoric is all well and good, but everyone has to play by a certain set of rules in order to maintain public order.

Woman Protests Health Care

Courstesy of

Fast-forward six months, and I’ll paint you a gloomier picture where the “disenfranchised” party has determined that it would rather write its own rulebook.  Rather than expound upon some of the more egregious incidents that arose from this new dynamic, I’ll leave the wording to New York Times columnist Frank Rich.

There’s nothing entertaining about watching goons hurl venomous slurs at congressmen like the civil rights hero John Lewis and the openly gay Barney Frank. And as the week dragged on, and reports of death threats and vandalism stretched from Arizona to Kansas to upstate New York, the F.B.I. and the local police had to get into the act to protect members of Congress and their families.

How curious that a mob fond of likening President Obama to Hitler knows so little about history that it doesn’t recognize its own small-scale mimicry of Kristallnacht. The weapon of choice for vigilante violence at Congressional offices has been a brick hurled through a window. So far.

Yet it’s this bill that inspired G.O.P. congressmen on the House floor to egg on disruptive protesters even as they were being evicted from the gallery by the Capitol Police last Sunday. It’s this bill that prompted a congressman to shout “baby killer” at Bart Stupak, a staunch anti-abortion Democrat. It’s this bill that drove a demonstrator to spit on Emanuel Cleaver, a black representative from Missouri. And it’s this “middle-of-the-road” bill, as Obama accurately calls it, that has incited an unglued firestorm of homicidal rhetoric, from “Kill the bill!” to Sarah Palin’s cry for her followers to “reload.” At least four of the House members hit with death threats or vandalism are among the 20 political targets Palin marks with rifle crosshairs on a map on her Facebook page.

Click here for the full article

Rich goes on to explain the true source of the public’s discontent, drawing the same conclusion that I came to about a month ago – the conclusion that frustrated me to the point of getting out of politics altogether.  This health care debate has very little to do with health care reform.

President Obama in front of symbols of health care

Courtesy of

Obama’s election unearthed some deep seeded unease felt by much of his opposition.  His election to the presidency radically changed our political social construct, whether we’d like to admit it or not.  It would be too easy to simplify the public’s unrest as being propagated by subliminal racism, sexism, homophobia, etc.  But the reality is that our social construct has undergone significant reforms, and not everyone adapts easily to change.  The Tea Party movement and the fervency seen in health care opposition is merely a backlash against the evolution of our society.

In identifying the source of this feud, I came to the unnerving realization that no matter what argument I brought to the table, my words would fall on deaf ears.  No one wants to debate health care.  They want to debate change.  They want to qualify every policy change as part of a grander socialist plot to destroy capitalism.  They want to polarize our nation as much as possible.  They want to feed this monster.

Health care Bill - Final Vote

Courtesy of

But in viewing this from a historical perspective, I was reassured that the storm will subside.  We saw similar passions swell during the inception of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Medicare.  I once told a friend that this health care debate is simply a war of words that I’m losing.  Their party’s rhetoric is more effective than my own party’s, and until we figure out the right way tell the public that health care reform is really a good thing, we can never win this battle.

I was wrong.

The Democrats cannot win the fight for public support on the health care bill.  Rather, they need to win the campaign for change.  They need to construct a message that assures the American public that changes to our society can be scary, but are ultimately for the best.  There are still too many people disenfranchised in this nation.  There are still too many people discriminated against.  There are still too many people whose health care is inadequately covered.  There are still too many people worth helping for me to throw in the towel.



Filed under National Politics, Public Relations

4 responses to “The Word War

  1. David

    I agree with some of your post. Most of it I disagree with.

    “The Tea Party movement and the fervency seen in health care opposition is merely a backlash against the evolution of our society”
    – HAHAHA! — Really? Is that so?!

    There is NO HEALTHCARE REFORM OPPOSITION! There is only opposition to OBAMACARE!
    How long will it take people to realize that? There are people across the entire USA saying the exact words I’m spewing out.

    People want healthcare reform… which = change. They’re not afraid of change, they want it… They’re afraid of this appeasing arrogant big head that’s in the white house screwing everything 6 feet underground.

    I’m open to people’s opinions and what not. But this just screams ridiculousness.

    Have you ever been to one of the “tea party movement” events? I’ve been to one, I saw no racists, sexists or homophobes. Just people sitting around with signs and cheering along with speakers…. oh — and a few 3 year olds with their mom.

    All this skewed junk you see on the media is just that. SKEWED JUNK! It comes from both sides. Fox… MSNBC whatever your poison.

    How easy would it be for …. say you and ten of your friends to go to a protest and yell racist/homophobic/sexist remarks to make the whole movement look bad? Pretty damn easy.

    Eric Cantors office was shot at… Did you hear about that? Probably not.

    Complaints about the “tea party movement” are hilarious. How is it any worse than any other movement that has “civil” protests? Every movement has it’s people that are a little over the top; you can’t generalize and say the whole movement is a problem.

    Social issues or should I say “government entitlements that americans should be given” all boils down to personal opinion like it always has… but nowadays in the “evolution” of our society people are soooooo gung-ho on political correctness and equality that it’s become more split down the middle than ever.

    It’s a bunch of pre-teens in a lunchroom having a food fight. There’s a lot of stuff being thrown back and forth but nothing ever comes out of it… just more food fights.

    • David –

      Thank you for reading and commenting. I always appreciate when I move someone to respond to my column (even when they disagree with me).

      I’ll agree to disagree on whether or not this movement is about something other than health care. The conclusions I’ve drawn are the result of my own analysis, and I do not pretend that they are mainstream ideas.

      That said, I feel I was less than clear in the following sentence: “It would be too easy to simplify the public’s unrest as being propagated by subliminal racism, sexism, homophobia, etc.”

      I had someone else misread this on my Newsvine column, and I realized that it was because I wrote it poorly. I’ll copy here what I said to him.

      “When I said ‘It would be too easy to simplify the public’s unrest as being propagated by subliminal racism, sexism, homophobia, etc.,’ I was trying to say that while some people are compelled by these underlying feelings, the majority of dissenters do not feel this way. The people who claim that conservatives all adopt these ideologies are very misguided.

      I was referring to social change. There were non-racists concerned about the ramifications of ‘the Civil Rights Bill, simply because they couldn’t predict the ways it would change their daily lives. It’s like when you were a kid and you move to a new school. Your whole foundation is shaken, and you’re unsure what to expect. You know that your life could be better in the new environment, but you’re reluctant to relinquish your established way of life. The point I was trying to make was that change is scary for everyone, and while there are definitely people who disagree with the health care bill on principle, I feel the movement that is sweeping this country and birthing tea parties and protests is derived from a fear of change to the system.”

      Thank you for commenting, and I hope this clears up a few things.

  2. Mike

    All the polls show that more than half of the voters didn’t like the bill. Not really surprising that people showed their anger at having it passed anyway. Some go too far, but its on both sides. In the insurance industry myself, I can tell you, this bill will not help the cost of insurance. Saying that it will, was just a talking point to help gather support from those who don’t know better. The bill has good points, but most are wrong, this travesty will hurt the cause not help it.

    • To say that more than half of America is against the bill is not really true. Some polls have public sentiment favoring the health care bill, while others have it disapproving of the bill. The reality is that many of the polls have grouped those that do not feel the bill went far enough are being grouped in with those who did not favor the bill. Here is a more in-depth analysis of public opinion on the matter –

      I know that the conservative argument to lower insurance costs is to introduce tort reform, but the Republicans failed to introduce any comprehensive reform along those lines when we were discussing health care reform. That’s because tort reform is even harder to tackle than this bill was, and the Republicans knew it.

      Thanks for commenting 🙂

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