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Obama’s health reforms under attack by the Right

19 August 2009

Vested interests are behind attempts to undermine the President’s health-care programme, argues Jim Wallis

EVERY SO OFTEN, the issues at stake in the public debate become so clear and compelling, so alarming and disconcerting — or both at the same time — that I feel a need to speak out in a more personal way.

It happened before around the 9/11 attacks, the war in Iraq, and the consolidation of power by the Religious Right after the 2004 elections.

The issue that compels me to speak out today is the moral drama surrounding the health-care debate in the United States.

I have a dear friend named Janelle Goetcheus. She is a doctor and a modern-day saint, and the moral conscience of health care in Washington DC.

Janelle is a doctor to the homeless, the undocumented, and the vulnerable poor in the nation’s capital. She is the founder of Christ House, a medical facility for the homeless who are too sick to stay on the street; it is a ministry of the Church of the Saviour. We were talking about health-care reform the other day, and she said, “People don’t seem to understand that this really is a life-and-death issue. People who have good health insurance will live, and live longer; those who don’t will die, and die sooner.”

The health-care system in the US is sick and broken: 46 million of God’s children have no health-insurance cover, and 14,000 more are losing their cover every day. Without change, costs will continue to go up, and we all will pay more and more for health care.

President Obama has made health-care reform his top domestic policy priority, and Congress is slowly moving to embrace a plan. But as members of the House and Senate went home for their August recess, the forces opposed to reform have mounted a ferocious of­fensive.

WE HAVE a democracy crisis, with right-wing forces trying to prevent and destroy a civil debate with their “mob rule” campaigns. Fuelled by right-wing conservative talk-show hosts, and funded by special interests in the health-care industry who are afraid they will lose money if the system is fixed, a vicious campaign to defeat health-care reform has begun.

The “storm troopers” of political demagoguery, such as Rush Lim­baugh, Sean Hannity, and Glenn Beck, have mobilised their followers to disrupt town meetings and defeat comprehensive reform by yelling louder than anybody else.

The campaign tactics include lies, intimidation, character assassination, verbal abuse, and even mob be­haviour against members of Con­gress trying to conduct town-hall meetings on the issues. In some places violence has broken out, and it has been threatened in other in­stances.

Emails tell senior citizens that the reforms won’t cover them, assert that vulnerable people will be excluded from the system, and that Christian doctors and nurses will be forced to perform abortions. Pastors are telling me stories of distortion and fear. Elderly parishioners are asking them: “Will I die under the new system?”

The approach seems to be to confuse and scare people, shout down the reformers — to prevent a serious, honest, and civil public discussion about the best way to fix a broken system. There are also now some stories of left-wing groups organising to confront these dis­ruptions. But left-right confronta­tional tactics will not create the civil discourse we need, and could finally sabotage need health-care reform.

THERE ARE difficult and com­plicated issues involved with truly reforming the health-care system, and there isn’t even a Bill yet. It will take the best efforts of our legislators and the best attention of our citizens to accomplish real reform.

The lies and intimidation are designed simply to shut down the discussion, to make people afraid, to poison the civic atmosphere, and kill any possibility of real reform (along with stopping the President’s capa­city to move on other issues — which some of the opposition readily admit. Senator Jim DeMint has said: “If we’re able to stop Obama on this, it will be his Waterloo. It will break him.”

SIMPLY PUT, the faith community must protect the nation’s civil dis­course from the clear threat of demagoguery.

The country needs a good, honest, and healthy debate on the best ways to reform the health-care and insurance system, but fix it we must, and in a way that includes all who are now left out.

It’s time for the faith community to unite around the moral imperative of health-care reform, defence of the most vulnerable, and support for moral conscience in a comprehensive reform of the health-care system.

It’s time for the faith community to confront the distortions and lies that are being told. It’s time for the ministry of “truth-telling” and to surround the nation’s discussion of health care with fervent prayer.

It’s time for the faith community to practise non-violent tactics of re­conciliation and resistance against those on either side who would threat­­en the public debate with intimidation, fear, and even the threat of violence.

The faith community has an important role in this growing debate — in the name of truth-telling, fair­ness, and social justice. Pray without ceasing that the nation will not lose its soul at this critical moment.

Dr Jim Wallis is founder of the Sojourners movement in the United States. This is an edited version of his appeal last week to supporters. A background paper is ap­pended to this article on www.churchtimes.co.uk

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