Opponents of Health Care Reform Deploy Old Tactic: Racism

By Jan Erickson, Director of Programs, NOW Foundation

It was fairly clear to anyone who watched and listened to protesters at Saturday’s rally in Washington, D.C., that an underlying theme was racial hatred. This is the traditional canard of the far right — used time and again to advance their regressive agenda. These uber-conservative political leaders know that there remains a hostile current running deep in a minority of the public who fear non-whites gaining power.

Republican organizers who deftly stoked the fires of fear and race hatred oppose any reform of our dysfunctional health care non-system. And they know how to turn out the political fringes. Their goal: scare the heck out of Democrats so that they back off from the public option — and, hopefully, from any reform at all. Republicans (and their corporate sponsors) are desperate, because President Obama and Democratic leaders are committed to producing a bill this year. Plus, a majority of the public and doctors want reform; recent polling shows that a majority of doctors even back a public option.

The rally organizers had no compunction about making the president a target of the crowds’ hostility. Thus, we saw images of President Obama juxtaposed with the Nazi swastika and charges of socialism and a government “take-over” of health care. Beyond that, many in the crowd held up signs about gun rights, smaller government, lower taxes and “illegal” immigration. One couldn’t help but think that many in the gathering were there motivated by unspoken fears about their own future in a jobless economic recovery.

It is an historical fact that when economic times get rough, race and ethnicity form a dividing line. The present recession has resulted in an enormous setback for people of color. For African-Americans: their unemployment rates are higher than those of whites (15.1 percent compared to 8.9 percent) and because blacks were targeted by sub-prime lenders, the loss of home-value wealth due to foreclosures could be as high as $93 billion.

Writers Barbara Ehrenreich and Dedrick Muhammad detailed in a New York Times op-ed on Sunday how hard the recession is hitting African-American families.

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