As a nation, do we like to be played for fools?
Conservative talk radio has framed the creation of national health care as the end of America as we've come to know it. What exactly does that mean?
The level of conversation is so debase people are now comparing President Barack Obama to Adolf Hitler. I recall several years ago taking issue with those who made similar comparison to George W. Bush, much to the chagrin of those on the left who also wanted to cling to cheap and inaccurate historical analogies.
Anyone making linkages to the current president and the Fuhrer is not only historically ignorant and culturally insensitive, but have yet to compose a coherent thought as to why they are truly opposed to any impending health care legislation so they desperately resort to saying: "He's Hitler!"
It's been a while since facts drove this debate. Emotion and fear are dominating the conversation and communism is now the derogatory term du jour.
We bought in to the nonsense of the Iraq War, yet we seem abhorrent to the common sense of health care, fearing that we might soon be dressed alike, required to read Obama's "Little Red Book" during our state-sanctioned lunch breaks.
Accusations of communism or socialism are simply a shorter way to say: "We don't have an intellectual leg to stand on in this debate."
Throwing out the term communism has all the demagoguery of Sen. Joseph McCarthy and recalls a dark chapter in American history.
Throughout the 1950s and 1960s, Southern politicians and the FBI labeled civil rights activists as communists in an effort to divert attention away from the central issue of the systematic application of second-class citizenship toward the many of the country's Negro citizens.
By effectively labeling activists as communist, defenders of the status quo could easily stifle the organizing efforts of any group or individual. South Carolina moved to have the NAACP labeled as a Communist organization. In 1956, legislation was drafted forbidding anyone who was a member of the NAACP to be employed by state or local government.
Southern politicians, along with organizations such as the Ku Klux Klan and the White Citizens Council worked hard to suggest the civil rights movement in general, Martin Luther King in particular, was inspired and financed by communists seeking to overthrow capitalism and democracy in America.
The irony of the fear-laden propaganda was the King-led movement was based on the deeply held values embedded in Constitution and the Declaration of Independence.
But the fear was effective. Before President John F. Kennedy would endorse a civil-rights bill in 1963, he demanded that King fire Jack O'Dell as the director of voter registration for the Southern Christian Leadership Conference because of past communist ties.
FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover labeled O'Dell and fellow SCLC member Stanley Levison, as dangerous communist operatives within the movement. Neither Levison nor O'Dell made their affiliation with the Communist Party in the 1950s a secret; and they were hardly dangerous as Hoover alleged.
With O'Dell's affiliation, the civil rights legislation could be viewed by opponents as a communist bill, though it was simply guaranteeing the rights that every American was supposed to have at birth. O'Dell resigned and Kennedy endorsed civil rights legislation on June 11, 1963.
This illustration indicates the power of fear as a political tactic. Fear robs us of any critical thinking. For as much as communism or socialism has been bantered about vis a vis the impending health care legislation, no one has argued for the dismantling of Social Security or Medicare. Wouldn't that be the logical next step? Are those programs not based on socialist principles?
Many of the inflammatory rumors have been debunked from death panels to government takeover of the health care industry, largely to no avail. But the accuracy of facts is not what the current health care conversation is about.
The current conversation has more to do with whose emotion is the strongest. If the emotion of health care proponents carries the day, the question that members of Congress will ask: "Will my vote put the country on the road to universal coverage?"
If it's the detractors whose voice, saturated with fear, emotion and misinformation is what they hear, the question they will ask: "Will this vote cost me re-election in 2010?"
Byron Williams is an Oakland pastor and syndicated columnist and blog-talk radio host. He is the author of Strip Mall Patriotism: Moral Reflections of the Iraq War. E-mail him at email@example.com or visit his Web site: byronspeaks.com