“Can’t we all just get along?” – Rodney King
As children we were taught, “sticks and stones may break your bones but words will never hurt you.” The underlying message being words, even and especially those in the form of insults and threats, were harmless because there was no physical consequence. It was a call to be mentally strong enough to shrug off insults, name-calling, and threats. While it’s a useful lesson as a means to cope and get along, the reality is that words are infinitely more harmful as they define thought and often inspire action.
Observing the debate on, and reaction to, the passage of the health care bill brought this issue of words to mind. It seems that labels have been bandied to elevate and tear down depending on the messenger. More important, it’s the terminology that’s not being used that distorts reality.
We were told it was “health care reform.” The reform component to the bill is debatable while at the same time the bill was more about modifying insurance that pays for health care than the care itself. Nevertheless, health care reform often was derided as “socialized medicine.” And this label passed itself on the airwaves and in cyber-space more than a little bit by folks who should know better. Removal of the federal government from playing the health insurance game, unless under certain limited conditions, should have killed the argument. Nevertheless, people who fashion themselves as “patriots” and “defenders of democracy” and who call themselves “Tea-Baggers” seem to control the dissent to the bill.
While dissent is encouraged and can be healthy to discourse, it is harmful and even dangerous when it is based on fallacious premises and outright irrational ignorance. Disagreement based on fact, on the other hand, is credible. Disagreement backed by organized and orchestrated violence is unlawful.
In response to the passage of the health care bill, certain Congressional representatives who voted for its passage have experienced bricks through their office windows. Some have received death threats on their voice-mails. Others received racial and homophobic epithets launched their way. One congressional representative received white powder in the mail, supposedly a symbol of a poison like anthrax. There have been calls for armed resistance to government takeover. All in the name of defending freedom and the American way of life.
I have another name for it: terrorism. Accepting the U.S. Department’s definition, terrorism is “politically motivated violence perpetrated against non-combatant targets by sub-national groups or clandestine agents, usually to influence an audience.” Terrorism isn’t limited to a car-bombing or flying a plane into a building. It is violence with a political motive intended to inflict physical, and more important, mass psychological harm. To hurl a brick through a Congress-person’s window, and more importantly to advocate it, goes beyond mere dissent. Dissent is holding a non-violent rally or marching in the streets or boycotting a business or running a counter-political campaign. Committing or encouraging violence in dissent is terrorism.
So why isn’t it being called that in the media? Especially since most of the dissent to the bill was peaceful and was because the bill wasn’t liberal enough. I have another label: racism.
If a nonwhite person or group had been responsible for hurling bricks through any window, let alone a Congressional representative’s window, in protest of anything, it would be called terrorism. If the persons who left death threats or mailed white powder to anyone, let alone a Congressional representative, were nonwhite Muslims, those acts would be called terrorism.
Recently, the FBI arrested a white Christian group for plotting to kill a police officer in hopes of initiating an armed uprising against the government. This group was labeled a “militia.” Kind of takes the sting away because long-term memory influenced by American history classes relate militias to those rag-tag band of people who stood up to England in the Revolutionary War. If there were consistency, they would be labeled “terrorists” or “thugs” rather than “angry” people.