The recent Health care reform in the United States has been dominating the media over the last few days.
However the topic was covered admirably by my colleague Sunny Ntayombya earlier in the week, and I have no desire to rehash his arguments.
Truth be told, the nitty gritty of health care reform was too complex for me. However what did interest me was the rhetoric from the opponents of the bill.
The overblown nature of the discussion came home to me even clearer a few hours ago when I heard a Republican congressman say that the bill passing would be ‘Armageddon’.
Now in principle, a government setting out to make health care accessible to everyone would be a good thing (financial repercussions aside) but those who oppose it did something that was both twisted but also clever- they turned it into an existential threat against the American way of life.
The more common buzzword in those circles was ‘socialism’. I read plenty of quotes from people who saw health care reform as proof that Obama was a closet socialist.
It was an accusation that also came up when the President decided to bail out some of the banks that were on the verge of collapse during the economic crisis (which by the way, already seems ages ago).
In fact there is hardly anything Obama could do which doesn’t give his opponents this method of attack. But it would be obvious to anyone remotely interested in rational discussion that healthcare reforms and bank bailouts are not steps towards Stalinism.
The problem unfortunately is that most of these people don’t have the foggiest notion of what ‘socialism’ even is. As such, what we are getting is merely a carnival of ignorance.
I love a good debate, but what happened here- as with the bank bailout debate- was just an orgy of riotous rubbish.
It was to quote Shakespeare “Full of sound and fury, signifying nothing” Meanwhile another Republican politician claimed that the bill was the greatest threat to American freedom he could imagine. Others invoked the wrath of God just as much as they invoked the wrath of the people- in either case, the apocalyptic tone was obvious.
I am not suggesting that this kind of coarse and hysterical discourse is new, but the e internet and 24 hour television has certainly made it extremely visible.
It saddens me how much public discourse has been degraded. These days it is nothing more than theatre. God, the constitution and The People are thrown into the mix willy-nilly. Bogeymen are created. Words lose all meaning, and buzzwords become the conventional means of communication.
Sometimes it’s hard to remember what the discussion was even about in the first place.
Of course the degrading of public discourse isn’t limited to the anti-Obama crowd: Obama winning the peace prize gave us the opportunity to witness an endless parade of vacuous defenses (‘He has a vision’ ‘He is an icon’ ‘Support him-He’s black’ etc) even though escalating a war in a foreign land and ordering air strikes whenever you feel like it is generally not what Nobel peace prize winners are made of.
And of course it is not just limited to American politics too. A cursory trawl through even intellectual sources like The Guardian’s Comment is free section can be a dispiriting experience.
Everything from Israel-Palestine to alternative medicine degenerates into a shouting match. People are merely interested in strengthening their own prejudices.
In this hyper, disorienting attention-deficit culture of ours, rational discussion is only going to fall further out of fashion.
Minega Isibo is a lawyer