Healthcare Reform: America, the Violent? How the Political Parties Are Complicit

By Jonsson, Patrik | The Christian Science Monitor, March 31, 2010 | Go to article overview

Healthcare Reform: America, the Violent? How the Political Parties Are Complicit


Jonsson, Patrik, The Christian Science Monitor


Throughout US history, major change has begotten radical rhetoric from both political parties. Healthcare reform is no different - and heated words can sometimes spark violence.

Spitting, brick-throwing, and name-calling. Is this what political discourse in America has come to?

Well, given that Thomas Jefferson was called the Antichrist by members of the Federalist Party, the pitched emotions at a major political crossroads perhaps aren't so surprising - nor are threats against lawmakers.

Instead, this moment is a part of what the American political process is, say some political analysts: Every major shift in policy or political direction is a revolution in miniature, with both sides retreating toward the radical to rhetorically demonize the other.

The Republicans ratchet up the anger over the country's changing direction. The Democrats play to fears by painting large swaths of Americans as radicals, racists, and rabble-rousers.

"It's part of the balancing act this country has faced the whole time," says John Geer, a political scientist at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tenn. "If we only had moderate rhetoric, how do you create change? When something is radically wrong, how do you not do something radical to get it back on track?"

"Yelling is one way to get people's attention, and it underscores the intensity of the movement," he adds.

Politics from the fringe

Yet such politics include a measure of risk. Words can, in fact, spark violence.

"If you mix [violent messages] with people who feel threatened by the new political landscape and feel that armed resistance is something that is legitimate, you are lighting a fuse on a literally explosive group of people," David Olson, a communications professor at Southwestern University in Georgetown, Texas, told PR Newswire.

"When House minority leader John Boehner calls fellow Rep. Steve Driehaus 'a dead man' for voting for the health insurance bill, and Driehaus consequently receives death threats, I think we can see a connection," he said

Teasing out the reality from the rhetoric, however, isn't easy - particularly in the current viral climate, where YouTube, blogs, and television news become instant echo chambers for every sleight. …

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