The Threat Is Real: Why Right-Wing Rage at Townhall Meetings Could Quickly Turn Deadly
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From the Internet to Sarah Palin this strange claim is being made: President Barack Obama wants to kill the elderly and the infirm with his health care plan. Palin even said her Down syndrome child would be a target.
The claim is being repeated, or rather screamed, by angry groups invading town hall meetings that congresspeople have organized to discuss health care reform. How on earth can the outright lie that health-care reform will lead to the euthanasia of the elderly be accepted by anyone, even by those on the far anti-Obama right?
I happen to have the answer to this question.
Over 30 years ago, my family helped start the myth leading to the present bizarre turn of events. From the mid-1970s to mid1980s, I was an activist on the far right, an evangelical and a Republican. I quit the movement by the late 1980s. (Disclosure: I'm now a supporter of President Obama and health care reform.)
To understand what is happening today in town hall meetings invaded by angry mobs convinced that their representatives are part of a conspiracy to force the elderly to forgo care, you have to understand what we, the founders of the pro-life movement, set in motion.
In the mid-1970s, Dr. C. Everett Koop (who became Ronald Reagan's surgeon general), my late evangelical theologian father, Dr. Francis Schaeffer, and I helped launch what became the evangelical-led wing of the pro-life movement.
Instrumental in the formation of our anti-choice movement was a book written by my father and Koop. I then translated it into a episodic documentary film series called Whatever Happened To The Human Race? Stressing the importance of "the sanctity of all human life," the book and film series claimed that abortion is murder and the legalization of abortion in Roe v. Wade would inevitably lead to legalized infanticide and euthanasia.
As a warning to our audience, we talked about what happened in Germany in the 1930s and fascist theories about the mentally ill, physically deficient, etc., led to "mercy killings." We drew comparisons with the Supreme Court ruling and said the door was now open, with "the loss of the sanctity of life, in the United States" to the same fate as awaited Germany.
Then my dad took it to the next step and wrote a book called A Christian Manifesto. He discussed the possibility of Christians using force to change the United States government if all else failed to reverse Roe. He made the comparison of America to Hitler's Germany.
We successfully (and as it turned out completely mistakenly) linked legalized abortion to a "slippery slope" that would inexorably lead to the equivalent of an American holocaust against the elderly and infirm.
The anti-abortion argument thus became two arguments: not only about abortion itself, but also what abortion would lead to. We attacked pro-choice ideas on both grounds. This then became part of the indelible fabric of the pro-life cause. Decades later, this was why the Terri Schiavo case became what it did: "proof" that we'd been right all along and that we were proceeding down "the slope."
It is in this context that the cynical cleverness of the lobbying groups, the insurance industry and the far-right wing of the Republican Party can be understood.
They have borrowed our arguments to frame their anti-health-care reform tirade. They have tapped into a ready-made conviction that has been sustained for over 30 years and has not wavered in the face of the reality that legal abortion did not lead to legal infanticide, let alone to government-mandated euthanasia. (Even in Oregon, the assisted-suicide laws relate to doctor-patient relations in end-of-life decisions of the terminally ill, not to the "mercy killing" for the convenience of the government that we predicted.)