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American Brokenness: A Lament on Healthcare

Conservatives in this country are undergoing an existential crisis, but this is not the time for liberals to sit by smugly and watch.

Something about America died this summer. We should grieve its end.

What exactly has passed away? From where progressives sit, that’s easy: It’s the illusion that the nation could transition easily from conservative governance to liberal.

That idea has been going down hard for weeks as right-wing mobs (often made up of Republican activists subsidized by the insurance industry, posing as concerned members of the grass roots) have fanned out across the nation, trying to disrupt the town hall meetings of Democratic members of Congress.

It took another heavy hit with lurid accusations of government support for euthanasia and the flat-out lie about “Obama’s death panels” told by former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin and echoed by too many crackpots to name.

But the notion that we as a nation could make a civil change in direction finally gave up the ghost when a protester in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, showed up with a pistol strapped to his leg and a sign calling for the refreshment of the tree of liberty with the blood of tyrants.

That was a patriotic sentiment in revolutionary times. Now it’s just a vile form of sour grapes. That an election went against the conservative movement does not mean that it was unfair, or undemocratic, or oppressive. In this nation, we stick together—win or lose.

But that, I think, leads us to what conservatives have lost.

Year upon year, starting with Rush Limbaugh and only accelerating with Bill O'Reilly, Glenn Beck, Michael Savage, Ann Coulter, and Michelle Malkin (among many others), conservatives have been told by their thought leaders that the liberal perspective is illegitimate; that it is wrong and dangerous and un-American and evil.

More to the point, they have been told that liberals are not needed. They have been told that the nation would be better off without anyone to the left of Ronald Reagan; that an America with a particular construct of traditional social mores, an adventurous military, and an unfettered corporate capitalism could keep them safe and happy. Liberals, the story goes, only serve to disrupt the good life people could have under a free conservative hand.

This has been a monstrous lie. These promises could never be kept.

We can say, following Buber, that the myth of eliminationism is a delusion; which does not mean that its proponents are deluded, only that “with their speech they breed ‘delusion’ in their hearers, they spin illusions for them.” It is not strictly true that liars believe one thing and say another, as Buber argues. Often enough, as with sexual peccadilloes, this is the case.

But many times, the liars believe the falsehood themselves, or at least half-believes. Phillip Leon writes, “The self-deceiver does not believe... what he says or he would not be a deceiver. He does believe what he says or he would not be deceived. He both believes and does not believe... or he would not be self-deceived.” Given the choice between uttering a falsifiable assertion and accepting a truth that does not support their moral and political commitments, they choose the lie every time.

Those are the people who spread the lies. Those who accept them—the recipients of talking points and talk-show smears—are likewise conflicted. As Dave Neiwert notes, this is an unhealthy trait in a modern democracy, and as Fred Clark adds, it’s one that takes a great deal of energy to maintain.

To be sure, conservatives are not alone in embracing the false promises of conformity, security, and prosperity. Many liberals cheered on the invasion of Iraq. Many of them invested in the stock market. And yes, liberals know a thing or two about smugness.