Freethought San Marcos: A column
by LAMAR W. HANKINS
I had planned to write on a different topic this week, but the national discussion about Rep. Joe Wilson’s intemperate and rude outburst during President Obama’s health insurance reform speech to a joint session of Congress last Wednesday has been so tepid and lacking in context, I want to add my two cents’ worth.
My first point, and not necessarily the most important one, is that Mr. Wilson’s shout out–”You lie!”–was itself a lie. Mr. Wilson was accusing President Obama of lying when the President asserted that undocumented residents of the United States would not be covered by the health insurance reform he supported. No proposal now before the Congress would cover such people. Mr. Wilson was lying in accusing the President of lying. This has been verified by both PolitiFact.com and FactCheck.org, though some argue that, by not specifically excluding undocumented residents, one of the bills might allow some of them to get coverage through whatever system is passed by the Congress. This position is far from making the president a liar.
Mr. Wilson apologized for his emotional outburst– “I should not have disrespected the President during his speech.” But the next day, Mr. Wilson posted an on-line video to raise money for his next congressional campaign, using the notoriety of his heckling of the President. In that video, he told another lie. He referred to the president’s vision of health insurance reform as a “government takeover of health care.” Even if the President supported single-payer (which he does not), such a position would not be a takeover of the health care system. Canada has not taken over its health care system by being the one entity that pays doctors, hospitals, labs, etc. for their health care services delivered to Canadian citizens. All of those entities are private providers, not government employees or departments.
Of course, Mr. Wilson doesn’t oppose government-run health care for himself and his four sons, all of whom receive health care from a government that has taken over their health care systems via military health coverage. Mr. Wilson just doesn’t want the government helping those 47 million Americans who are without health care insurance. No caricature could capture the enormity of such hypocrisy.
The single-payer health care that Mr. Wilson’s family enjoys covers nearly 10 million people on active military duty, military retirees, and their dependents. Mr. Wilson, as a retiree, is eligible for lifetime coverage. He will never have to worry about paying for a medical appointment, whether for an eye exam, an MRI scan, open-heart surgery, or cancer treatment. He and others covered by the military’s socialized medical system have access not only to its over 133,000 uniformed health professionals, but cooperating private doctors as well, whose fees are paid by the government. Recent surveys about TRICARE, the military insurance system, find that it is among “the best health insurer(s) in the nation” based on customer satisfaction. But for Mr. Wilson, government-run health care is a problem.
Notwithstanding the government health care enjoyed by Mr. Wilson’s family, he has voted 11 times against health care for veterans in eight years, even though he supported the Iraq War. He has repeatedly voted for budgets that cut funding for the Veterans Administration and TRICARE, and he has opposed bills that would have extended TRICARE coverage to all reservists and National Guard members, many of whom have served multiple tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, and some of whom lost their civilian medical benefits when they did so. (Disclosure: My granddaughter, who was born in a military hospital, has VA medical coverage. Her mother received excellent prenatal care from that system and used the services of a pediatric dermatologist specialist at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville after she was born, so I have a personal interest in Mr. Wilson’s neglect of our veterans’ health care needs.)
My second point is that Mr. Wilson’s outburst indicates a disrespect for President Obama that can be explained fully only by acknowledging that it would not have happened if the President were not African-American. This is a difficult point to prove, but plenty of circumstantial evidence suggests that it is true. It is difficult to explain the hysteria coming from some quarters in any other way.
Few people today (except for skin heads and neo-Nazis) will admit publicly that they are racist. But the quantity of virulent racist jokes I receive via the internet, the birther movement, the gun-slinging white protesters outside presidential events (harkening back to the armed white vigilantes who have historically intimidated minorities), the ridiculous uproar over the President’s motivational education speech to school children last Tuesday, the dramatic increase in threats against the President’s life, the President’s mixed racial lineage, and the discomfort of many white people about the entire Obama family have led me to conclude that there is a deeply-ingrained racism underlying opposition to the President.
I have several significant policy and political differences with President Obama. I have written about some of them–his failure to embrace the health care reform he promised during his campaign, his escalation of the War in Afghanistan, his use of some of the Bush administration’s defenses to law suits on various national security grounds, many of his appointments to cabinet and staff positions, his continuation of extraordinary rendition, his acceptance of millions of dollars in campaign contributions from the health care industry, his retention of secret prisons around the world, his failure to stop the torture of prisoners, his unwillingness to move quickly to close Guantanamo, his failure to respond decisively to the coup in Honduras, his support for mountaintop coal removal, the Wall Street bailout that focused on financial institutions rather than average Americans, among other differences. What I have not done ever is to make my opposition to the President about his ancestry.
I have seen the White House-Black House joke, the opposition to aspirin because it is white and effective joke, the watermelon in the White House garden joke, the wife as First Hoer joke, etc. None of them are funny (and I have a good sense of humor). They are racist.
Mr. Wilson comes from a long personal and political tradition of racism. He worked as an aide for arch-segregationist Strom Thurmond, who had sexual relations with a black woman, but only if she entered his house through the back door. Mr. Wilson reveres the late Sen. Thurmond, so much so that he denounced the true story as a lie when it was revealed that Thurmond had had a daughter by this black woman. He called it a “smear.” I know it is hard for Mr. Wilson to accept that Sen. Thurmond would have engaged in miscegenation after he said: “I wanna tell you, ladies and gentlemen, that there’s not enough troops in the army to force the Southern people to break down segregation and admit the nigra race into our theaters, into our swimming pools, into our homes, and into our churches.” But Sen. Thurmond did have sexual relations with that woman.
Mr. Wilson reveres Sen. Thurmond to this day. He learned his politics at the coattails of this stalwart among American racists and racial hypocrites. He was among the staunchest defenders of flying the Confederate battle flag over the state capitol in South Carolina because he considers it part of his sacred heritage. When his position was likened to Naziism, he said, “That’s offensive to me that they would take my heritage and make it into a Holocaust era type description. I find that very offensive, and it’s not true. The Southern heritage, the Confederate heritage, is very honorable.”
Mr. Wilson is a proud member of “The Sons of Confederate Veterans.” It’s a racist group, as documented by the Southern Poverty Law Center. For the last ten years, the organization has been run by radical neo-Confederates who favor secession and defend slavery as a benign institution. Mr. Wilson is a racist, but I can’t prove it. I can only infer it by all that I know about him and his ilk.
© Freethought San Marcos, Lamar W. Hankins