All You Need is Hate*
(*with apologies to Lennon-McCartney)
As the healthcare debate rages on in this country, the opposition to Republican efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act (known as the ACA, or “Obamacare”) has gotten fierce. Almost nightly we see on the news people challenging their Republican Senators and Representatives at town hall meetings over their potential loss of health insurance. Now that most Republicans are eschewing town hall meetings to avoid the wrath of their constituents, activists are cornering them in their home offices and in the halls of Congress. Just the other day I saw film of protesters, many of them with readily apparent physical disabilities, being arrested in the U.S. Congress for failing to leave when ordered to do so. All of which brings two fascinating questions to my mind, to wit: 1) Where were these people in 2009/2010?, and 2) where are the Tea Partiers today?
I think most of us remember back in 2009/2010 when the Tea Party was in full force and the situation was the polar opposite of what is happening today. Then, constituents were piling into town hall meetings held by Democrats to rage against Obamacare and its “death panels” and the horrors of “socialized medicine”. As for the pro-ACA demonstrators of today, in 2009 they were nowhere to be seen. They certainly weren’t showing the passion for Obamacare that they do now, and so the entire protest/advocacy field was left to the Tea Party. And as for those Tea Partiers today, where are they? When I see film of town hall meetings I keep expecting to see both sides represented, but all I can see are pro-ACA activists. Why?
It could be that back in 2009 the folks who want to preserve the ACA today weren’t yet sure if they would like it, and so they withheld their support. But I don’t think so. Some of these people may be first-time activists, but even so, they tend to be people who are pretty savvy regarding this subject area. And we should remember that progressives had been trying to enact some kind of government-sponsored healthcare for decades, so all of this wasn’t exactly new to them. Likewise, it is possible that the Tea Partiers have learned to love the ACA, but that seems even more far-fetched when you consider how passionate they had been against it. So what explains this phenomenon? As uneasy as it makes me to say this, I think it boils down to one word: hate.
It seems like nothing inspires people like getting a good hate on. The Tea Partiers hated Obama with a passion (the source of that hate is an important subject, but not relevant to this essay), and the ACA was a lightning rod for that hatred, which inspired the Tea Partiers to get out there and fight. But today Obama is gone and the current occupant of the White House is not someone the Tea Partiers hate. No hatred, no inspiration. No inspiration, no turnout. The opposite is true of today’s protesters. In 2009 they supported the ACA, but there was no hatred to ignite their passion, and so they stayed home and ceded the protest field to the Tea Party. But today, boy do they hate Trump, and so they are out in force.
This all feels so strange. One day a person cares enough about a principle to get arrested for it, and the next day you don’t hear a peep out of them. It may simply be that it’s easier to get someone to fight against something than to fight for it. But at its core, it seems that nothing motivates people like hate. As a supporter of the ACA I’m glad to see people fighting for it, but I’m left discomfited by the evident fact that the only way to get people to participate in the political process is to give them something to hate.