It was a bit over a year ago — July 24, 2009 — when I wrote my first blog post about Health Care Reform.
It was about that time when I got the first of many forwarded e-mails raging about intrusion of the government into health care policy, citing chapter and verse from some huge draft bill then beginning to float through Congress. The intention was to “kill the bill.”
August 2009 became the “days of rage” when Congresspeople came home for recess, and were tarred and feathered by hostile loudmouths, whose performance was duly reported in the media.
It was a very nasty time.
In due course, a few months ago, a Health Care Reform bill actually passed Congress and was signed by the President. It was by no means adequate, but under the circumstances it was the best that could be done.
Since then, the focus of the rage has been turned to other things, most recently, once again towards Muslims and their places of worship.
Rage, as it usually manifests in anger and fear, is no doubt a good seller. Rage, and its “children,” has a good market.
Sometimes I do wonder, however, how sustainable or even useful rage really is.
Endless rage is really debilitating. Worse, even if its aims are realized, its results are rarely positive. So…you defeat Health Care Reform — you “kill the bill” — or burn down the site of a proposed mosque. What do you really accomplish?
I don’t have the data, but I think I can very safely say that in vast numbers of murders, the killer initially feels a positive rush of accomplishing something really good*. “Take that, you ____ .” Often the victim is someone well known and close to the perpetrator — I’ve heard police say that intervening in “domestic disputes” is among their most dangerous duties. A 911 call to somebody’s house is not one approached casually.
Up until now, it has been easy to identify the angry and rageful in the political debate. They appeared at rallies with outrageous placards and quotes. They despise and they hate, openly.
Last Saturday’s gathering in Washington D.C. marked an apparent change in tactics by those behind the organized rage: it was described as a gathering of nice down home folks; all polite, no signs. A very family friendly event.
It was all a tactic.
The rage continues, only it is better hidden. The smiling person without the sign is the same person who had the hateful sign in public a few weeks ago. All that is different is the marketing image.
As the righteous killer always finds out, the pleasant rush of success at his or her accomplishment is short-lived. There are negative consequences to killing someone or something.
Rage is difficult to sustain, and it is very unhealthy to the person who carries it, particularly long term.
The current campaign of rage, even if it appears to succeed short-term, will not last. But it can do an immense amount of possibly irreparable damage to our society at large.
It is up to us to be the witnesses for positive and continuing change.
* – A number of years ago I attended a very interesting study series on the Ten Commandments, conducted by a Catholic Priest and Jewish Rabbi. One of the text references said this about the Hebrew law on murder: “The Hebrew text does not state “you shall not kill”… but “you shall not murder.” The Sages understand “bloodshed” to include embarrassing a fellow human being in public so that the blood drains from his or her face, not providing safety for travelers, and causing anyone the loss of his or her livelihood. “One may murder with the hand or with the tongue, by talebearing or by character assassination [emphasis added]. One may murder also by carelessness, by indifference, by the failure to save human life when it is in your power to do so.” Etz Hayim, Torah and Commentary, The Rabinical Assembly The United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, p. 446
By this standard, contemporary American politics would cease to exist, or have to be considered a society of murderers.