By DeWayne Wickham
As President Obama fired up a crowd of nearly 17,000 in Minneapolis Saturday with tough talk of his determination to win passage of a universal health care bill, tens of thousands of conservatives took to the streets of the nation’s capital to protest that legislation.
Obama told his audience the bill is needed because tens of millions of Americans have no health insurance and “live every day just one accident . . . away from bankruptcy.” Many of the people who showed up at the Washington demonstration say a government-mandated national health insurance program is socialism.
The war of words between these two groups is the latest salvo in a conflict whose outcome will define this nation for generations to come.
This country is now at war on three fronts. In Iraq and Afghanistan, nearly 200,000 U.S. troops are fighting to rid those places of despotic rulers and install democratic governments. The other battle pits the rear guard of this nation’s badly wounded conservative movement against the nascent coalition of Americans that hoisted Obama into the White House.
Once a powerful political force, conservatives now hold sway only in some Southern and Western states — and even in these places their influence is shrinking. They hope the fight they now wage with Obama will win them a new following of national consequence. It is also just one of the arrows in their quiver.
Some conservative leaders, or their minions, are behind the “birthers,” who argue that Obama’s presidency is illegal because he is not a natural-born citizen, as the Constitution requires. Never mind that even Hawaii’s Republican governor says there is irrefutable proof that Obama was born there. Yet the birthers pander to the fringes of the antiimmigration movement by persisting in their claim.
And Republicans have cynically embraced the Tea Party movement, which objects to the spending policies of the Obama administration and Democratic majority Congress. But it is the fight over a national health insurance program where conservatives hope to reverse their slide.
“I may not be the first president to take up the cause of health care reform, but I am determined to be the last. We are going to get it done this year,” Obama said to his Minneapolis audience, invoking words he used a few days earlier in his nationally televised address to a joint session of Congress.
Sensing that the health care fight could produce a big victory for right-wingers, South Carolina Sen. Jim DeMint, a leading Republican conservative, told some supporters in July: “If we are able to stop Obama on this, it will be his Waterloo. It will break him.”
But the multifront battle conservatives are waging is about more than breaking Obama. It’s about political resurrection. It’s about turning back the clock — stopping the multiracial, multiethnic coalition that put Obama in the White House from ushering in a new, and commanding, U.S. political force.
Conservatives want to keep Obama from making health coverage a basic right because that will strengthen his political standing and hasten their demise.
And, as in all fights for survival, the rules of engagement in this contest would make Attila the Hun blush. So in the days ahead, you can expect that conservatives will find new ways to challenge Obama’s legitimacy and slime themselves in the process.