Day of Reckoning

Democratic Senator: GOP on Desperate Mission of Propaganda, Obstruction and Fear

By Sheldon Whitehouse, AlterNet. Posted December 21, 2009.

In his Senate floor speech on the health-care bill, the Rhode Island senator accused the GOP of fomenting the kind of paranoia that led to Kristallnacht and lynchings.

EDITOR’S NOTE: This floor speech was delivered by the junior senator from Rhode Island yesterday, as the Senate remained in session to debate the health-care bill before a procedural vote that will bring the bill to the Senate floor later this week. References to “Madam President” or “Mr. President” refer to the senator who is presiding over the body at the time of the senator’s comments. When Whitehouse began speaking, Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., was presiding; when he finished up, it was one of the male senators wielding the gavel. Transcription and links added by AlterNet.

Madam President, as we are here in the Senate today, Washington rests under a blanket of snow, reminding us here of the Christmas spirit across the nation — the spirit that is bringing families happily together for the holidays. Unfortunately, a different spirit has descended on this Senate. The spirit that has descended on the Senate is one described by Chief Justice John Marshall back in the Burr trial: “those malignant and vindictive passions which rage in the bosoms of contending parties struggling for power.”

Two-time Pulitzer Prize-winner Richard Hofstadter captured some examples in his famous essay, “The Paranoid Style in American Politics.”

The “malignant and vindictive passions” often arise, he points out, when an aggrieved minority believes that “America has been largely taken away from them and their kind. Though they are determined to try to repossess it and to prevent the final destructive act of subversion.” Does that sound familiar, Madam President, in this health-care debate? Forty years ago he wrote that.

Hofstader continued, those aggrieved fear what he described as “the now-familiar sustained conspiracy” — familiar then, 40 years ago; persistent now — “whose supposed purpose,” Hofstadter described, “is to undermine free capitalism, to bring the economy under the direction of the federal government, and to pave the way for socialism.” Again, familiar words here today.

More than 50 years ago, he wrote of the dangers of an aggrieved right-wing minority with the power to create what he called “a political climate in which the rational pursuit of our well-being and safety would become impossible.”

A political environment “in which the rational pursuit of our well-being and safety would become impossible.”

The malignant and vindictive passions that have descended on the Senate are busily creating just such a political climate. Far from appealing to the better angels of our nature, too many colleagues are embarked on a desperate, no-holds-barred mission of propaganda, falsehood, obstruction and fear.

Read the rest at Alternet.

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