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Lunatic Fringe

09/17/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

In the early 1980's Tom Cochrane, the Canadian singer/songwriter wrote "Lunatic Fringe" in which he penned lyrics I believe to be relevant today:

Lunatic Fringe
In the twilight's last gleaming
This is open season
But you won't get too far
Cause you gotta blame someone
For your own confusion
We're on guard this time
Against your final solution

If there were ever a situation perfectly tailored for a South Park episode it would surely be the spectacle unraveling on our television sets each night in what will surely be remembered as the Summer When Old White Men Went Postal Over Their Right to Not Face End of Life Decisions. It is a fight to the death over "death panels". It is a version of you will have to pry my medical card from my cold dead hands. It is Death with Indignity. Okay, you get the idea.

Somehow, the venerable institution of town hall meetings has horrifically morphed into little more than senior extreme games, with enraged, belt-busting, bespectacled, graying, health care revolutionaries preparing to storm the barricades to reclaim capitalism from the socialists who have taken power. The participants in this geriatric version of a bar room brawl are intoxicated with rage fueled by hatred and fear, stocked with daily doses of venom dispensed by dreadful doctors of doom who pose as media pundits: Dr. Limbaugh, Dr. Beck, Dr. Coulter, an entire faculty at Fox University Hospital.

As a white male staring down the barrel of sixty, my first inclination is to chuckle and dismiss the rapid disintegration of civility led by the gray brigades as a product of senility combined with entirely too much free time. But such flippant dismissal ignores the deep underlying emotions that have been ignited here. As we have seen far too often over the past decade, fear is both an indictment and an incitement. It is an indictment of our resistance to accept change and an incitement to overreact to change.

Fear breeds hatred, hatred breeds irrationality, and irrationality breeds violence. Taken in this context what might at first appear irritatingly amusing quickly turns into sober reflection.
Put simply, this is no laughing matter, particularly if you are one of the 46 million Americans with no health insurance, one of the 14,000 who lose their health insurance each day, or one of the 670,000 children in California who are projected to lose health coverage in the next year due to state budget cuts. It is a disgrace and those fomenting and participating in the current uproar are disgraceful.

I have neither opposition to nor a problem with those who wish to rationally question or disagree with the direction of health care reforms being considered by the Administration and Congress. This is the nature and the beauty of democratic government and a free society. And to those who profess to be true patriots, town hall meetings are designed to encourage rational discourse and discussion of issues, and should be utilized as the forums upon which to make their voices heard. It appears, however, that the ostensible goal of the opposition is to disrupt not to discuss, leading one to seriously question the true intention of the health care reform countermovement.

The subtext of the drama unfolding on the town hall stage is not an argument between liberals and conservatives but rather a tug-of-war over what and who represents conservatism. Currently, it appears as though the forces espousing what most consider to be fringe ideas bordering on lunacy are holding sway in this battle. The fringe elements, carefully nurtured by fear, hatred, mistrust, and fitful bouts of fantasy are positioning the conservative opposition into a death spiral, a particularly apt metaphor given the current discussion. The conservative opposition today is now being maneuvered into a position where they can only be responsible for one of two options: either paralysis or irrelevance.

And if they are successful in paralyzing the system in a way that denies the health care reform supported by an overwhelming majority of the American people, then they will become irrelevant. Adhering to the lunatic fringe prescriptions will most certainly take them straight to irrelevance, bypassing paralysis altogether.

But what exactly is driving the fear that so prominently guides the counter-reform movement? Is it a fear of universal access, a fear of cost containment, a fear of true reform? I doubt it. My guess is what is truly motivating this movement is a combination of greed, racism, and paranoia, the three primary ingredients of the Kool-Aid they have ingested.

What is genuinely guiding this movement is a campaign designed to disrupt and derail a popularly elected and still popular President (who just happens to be an African-American) with an agenda that enjoys widespread support. These "patriots" are fearful of the reality of an ever-changing composition of our society, reject the reality that government plays a large and constructive role in both the economy and the health care system already, and have no realistic conception of the fact that there are better models of health care already in operation in many places around the globe.

Let's hope that the current lunacy that has captured this debate will streak across the sky like a comet and burn itself out quickly, and that upon sober reflection cooler heads will prevail among the conservative opposition so that meaningful progress can be made on the health care front. For those who choose irrelevancy, so be it, good riddance, and mercifully you will pay a steep price indeed. For those who wish to paralyze the system into inaction, one can only hope you will render yourselves irrelevant sooner rather than later.

The final verse of the song concludes:

Lunatic Fringe
We all know you're out there
Can you feel the resistance
Can you feel the thunder