Wednesday, December 23, 2009

How Far We've Come

As we approach the Senate's historic vote on healthcare legislation we must remember where we came from to get here. The journey expected to achieve a major milestone this week travelled over the mis-information of death panels, town halls of fear, and the accusation of Nazi-style tactics.

Each of these proved, once again, that figures don't lie, but liars can figure. Meaning, anyone who wants to throw mud at something needs merely to fill a bucket with whatever swill he can grab.

Gary Trudeau eviscerated last summer's insanity best with the strip first published Sunday, September 27, 2009 and re-published here. First, he capsulized Nazism's effect on the world in 5 eloquently detailed panels. Among the many minor gems in this strip, no matter how many times I re-read it, I never fail to find particularly affecting the Jewish star on one of the graves in the cemetery panel. With that single detail, Trudeau reminds us that a democracy -- unlike a dictatorship -- can unite all its varied people in the service of a single noble goal.

I could end the blog right here -- that this week the thrust of democracy will overcome internal differences to increase our citizens' access to health care, just as it did in our efforts to win World War II.

But I can't leave aside that too often one finds the Holocaust used as a metaphor to damn a current event.

On the one hand, this propensity stands as a sign of our success at keeping the worst event in human history at the forefront of people's minds. They wouldn't be making Holocaust comparisons if they'd forgotten about it.

But on the other hand, it suggests we haven't succeeded at making it clear exactly what made the Holocaust the worst event in human history.

Every inappropriate Holocaust equivalency one discovers should not be only a cause for scorn. It should also be a spur to action, a reminder that we need to make the case more carefully and more often that the mass murder of multiple millions occurs not from a single blow. The Holocaust must be understood as a tragedy of accumulation, an infinitely nuanced event, a perfect storm of an exponential number of perfect storms.

One can not communicate this complicated understanding simply, in few words, while standing on one foot. It requires a consistent campaign, to which many must dedicate themselves over a vast period of time.

Kind of like what it takes to pass a healthcare bill. And, of course, to win a war.

I like the sixth and final panel so much. It reminds us of an endearing quality characterizing President Obama's election and campaign and early presidency. He demonstrated himself able to confront difficult issues with a really good speech. In this way he resolved nuanced conflicts of race dogging his election hopes, and re-framed America's relationship with the Muslim world. Yet the panel also pokes fun playfully at his idealism, charming in its naivete, that a good talking to is enough to solve all problems. Though he will inevitably fail at times, you can't help admiring a guy willing to get out there and try.

N.B. It is beyond the scope of this post to discuss the Cairo speech's incorrect implication that the Jewish people's claim to a homeland in Israel does not stretch back thousands of years. Suffice it to say that in a recent speech to the congregants of B'Nai David-Judea, the Los Angeles Consul General of Israel, Yaacov Dayan, provided the words President Obama should have used to describe Israel's existence since 1948. The Consul General referred to the year of Israel's independence the date of the "re-establishment" of the State of Israel.

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