Murdering a Dying Wish

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Mike DeWine promises to “lead the fight” against dying man’s last wish (Plunderbund.com)

Most (okay, all) of the time it feels like there’s too much demonization in politics. Portraying your opponents as not just incorrect or misguided, but evil, can be a good way to gin up support in your base and raise money and make headlines, but it’s usually harmful to public discourse and efforts to find actual solutions to problems. There’s a very large part of the public that’s susceptible to this kind of thing — one wonders how a generation reared on Simon Cowell on American Idol and all the rude sycophants that followed will react to political speech — and there’s a huge, largely successful media apparatus on the American right that specializes in this sort of thing. It’s not so easy for left-wingers to play on negative emotions, but there are certainly many out there who try. I’ll admit that some of them get a chuckle out of me every now and then, but for the most part I try to avoid that sort of thing, especially in my own writing. I try to focus on spreading information and pushing for humane, pragmatic solutions; I’m not saying I succeed all the time, but I do try to avoid demonizing public figures I disagree with.

When a far-right Republican in my own state makes a very huge, very public push to deny a dying gay man’s wish to simply have his husband’s name on his death certificate, though, how can I possibly call that politician, Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine, anything less than a heartless monster?

The stories behind court cases often get lost amidst the spectacle of a trial and analysis of a verdict. While we’re all still recovering from United States v. Windsor, the Supreme Court decision last month that invalidated the part of the Defense of Marriage Act that barred federal recognition of same-sex marriages, it helps to remember that the defendant in this case, Edith Windsor, was a widowed lesbian who simply wanted to keep the estate of her dead wife, Thea Spyer, the way that estates pass to deceased partners in any marriage between opposite-sex partners. More than the estate, though, what mattered to Windsor was the simple dignity she wanted for herself and her late wife, that the government recognize that her relationship with the woman she loved was as legitimate as any opposite-sex couple’s.

Too often the human side of any news story, or political argument, doesn’t get the attention it deserves. This is another area where conservatives have a built-in advantage over liberals in this country, not just because of the massive right-wing media infrastructure that conservatives have at their beck and call to push their message, but because when a policy could take money away from rich people, they have a large number of business “celebrities” they can call on to provide a telegenic face to their opposition, like Donald Trump and Jack Welch. When a policy hurts the working poor of this country, news organizations simply don’t go out to cover how the policy damages them, at least not to the extent that they did when I was younger. These stories don’t pull high ratings because they don’t have the flash of a “celebrity,” and even when a liberal celebrity promotes a cause related to the plight of poor Americans, people still don’t want to watch because these stories depress them, and they can hit too close to home if those viewers are experiencing the same problems themselves. Conservatives have rage. Liberals have misery. In a culture as media-driven as ours, it’s no wonder who wins the media war so often.

We are now months into the first “sequestration” forced upon this country by far-right conservatives who played a game of chicken with our country’s debt limit, and by proxy the entire world economy, to force the American version of the “austerity” programmes that have crippled so many economies in Europe. (The word austerity comes from the Greek austeros, or “making poor people pay for the bad actions of rich bankers.”) As the first round of austerity cuts kicked in, some news organizations were courageous enough to do stories on the kids who were getting kicked off of Head Start (and the parents who lost income because someone needed to be home to take care of these kids now), the elderly who were losing access to Meals on Wheels, and other non-rich Americans who were being forced to sacrifice vital parts of their lives, their very sustenance, in the name of taming “ballooning deficits” that were actually shrinking. Those Americans are still suffering just as much as they were before the first round of austerity cuts, and unless Republicans decide to actually compromise with Democrats and President Obama on a budget — and these past few weeks have shown that Republicans are as unwilling to budge on their “principles” as ever (see previous blog) — even more cuts will kick in, harming millions more Americans.

Conservatism is not, at its root, a mode of thinking that seeks to do harm to the least fortunate citizens of a country. The classic liberal-versus-conservative debate is about whether the government or the private sector is best equipped to handle the problems of a citizenry and its country. There have been plenty of Republicans in this nation’s history who found ways to advance the causes of the private sector but do so in a way that did not cause harm to individual people, particularly those who were most vulnerable to corporate malfeasance. Once the unholy marriage of the Republican Party and the religious right took over this country in the Reagan years, though, that spirit began to ooze out of the Republican Party, and with every resurgence of Republican power in Washington — the 1994 Republican Revolution, the Terror Scare of 2001/2, the Red Tide elections of 2010 — has come stronger rhetoric that the homeless are that way “by choice,” that Americans who go bankrupt over absurdly inflated medical bills “just aren’t praying enough,” that anyone who goes hungry deserves to go hungry because obviously they just aren’t working hard enough. There was a time that the rhetoric created an unreal, comical self-caricature of the Republican Party that wasn’t really close to how the Republican Party actually governed and legislated, but with each passing week, that caricature seems to come closer and closer to reality, and no sane person could possibly find it funny.

What Mike DeWine is trying to do here in Ohio is nothing short of cruel and barbaric, and I can only hope that the specifics of the case make it “telegenic” enough to draw national attention and scorn. Looking at Republican policy writ large right now, though — particularly evidenced in the threats to shut the whole government down, and possibly put the nation in default, unless the Affordable Care Act is repealed — it becomes harder and harder not to conclude that the Republican Party simply does not care about the underprivileged Americans losing the most basic essentials from sequestration, or the hundreds of thousands of families who stand to lose income if the government is shut down, or the catastrophic damage that would happen if the United States were to default on its credit obligations.

It’s not demonization to call your opponents heartless monsters if they really are heartless monsters. If the Republican Party hasn’t already remade itself into a party of heartless monsters, they’re damn sure close enough at this point.

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