It's hard to remember anything in America like the outpouring of hatred and bizarrely violent threats directed against congressmen who supported health care reform.
Not, that is, since the martyrs of the civil rights movement. But this week, several Michigan representatives, including the firmly anti-abortion Bart Stupak, received death threats.
Others, including the venerable John Dingell, have been deluged with a torrent of voice mail, e-mail, and snail mail messages ranging from the threatening to the merely foul and obscene. This is a national phenomenon, and two things are most appalling about it: First, the degree to which the reaction to health care reform is based on misunderstanding and deliberate lies.
And even worse, the actions of some politicians at winking at violent and extremist behavior. One problem is that few people seem to have actually read the bill or even a dispassionate summary of what is in it. Many evidently believe it means a complete government takeover of health care, and includes funding for abortion and "death panels" which will decide who will live and who will die.
In fact, what it does is require most people to buy health insurance from a private insurer, or pay a fine if they don?t choose to be insured, on the theory that otherwise, they are likely to become a burden on the public.
What the bill does, really, is provide a lot of new customers to the private sector, while also forbidding some infamous abuses. Companies can no longer deny you insurance because of a "pre-existing condition," nor cancel your insurance if you get sick.
Women can't be charged more than men, and kids can stay on their parents' policies till they are 26, which will be a great help to college students.
Now, there's nothing wrong with opposing this.
There is nothing wrong with vowing to defeat Democrats at the polls for supporting it, and promising to try to repeal this law.
There is everything wrong, however, with openly lying about what the law does, and even worse, at appearing to encourage violent and illegal action against its supporters.
And that's what is happening. Richard Thompson, the president of the Thomas More Law Center, is charging that "Americans who oppose abortion will now be forced to pay for abortion through their tax dollars," which is clearly false.
State Representative Tom McMillan called the nationally televised congressional vote "the taking of our freedoms under the cover of darkness," and has indicated he views this as a socialist takeover of our economy.
But to those who know their history, the anti-health care vigilante actions now being reported resemble nothing so much as what Nazi and Communist street gangs did in Europe in the 1930s.
We know how that turned out.
State Senator Gretchen Whitmer of East Lansing yesterday offered a resolution to condemn all these violent threats and behavior. "My children know you don't spit on anybody," she said. Whitmer mentions no party, not even the Tea Party, and says she wrote it so "people of good will can stand together and condemn this dangerous trend that threatens real political discourse in this country." Frankly, that's a pledge we should require every politician to take before we even think about voting for them.
Civility goes hand in hand with freedom. If we can't preserve both, we're all in deep trouble.