Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Closing Our Ears To Sin

Closing Our Ears To Sin

In the late 1520’s and early 1530’s, the Anabaptists, a radical (and persecuted) fringe of the Reformation, flooded into the German city of Münster.  By 1533, inspired by the direction of Bernhard Rothman, they gained enough support so that they were able to win control of the City Council.  There, they proceeded to create a messianic kingdom under John of Leiden, and expelled all non-Anabaptists. 

530 years later, on June 27, 2003, the House of Representatives, on an almost entirely partisan vote of 216 to 215, enacted H.R. 1, the largest single entitlement program since the institution of Medicare in 1965. The opponents of the bill complained about its cost, lack of controls, and inflexibility.  The proponents argued it was something we owed the beneficiaries, something critical that was lacking in the then-present insurance market. 

As you might have imagined, the initial reaction to the Münster revolution was not entirely positive, and John of Lieden found his poll numbers dropping precipitously.  An army of Catholics and Protestants surrounded the city and besieged it.  In response, the ruling Anabaptists went further, mandating common ownership and even polygamy, saying these were in accordance with Biblical precedent.  Books were burned, property destroyed, and people were encouraged to go naked in the streets to prepare themselves for the rapture.

By 1535 (presumably in time for the “mid term elections” ) the city was recaptured, and the Anabaptist leaders all met violent ends; they were tortured, then executed, and their bodies were hung in cages from the steeple of St. Lambert’s church at the center of the town. 

Things did not quite go so badly for the supporters of HR-1.  Despite the opposition, and despite sharply rising deficits and economic uncertainty, the law survived.  Many of them remain in Congress (most in the House, some now in the Senate) to continue to ply their trade and stand up for the principles they hold dear. 

Who were these people who voted for HR-1?  207 of them were….Republicans.  2003 was not a typo, and the gigantic entitlement program was Medicaid Part D.  Newly empowered, having won control of the House after Karl Rove savaged the Democrats in the midterm elections for being insufficiently patriotic after 9/11, they were persuaded the lock in the senior vote by creating this massive giveaway.  As a sweetener to their corporate backers, the government was forbidden from negotiating discounts with the pharmaceutical manufacturers.

HR-1 was introduced by Denny Hastert (yes, that Denny Hastert, of the “Hastert Rule.”)  Among the Republican ayes was a Mr. Boehner of Ohio’s Eight Congressional District.  Joining him was Eric Cantor (now House Majority Leader, and Cassius to Boehner’s tremulous Caesar) and Darrell Issa (head of the Inquisition.)  Also, Tea Party stalwarts Mike Rogers and Spencer Bachus of Alabama, and now current Senators John Boozman of Arkansas,  Jeff Flake of Arizona, Johnny Isakson of Georgia, Mark Kirk of Illinois,  David Vitter of Louisiana, Roy Blunt of Missouri, Roger Wicker of Mississippi, Rob Portman of Ohio, and Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania. 

Also, such luminaries as Chris Chocola, then representing Indiana’s Second District, now head of the adamantly “shut it down” Club for Growth.  He was for Medicaid Part D. And crazy Joe Barton and Jeb Henserling of Texas (Chair of the House Financial Services Committee).  And former Vice Presidential Candidate Paul Ryan.  And I could go on.  For a very long time.

All these folks worried so much then about the seniors in this country that expended every ounce of concern for their fellow human beings in that one agonizing vote. They just plum tuckered themselves out.  Now every single one of them is front and center on eliminating Obamacare and in using a government shutdown and the debt limit as leverage.  And many are insistent on using the same tools to cut back Social Security and Medicare at the same time.

What happened to these people in a scant ten years?  Besides the spelling of the last name of the person in the White House? You would have to ask them.  Surely something has converted them, made them see a new light, drawn them away from the “Compassionate Conservatism” (and party-building) of Mr. Bush.  They burn with righteousness.

Religious fervor like that can be near an eternal fire.  It can take the form of a complete reorganization of the present to purge the sins of the past.  The Anabaptists, for example, wanted to strip away the excesses of an ossified Catholic Church too hierarchical, and too dependent on the selling of indulgencies and relics.  They wanted to simplify, to return to the spirit of the more primitive church, the one closer to the individual.

Sometimes, as in Münster, things got out of hand, and the counter-reaction was violent.  But religious reformers like the Anabaptists often saw in their suffering and persecutions an echo of the martyrs of the first few Christian centuries, and drew strength from their defeats.

Political reformers also often find themselves caught up in a new passion.  They forget their past lives, purge themselves and their followers of (political) vices and even memories. and move forward with the zeal of the newly converted. They, too, are ready, if necessary to martyr themselves for a cause.

Take Congressman John Culberson of Texas, who, in a frenzy of pure passion for the new Gospel, evoked the spirit of the heroes of United Airlines Flight # 93, and shouted out to the Republican Conference “I said, like 9/11, ‘let’s roll!’” 

In case you were curious, Congressman Culberson voted “aye” on Medicare Part D in 2003.  He has since found the courage to close his ears to sin.

And so, as the clock passes midnight on October 1, 2013, so must we all.