Quote of the Day:
“The first thing we do, let’s kill all the lawyers.” –Act IV, Henry VI, William Shakespeare
Today’s QOTD is TB’s all time favorite widely misunderstood quotation. The line was written not in commentary of lawyers filing too many lawsuits, nor defending murderers, nor becoming too wealthy, but rather as the first step in a plot to overthrow the government. The rebels knew it was lawyers who would oppose them through both the judicial process and in the court of public opinion by exposing the liberties being attacked, and who in the long run most threatened their violently seized political power. Rather than being offended by this famous line, most lawyers take it as a tremendous compliment, and something of a reminder of our ultimate function in society.
I became mindful once again of the widespread public ignorance of this quote in recent weeks as I’ve watched and read news coverage of the angry protests at town hall meetings over the issue of health care. What has been proved amidst the ballyhoo of the August Congressional recess about health care is not that it “must be passed” or “must be stopped” but that the overwhelming majority of us are arguing from a position of pure, unmitigated ignorance, not unlike the mass ignorance of the true meaning of Shakespeare’s line. I don’t exempt TB from the indictment. After all, I haven’t “read the bill”, actually, none of the several early stage bills. And I won’t read a final bill should one come to pass. Generally, I support a health care bill. I think the current state of health insurance is so bad that I’m willing to support virtually anything the insurance industry opposes. And I get that there are many that oppose government reform of health insurance as a general principle, from political dogma, or even from a cost/benefit point of view.
So ignorance I can accept, to a certain degree. There is a point at which it becomes absurd, however, where it fairly drives me to hopelessness, blankly staring down the barrel of a bleak national future. Death panels. Tyranny. Nazism. Really? This is the opposition? I will readily concede the complexity of the issue of health insurance reform. I understand concerns of intellectual right leaning thinkers who point out the long term financial implications, the issue of physician compensation and the problem of overwhelming a system with too few general practitioners and nurses. I even can see the possibility that health care will be “rationed” because of these issues, though it should be clear in any honest consideration of the issue that rationing is already rampant in our system, and is in fact the main reason reform is so badly needed. But when I hear opposition centered around death panels that will “pull the plug on grandma” or that Obama is a Nazi, I am driven away from considering legitimate opposition to blindly supporting the side whose rhetoric is exponentially less damn dubious. The Nazis are FAR RIGHT WINGERS on the political spectrum for chrissakes! Let them call Obama a Stalinist and I will applaud the mob’s improving intellect.
As for tyranny, the quote that keeps appearing on the news is one of Thomas Jefferson’s most well known. I had to look it up to learn its context as I was previously ignorant–same as Timothy McVeigh likely was and the health care mob certainly is–of the background for his line, “The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time by the blood of patriots and tyrants.” * The sentence is lifted from a letter written by Jefferson in 1787 in which he comments on Shay’s Rebellion, a Massachusetts uprising that stemmed from opposition to high taxes and a mounting foreclosure problem (sounds familiar). Jefferson, in full philoso-tom mode, wrote of the benefits of such a rebellion, mainly that an occasional outbreak of citizen fury would remind those tasked with governing that they remain answerable to the people. What is even more interesting is that Jefferson found the rebels’ motivations “founded in ignorance, not wickedness.” Again, it sounds familiar–mass anger, misapplied. If you are on the side of thoughtful opposition to health care reform you ought to remember the part about ignorance before you rush to the defense of your fringe allies. It is a defense that only weakens in the long run the legitimate criticisms of those opposed to health insurance reform. And if you are on TB’s side, you might consider joining me in noting the certainty that the shouters’ motivations are in most instances not founded in “wickedness” and that their boisterous presence at the town halls can serve a higher purpose of reminding all our politicians to whom they are ultimately beholden. Even if the whole affair is plagued with ignorance, from top to TB to bottom.
*I find it ironic and slightly humorous that the next sentence in his letter reads, “It is it’s natural manure.”