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March 29, 2012

Through SCOTUS Demos & Visual Noise, Tea Party vs. Obama

As oral arguments concerning the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act concluded Wednesday, demonstrators converged on the SCOTUS steps. According to participants interviewed by NPR, the atmosphere was either “festive” and “wonderful” or filled with “hollering and screaming.” This image, however, hints at the broader deliberative dynamics shaping the debate over health insurance reform.

Although Holly Harness, the Obama supporter pictured here, is likely eligible for Medicare (the wildly popular, publicly-funded, universal health insurance program for seniors), she stands in for the un- or underinsured masses pleading with their younger, healthier, wealthier, or just plain luckier neighbors to build a system that gives everyone access to adequate health care. The Tea Party constituency, personified here by Obamacare opponent Susan Clark, adopts an air of jovial dismissiveness—don’t tread on me (on your way to the emergency room or an early grave).

Interestingly, Clark paired her disinterest in Harness’s point of view with a perplexing rhetoric of victimization. According to the Associated Press, the red palm print on Clark’s face (which she referred to as “war paint”) represents “what she said is socialism taking away her choices and rights.” That’s an ironic statement insofar as the Affordable Care Act is a legislative compromise that leaves America’s employer-based, private insurance system intact for those who are currently covered by it. The only choice it infringes on is the one that lets some people consume expensive health care while others foot the bill. Perhaps it’s no surprise that Clark fails to recognize certain public policy complexities, given her decision to pair the hat typically associated with white American colonists with a Native American-style necklace and vest (speaking of being trod on . . . ).

The iconography of the Tea Party is growing increasingly cluttered as crosses, flags, old-timey hats, “war paint,” and angry shades of red converge in the interstices between church and state, freedom and responsibility, individual and community. Conversely, the Obama 2012 t-shirt that Harness is wearing has been emptied of its 2008 color and vitality. If the signature public policy initiative of Obama’s first term is gutted by a right-leaning SCOTUS, will his 2012 campaign, like this t-shirt, be a drab echo of its former self?

– Karrin Anderson

(photo: John Rose / NPR caption: Holly Harness (left), a supporter of the health care law, argues with Susan Clark, an opponent of the law, outside the Supreme Court on Wednesday.)

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