In the just-published book that I have co-authored with Marc Hetherington, Authoritarianism and Polarization in American Politics, we argue that how Americans view political issues and establish partisan attachments is being increasingly driven by gut-level world views, which is best characterized by the term authoritarianism. Since levels of authoritarianism are powerful predictors of individuals' views on the hot button issues of the day like gay rights, immigration, and torture, they now explain whether people choose to be Republicans and Democrats, which is a key reason why our politics have become so rancorous and impervious to reasoned conciliation.
In sum, there is reason to think that beneath the arguments about government intrusion into the health care market, death panels, and such, a much more visceral dynamic is at work. To be perfectly clear, it is far from the case that every opponent or skeptic of significant health-care reform is a racist or racially motivated in her or his thinking. But there is, at the least, very strong circumstantial evidence that views of race and beliefs about health care reform are linked significantly among many Americans, which probably explains why the debate on health care reform has caused a much stronger uproar in 2009 than it did in 1994.