During the reign of George W. Bush, there was always the hope that, as bad as things were (and they were bad), things would improve with a new Administration, if a Democrat were elected. However, despite the hope that ushered in the era of Obama, I'm now concerned that there are forces out there that are bound and determined to bring him (and the Democratic Party) down, even if it means destroying the country itself in the process.
As much as liberals hated Bush, there was never this obsessive, violent element that pervaded the political atmosphere, as is the case now. In fact, it's the next step in what used to be called the Clinton Derangement Syndrome. Unfortunately, it's been elevated to a new level. The intensity of the destructive impulse is frightening.
Paul Krugman describes the phenomenon, in The Town Hall Mob:
There’s a famous Norman Rockwell painting titled “Freedom of Speech,” depicting an idealized American town meeting. The painting, part of a series illustrating F.D.R.’s “Four Freedoms,” shows an ordinary citizen expressing an unpopular opinion. His neighbors obviously don’t like what he’s saying, but they’re letting him speak his mind.Krugman then asks the question that keeps appearing over & over -- what's it all about -- what is making these people so ugly and angry? His view:
That’s a far cry from what has been happening at recent town halls, where angry protesters — some of them, with no apparent sense of irony, shouting “This is America!” — have been drowning out, and in some cases threatening, members of Congress trying to talk about health reform.
Some commentators have tried to play down the mob aspect of these scenes, likening the campaign against health reform to the campaign against Social Security privatization back in 2005. But there’s no comparison. I’ve gone through many news reports from 2005, and while anti-privatization activists were sometimes raucous and rude, I can’t find any examples of congressmen shouted down, congressmen hanged in effigy, congressmen surrounded and followed by taunting crowds.And I can’t find any counterpart to the death threats at least one congressman has received.
Responding to a reader's inquiry about the depth of anger that emanates from the wingnuts about an issue such as health care reform, Steve Benen provides his answer, in What are they so mad about:
That is, the driving force behind the town hall mobs is probably the same cultural and racial anxiety that’s behind the “birther” movement, which denies Mr. Obama’s citizenship. Senator Dick Durbin has suggested that the birthers and the health care protesters are one and the same; we don’t know how many of the protesters are birthers, but it wouldn’t be surprising if it’s a substantial fraction.
And cynical political operators are exploiting that anxiety to further the economic interests of their backers.Does this sound familiar? It should: it’s a strategy that has played a central role in American politics ever since Richard Nixon realized that he could advance Republican fortunes by appealing to the racial fears of working-class whites.
James Zogby also provides insight into the psyche of the mob and his view on its source, in Danger on the Right:
So why are far-right activists so apoplectic? Why would people who stand to benefit from health care reform literally take to the streets and threaten violence in opposition to legislation that will help them and their families? President Obama supports an approach to health care reform that emphasizes competition and choice, doesn't increase the deficit, and wouldn't raise middle class taxes ... and conservatives are comparing the plan to the Nazi Holocaust?
B.A.'s confusion is understandable. I don't get it, either.
It's probably a mistake to lump all opponents of reform in together; different groups are fighting with different motivations. I tend to see them in five different groups:
* The Greedy: There's a fairly small group of people who profit handsomely from the broken status quo. Regular Americans are getting screwed by the system, but The Greedy are getting rich. Reform puts their profits at risk, so they're fighting back to protect their livelihood.
* The Partisans: If President Obama does what many presidents have failed trying to do, it will likely make him more popular and make his presidency successful. The Partisans care more about Republican gains than the national well being, so they're fighting to prevent a major Democratic victory because it would be a major Democratic victory.
* The Tin-Foil Hats: If reform passes, the government will kill their grandparents, create "death panels," lavish benefits on illegal immigrants, and mandate that ACORN volunteers live in your basement. The Tin-Foil Hats have active imaginations, and believe their own ridiculous conspiracy theories. They'll benefit from reform, but the voices in their head discourage them from believing it.
* The Dupes: Probably the largest group in opposition to reform, The Dupes tend to believe what The Greedy, The Partisans, and The Tin-Foil Hats have told them. When confronted with accurate information, The Dupes suspect the media, Democrats, and their lying eyes aren't to be trusted. After all, Sean Hannity wouldn't lie to them, would he? Like The Tin-Foil hats, The Dupes stand to benefit from reform, but are skeptical because they don't know who's telling the truth and who isn't.
* The Wonks: The smallest of the groups, The Wonks are conservatives who actually care about substantive policy details, have read the proposals, and believe there are better ways to improve the system. The Greedy, The Partisans, The Tin-Foil Hats, and The Dupes tend to ignore The Wonks, which is a shame.
There is a social movement stirring on the far right of American politics and it bodes ill for our future.And finally, in a recent appearance on the Rachel Maddow Show, Frank Schaeffer provides a warning about the coded call for politically motivated violence:
It is, in the classic sense, a movement, not an organization, with no coherent structure, no creed or litmus test for membership. Rather, it represents disparate currents, born of transformative developments and traumatic events that have impacted the US in recent decades.* * * *
If the individuals involved in these currents have anything in common, it is that they are angry and alienated and have identified "government" as a source of their problems and, therefore, as a target of their wrath.
Behind all of this discontent, of course, are real problems. The economic crisis in America did not just begin with the collapse of the financial sector in the fall of 2008. For years now, the US economy has undergone a steady transformation. The loss of our manufacturing base has resulted in dramatic social dislocation evidenced by the collapse of many once prosperous and stable communities. As factories closed, not only were jobs lost and economic security threatened, but people were forced to move, neighborhoods died and families were at risk.
* * * *
And so here we are in the midst of a hot summer, with "birthers" fulminating about Obama's "foreignness," angry mobs breaking up town meetings, and polling numbers showing a deepening partisan divide across the nation.
All the while these events are unfolding, analysts and commentators are spending endless hours of airtime observing and pointing accusing fingers, without making an effort to understand how this came to be and where it can go. Some conservatives are surely at fault for thinking they can simply exploit this anger, turning it on and then off, at will. And some liberals, too, are at fault for dismissing the anger they see, suggesting that it is simply manufactured and artificial and, therefore, can be ignored.
I am reminded of similar developments that occurred in 1919 at the beginning of the "Red Scare." Then too, a national movement, fueled by fears of immigration, economic dislocation and wartime anti-foreign bigotry was exploited by some, ignored by others, until it got out of control, with lethal consequences.If we are not careful and understanding, and if we do not start now, both to address this troubling anger and alienation, and to hold accountable those who are stoking the embers of discontent, we could end up in the throes of a full-fledged nativist siege that could tear apart the fabric of our nation.
As often as it's now being observed and commented on, the degree of concern that is being voiced is universally the same -- that we are on the verge of a violent outbreak that could have seriously destructive consequences for the country. And yet, the fringe element of the Republican Party cannot -- or will not -- take steps to stop the siren call.