Ever since last summers town hall "meetings" descended into rowdy "shout downs" by aggrieved and often incoherent right "wing nuts", there persists a nagging uneasiness that their verbal diatribe (vituperation?) could be incited and turn into physical violence.
The elements seem to be there. Desperation, feeling aggrieved, forgotten, "they (the amorphous left "Obamacans', "socialists", "progressives") hate us", health care reform is "socialism", Obama is a "socialist, a Muslim", he isn't a native born "American", he "hates" white people, climate change and global warming are a "hoax", the "experts" are "liars", the bailouts were "wrong" (not much argument there), they "hate America", ad infinitum.
Could this wholly new phenomenon of right wing boisterous activism that is roiling the country go from verbal denunciations of whom and what they hate to something more serious?
On Saturday, February 20, 2010 the annual meeting of the "Conservative Political Action Conference" was held in Washington, D.C. It was a gathering of "influential conservatives" and thousands of cheering supporters who had Glenn Beck and Newt Gingrich as the headline speakers.[i]
Beck, the Fox News commentator and guru hero of the political right, denounced "progressivism " as a cancer that must be cut out of the political system." As he spoke, he wrote on a portable blackboard, "This is the disease in America." The crowd went wild.
Later, Gingrich, the former House Speaker and the leader of the 1994 Republican "Contract with America" catechism of tax cuts and limited government, referred to the Democrats as, "the secular socialist machine." And so it went; obviously nothing hinting of any basis for bipartisan reconciliation with anything associated with the left side of the political spectrum, (and nothing hinting of violent confrontation with those they obviously abhor).
This event, coming so soon after the previous week's "Tea Party" convention headlined by keynote speaker Sarah Palin of "crib note" fame, bespeaks of the political divide (chasm) that is America, this winter of 2010.
To those on the left it is all stunning. We say "Who are these people, shouting and screaming (at last summer's town hall "debates) disruption that so muddled health care "reform" that it degenerated into incoherence, confusion (represented by a septuagenarian shouting, "Don't let the government take away my Medicare!") and nonsense.
All this made even eerier by Obama extolling the virtue of bipartisanship with the other side (those who obstruct automatically anything he or the Democrats propose). The political polarization and the resulting paralysis seem all but complete. The sides so diametrically opposed in a struggle (and fueled by the demagoguery of Glenn Beck i.e. Progressives are the curse and the heart of the "tea baggers" problems; one wonders how we (as a country) step back from the brink of our own internal divide.
If one could stand back impartially and consider what is happening politically in this country, he (she) would be hard put to describe it as anything but irretrievably polarized, paralyzed, and broken.
The two opposing sides seem locked in verbal (mortal?) combat. There is no middle ground.
We seem so at war with ourselves that Osama bin Laden couldn't match the intensity of our abhorrence to the opposing side.
It may be an exaggeration to compare our times to the divisions that caused our own civil war, (with the violence, distrust and hatred associated with it) started almost 150 years ago. After all, the Viet Nam War tore this country apart in so many ways. But back then the right wing was the "silent majority" and the "America, Love it or leave it crowd", (and it was the left that was in the streets shouting and protesting, sometimes violently). Now, their natural descendents (the "tea baggers", gun lovers and conspiracy theorists) are energized, mimicking the war protesters of the late 60's and 70's, in their shouting and denunciations, all ensnarled in a sea of incoherence and contradictions, a generalized hatred of the left intertwined with their legitimate economic suffering. It is a lethal, volatile mix particularly with an economy that is reeling. The question begs; could the far right be incited to go from verbal raucousness to violence?
[i] See New York Times, February 21, 2010, "Gingrich and Beck Galvanize Conservatives", pg. 16 by staff writer, Katherine Q. Seelye.