The rising tide of violence incidents in the wake of passage of health care reform -- thankfully little more than petty vandalism so far -- has produced the usual partisan finger-pointing
with liberals and conservatives trying to say the other side started it.
The weight of reality, not to mention history, suggests otherwise.
The paranoid style of American politics
documented by historian Richard Hofstadter nearly 40 years ago at the birth of the modern conservative movement, sounds familiar today:
American politics has often been an arena for angry minds. In recent years we have seen angry minds at work mainly among extreme right-wingers, who have now demonstrated in the Goldwater movement how much political leverage can be got out of the animosities and passions of a small minority. But behind this I believe there is a style of mind that is far from new and that is not necessarily right-wing. I call it the paranoid style simply because no other word adequately evokes the sense of heated exaggeration, suspiciousness, and conspiratorial fantasy that I have in mind.
And while the Weather Underground, Black Panther Party and today's anti-globalization anarchists certain fill the bill from the left, the tone of paranoid politics today has a distinct rightward slant, with leaders like Pat Buchanan, Newt Gingrich and Sarah Palin sounding the call.
Ad it's that last fact -- paranoia being fed by Republican "leaders" -- that is most ominous.
A Harris Poll this week
has some stunning findings about the mood on the right about Barack Obama: from 40 percent who think he's a socialist to 32 percent who think he is a Muslim, to 25 percent who think he is foreign born to 20 percent who compare him to Hitler in actions to 14 percent who say he is the anti-Christ.
Let's think back for a moment where many of those ideas -- socialist, Muslim, Kenyan -- come from: the 2008 Republican presidential campaign of Palin and John McCain.
Then let's toss in the fact the Tea Party movement has as much astroturf as grassroots, springing from the efforts of former House Majority Leader Dick Armey
-- Gingrich's top henchman and a man who slurred Barney Frank
and tried to pass it off as a slip of the tongue.
And let's not forget current House Republican leaders, calling Democratic staffers "punks" and egging on protesters
during Saturday's climactic health care debate.
It's clear the GOP sees the Tea Party as electoral salvation: a Gallup Poll
found the angry white men
who predominate the movement were mainly McCain voters to start with.
But with half-hearted slaps at the so-far non-lethal violence and childish responses to Democrats using the same parliamentary tactics the GOP used when it had the majorities -- top Republicans are behaving nothing like leaders.
Let's not forget the worst recent case of domestic terrorism came from Timothy McVeigh
on the right. And that we have also had an anti-tax protester fly a plane into a Texas IRS office
-- a political act that failed to get the attention it deserved as a warning sign.
The lesson of democracy is simple -- if you win the election you control the agenda. Democrats will need to face voters in November. Republicans should focus on that and stop encouraging the heated rhetoric that seems to think they should face firing squads now.
Labels: Barack Obama, conservatives, liberals, Oklahoma City, Pat Buchanan, Tea Party, Timothy McVeigh