Random thoughts, dubious rants, curiosities and worthy citations on the media, politics, marketing, music, inanity, and animals, among other things. Words and pictures and stuff, mostly from south central Wisconsin USA
Like most thinking people, I have what I consider to be well-reasoned opinions about a lot of things. (Not that you'd ever notice that from reading stuff here or anything.) I try to stay informed by consuming a wide variety of news and opinion media from both traditional and new media sources. Yet I still found myself dumbfounded by what I can only describe as the group-think thuggery that was played out by the self-described Tea Partiers last week in Washington and across the country.
Thomas Jefferson noted in his writing that our country was built on dissent. Freedom of speech and of assembly are core rights valued deeply by most Americans. To protest what one thinks is wrong about some aspect of government action is an important form of participation in our democracy. Yet I find it both amazing and disheartening that so many people these days seem to take on a selective approach to free speech.
Remember a short four or five years ago when supporters of the previous President and his then-majority party were quick to shout down anyone who dared speak out against the President? According to those on the Right, it was downright un-American to question our increasing use of torture or the erosion of our civil rights. Any suggestion that the people were being manipulated into submission by fear and propaganda was to beg to be asked why you hated America.
Today, almost 18 months after Barack Obama soundly trounced the McCain/Palin ticket to become president, those same people, now in the minority, are still bleating about birth certificate authenticity, the President's supposed secret Muslim faith, and how awful it is that the current majority in Congress is actually doing what majorities get to do: draft and pass legislation. The Conservatives cry foul over a lack of bipartisanship even though Republicans do nothing to advance any issue, remaining steadfast in their strategy to say "No" to virtually everything.
Think about it. Back a few years the oh-so-pious Republicans, admonished as treasonous anyone who would dare speak out against anything their king, err, I mean President Bush might do. Today, many of those same conservative Congressman stand idly by as their supporters in the media and in the streets condone and commit acts of violence, spew racist epithets, spit upon members of Congress and do all kinds of other toxic things. They increasingly commingle with purveyors of hate speech and crazy talk (e.g. Limbaugh and Beck) while their party strategists play to the fears and upon the ignorance of their devoted followers. The Congressmen themselves label the President and his majority tyrannical for making laws they and their benefactors dislike. All the while, their followers demonstrate their utter ignorance of politics and government by using words like fascist, Nazi, communist and socialist as if they all mean the same thing. It doesn't matter how totally false and patently ignorant, as long as it is screamed at a loud volume.
Yeah, yeah, yeah. Nothing new in this observation. Indeed, Republicans have always been pretty good at playing to their base, knowing that god, gays and guns will stoke the religious fundamentalists. Any mention of social programs for those who need help gets turned around into some sort of evil entitlement for "those people," red meat for the rabid racists among us. Most of us, of course, are thankfully neither intolerant religious fundamentalists nor hate-mongering klan members. But those seem to be the people who always get on TV. Those are the narrow-minded screamers who for better or for worse are the face of today's Conservative movement. And soon, they'll pretty much be the face of the Republican party as the more level-headed moderates flee. (I was an early adopter...I fled the GOP about 15 years ago.)
The thing that got me to thinking about this, oddly, was not the video of the guy who spit on a Congressman, and not the sound bites of people yelling "nigger" and "fagot" at other members of Congress. It wasn't even the audio of Rush Limbaugh talking in a (poorly done) stereotypical Southern Black voice about entitlements that were "just like Christmas!" as he race-baited his legion of Dittoheads. (I never understood why anyone would be proud of that nickname, which essentially proclaims "I cannot think for myself," but i digress.) No, it was the unfortunate story a friend told yesterday about how her son is routinely bullied at school.
The boy is in sixth grade. He's a really smart kid, but is also painfully shy, prone to anxiety issues, and is very small for his age. Kids being kids, he gets teased, pushed around, and generally treated so badly at school that he is excited about the possibility of being home schooled. He's npt like the other kids, so that means he is to be ostracized by the group-thinkers. Of course, group-think is part of nature of childhood. Most kids outgrow it like they outgrow acne. This boy's situation reminded me of the knuckle-dragging jerks in my junior and senior high schools that picked on the kids who were like this boy. They never really had any reason to be jerks, I thought, except that they could be. They were used to getting their way, whether by might, by parental fiat of their own greatness, or as a result of the preferential treatment routinely shown to student athletes. No matter if a kid couldn't write a coherent sentence or do basic geometry problems; as long as he could catch a football or throw heat on the baseball diamond, he was made to feel better than others.
Of course, unless those boys (or girls) married well or perhaps were coddled through a college career, the underachieving but overly ego-stroked jocks usually never matched their high school level of popularity and sway. A few trips to high school reunions always bear that out, for me and most likely for you. (That's why we go to those stupid things, of course.) Funny how it's always the shy ones and the brainiacs that turned out so well. And those once golden running backs and star centers? They're at the Tea Party rallies, mad at the world, bitching about the government while quietly cashing their government checks.
Update: Frank Rich's column from today's New York Times is worth a read. He's so, so, way, way better at this than I am, and he proves it every Sunday.
How curious that a mob fond of likening President Obama to Hitler knows
so little about history that it doesn’t recognize its own small-scale
mimicry of Kristallnacht. The weapon of choice for vigilante violence
at Congressional offices has been a brick hurled through a window. So
If Obama’s first legislative priority had been immigration or financial
reform or climate change, we would have seen the same trajectory. The
conjunction of a black president and a female speaker of the House —
topped off by a wise Latina on the Supreme Court and a powerful gay
Congressional committee chairman — would sow fears of
disenfranchisement among a dwindling and threatened minority in the
country no matter what policies were in play. It’s not happenstance
that Frank, Lewis and Cleaver — none of them major Democratic players
in the health care push — received a major share of last weekend’s
abuse. When you hear demonstrators chant the slogan “Take our country
back!,” these are the people they want to take the country back from.