Monday, September 14, 2009

Rabble Rule, Mob Logic, and Political Consequences

As President Obama himself stated in yesterday's 60 Minutes interview, the base issue that drives the Tea Parties, Town Hall Forums, and conservative protests are disagreements regarding Government's size, scope, and influence over individual citizens. This is a back-and-forth and highly American conundrum that has been with us for ages. Such matters, in fact, were discussed openly and actively when our Constitution was proposed and then set forth before the states to ratify. If one reads the Federalist Papers, for example, one can see variations of the same arguments we are having today. The fissure that place us on either side of a giant existential divide can be fairly easily explained---if liberal, one fears the excesses and abuses of the private sector more than those of government. If conservative, one fears the excesses and abuses of government more than those of the private sector. While this might be something of an oversimplification, it is close enough to a truism to stand by itself.

One cannot help but notice how worst-case scenario thinking hardens our hearts and closes our minds. Even so, I will concede to conservatives that their concerns regarding our country's ability to pay for and fund the gigantic number of tremendously necessary reforms have some merit. We are all in between a rock and a hard place when one considers how delaying the inevitable for years and years has now put our backs against the wall. Being asked to clean up the messes of multiple other Presidents is a particularly unfair and heavy yoke with which to burden any Chief Executive. While I myself am struggling mightily with the effects of this recession and the consequences of old-fashioned greed, I know that few successful reform programs are instantaneously fruitful. I know also that Presidents and parties are sometimes punished at the ballot box by short-term ire when far-sighted perspectives would be a better option. Frequently subsequent administrations and congresses voted in to replace the old have reaped the benefits and taken credit for the reform measures and sensible policies enacted by previous management. The lesson to be learned here is patience, closely followed by the ability to keep matters in a proper perspective.

What I find most ironic is that now, when certain segments of the Right are marching in protest against Health Care, the American people and the media by proxy are having some long standing assumptions openly challenged. Through publicizing right-wing protests and protestations, the media has uncovered something very interesting. To put it succinctly, extremist points of view can no longer be seen as disproportionately skewed or peopled in favor of the Left. Fringe elements owe no primary allegiance to either side, nor either party, and never have. What drives this incorrect assumption, to some extent, is the fact that liberals have been out of power for so long that our national collective long-term memory cannot easily recall the last time this was not the case. The instant we are informed, through whichever channel it may be, of some loopy demonstration or slightly deranged individual protester, we immediately assume a misguided leftist radical group must be behind it. Now we recognize the folly of jumping to conclusions before all the facts have been soberly contemplated.

The Republican Party is trying to tap into the vast, electric pool of grassroots outrage but as yet, they cannot. For starters, this rabble is too ill-organized and too scattered to be able to speak as anything approaching one voice. Many of us have made our own assumptions that these people aren't authentic voices of dissent---that they are being funded and organized by conservative PACs and insurance companies. I don't doubt that this is true to an extent, but I doubt that the matter can be this simply dismissed and discounted. Wishful thinking, as I have learned, never gets a person very far. Based on what I observed at a Republican-led Town Hall Forum a month ago, the cocky, condescending, and angry voices I heard at the microphone were authentic and voiced by very real people. It takes years to codify, hone, and fine-tune a coherent structure of coordinated protests and it also, paradoxically, takes years of being the minority voice in the debate to achieve it. We have had decades to perfect our channels and strategies of oppositional discourse and message control. Having had control of government for years, they are out of practice and unaccustomed to their new role on the sidelines. It is this discomfort and sour grapes that one sees most in their attitudes, aside, of course, from the rage and the pettiness. Being a fish out of water is never a pleasant sensation for anyone.

Regarding the results of subsequent elections or approval ratings of those currently in power, I never make guesses and I often deliberately ignore those who make a vocation out of premature speculation. Politics is too dominated by forces that polls cannot correctly reflect and statistics cannot accurately take into account. What I do know is that I recognize full well the ugliness and the coarseness that characterizes the behavior and conduct of some Republican voters. I see it here in this red state when, periodically, my Obama bumper sticker encourages certain fellow drivers to make a point to cut me off in traffic or to refuse to allow me the ability to merge. I recognize it when, running errands, I am sometimes treated by fellow shoppers as though I have an contagious and highly infectious disease as I park my car and walk across the parking lot on my way to the grocery store.

Do understand that I'm not trying to portray myself as a victim. The hostility I see is palpable and that it has stripped away all pretense of southern hospitality, courtesy, and generosity is telling enough. As I am a Southerner by birth, I do sincerely appreciate the warmth and genuinely convivial spirit that characterizes the region, but I also never forget that underneath it is a violent impulse. There is a good reason why the South has always provided a disproportionate number of fighting men and women into the military. When anger replaces charm, the contrast is undeniably shocking. Not all of these conservative protesters are southern, but when the Republican party might as well be relegated to the southern states these days, one has to taken into account their overwhelming sway over the proceedings.

1 comment:

Joel Monka said...

There's another reason the Republicans have been unable to tap the grassroots outrage- they're seen as equally culpable by a large plurality of the protestors. It was Bush who started the mega-buck bailouts, and the crowd knows it full well. All the bailouts have been bipartisan, and the crowd knows that, too. The Republican party shouldn't be anticipating any gains next year- if any sitting Congressmen are defeated, it is more likely that Libertarians will replace Republicans than Republicans replacing Democrats.