Saturday, August 8, 2009

More on the Historical Subtext of Town-Hall Mobs Protesting Healthcare Reform

More folks are talking about the connections between the mobs now disrupting town-hall meetings to discuss health care reform, and the mobs who resisted integration in the 1950s and 1960s: Balam at Daily Kos (H/t to a blogger named Mag at the Arkansas Times blog).

Balam (who, interestingly, uses the same photo from the 1957 demonstrations in Little Rock that I chose for my posting yesterday) notes that the fear and anger that manifested themselves during the civil rights period, and are now manifesting themselves in the town-meeting riots, have deep roots in our national psyche:

Understand that I am not suggesting, as some have done, that the angry mobs currently disrupting town hall meetings around the country are primarily motivated by race. Rather, I'm suggesting that the anger, fear and hatred which fuel these mobs comes from the same place as the anger, fear and hatred which has fueled race riots throughout our sordid history. The anti-reform mobs of today and the pro-segregation mobs of decades past are siblings born of the same foul parents. To use the vernacular more recently en vogue, both movements are byproducts of the “culture war” that has pitted the forces of ignorance and fear against the forces of social change.

And, as at previous moments in our history when this fear and anger were allowed to dominate political discourse, interest groups are manipulating something deep in the American psyche to try to stop social change:

It’s time our media recognizes just what’s going on, and confronts it for what it is. I understand that there is a political calculation involved in the decision to emphasize the astroturfing component of the protests, however this is an exercise in losing sight of the forest for the trees. The people who comprise these mobs are not political operatives, but rather they are ordinary people, even if they are being whipped into a frenzy by special interests lurking behind the scenes. They are ordinary people who have become consumed with rage, ignorance and hatred, but they are ordinary people, nonetheless. Dismissing them as phonies may or may not work as a political tactic, but it is also certain to obscure the fact that they are part of a far deeper, far more insidious social pathology that has infected our country since its inception, and will continue to do so until we decide to confront it head on for the cancer that it is.

As James Zogby notes, we ignore these developments to our peril:

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.

In my view, we are very close to some decisive back-steps in our culture, and those with the reins of power now in their hands are not recognizing how close we are to that possibility, and are not demonstrating the clear, morally informed leadership we need to avoid the back-steps. Back-steps that may well spell the end of democratic polity in the United States . . . .