Ministry of Fear

Like most everyone else I spent the week catching up on the reform health care debate, and its passage. It's now law. A majority of Americans will have health care, however imperfect. But what intrigued me was the outpouring of outright vehemence from certain groups as to its passage. By that I mean, predominantly, the tea party movement. The differences in tone stuck me. There's President Obama at a rally in Iowa with an audience of young and old, people of every class and station and they exuded unbounded optimism. Then I would watch the other side, on the same cable programs, and what came at me were middle age white men and women spouting sheer hatred and venom. No optimistic sunniness for these guys. The contrast was startling.

I spoke to my wife about this, trying to understand the depth of animus in this group. She put it succinctly: These people are afraid that they are losing their nation. This fear is palpable because given current demographic trends, their worse imaginings will come to pass. They will no longer be majority in their own land. They conceive of it as the mongrelization of America. They are losing control to the Other: the ethnics, the blacks, the Asians, Hispanics, etc. As a white Anglo-Saxon, my wife can understand this fear. She put it to me this way: suppose I lived in Puerto Rico and discovered that in a short while Puerto Ricans would be a minority in their own land. Or a Frenchman finding out that he is a minority in France; or a German coming to the realization that he will be outnumbered in Germany. This one constant terrifies the tea partyers. Forget about health care, or government takeover, or federal intrusion in your life, or increase taxation---that's the screen they use. The real fear is racial. And the election of black man as president exemplifies this fear as never before. This, to me, became vividly stark when I saw an old white biddy with a sign proclaiming: "Impeach the Kenyan." It is scary, mainly because they feel the tide is going against them, these protesters. They hunger for the mythical past of the 1950s and Ozzie and Harriet and Leave it to Beaver where June Clever, the mother, would vacuum the rug in high heels and pearls, and Ward Cleaver, the father, would never take off his suit jacket, even at home.

The ironies abound. The same people who fear government intrusion into our lives will use government power to deny homosexuals and lesbians their right to wed. The same people who quote God at every turn will deny a woman her right to consul her own deity, and her own doctor, with regard to reproductive rights. The same people who claim to espouse freedom of speech would deny that same freedom to others. Now, I'm not claiming that all who belong to the tea party movement are out-and-out racists, that would be idiotic. There are those, I'm sure, who simply object to the current path solely on philosophical grounds. Genuine conservative thought and precepts have had a long and honored tradition in our nation. But, when one radical fringe group takes over one of our major parties with a platform based on hate and racial prejudice, that is worrisome. And the Republicans should take note. Such movements have a tendency of devouring their own---as witness John McCain who, a short while ago, was the darling and presidential candidate of the party, and who today is fighting for his political life because the tea partyers don't consider him conservative enough or "pure" enough for their taste. Gives credence to the old maxim: Beware of what you wish for.

The sad fact is that this has all happened before. It occurred in the 1850s when the Know Nothing Party fulminated against the "scummy" Irish who were invading our shores and who would turn the nation into a papist outpost and undermine our true Protestant ethic. It reared its ugly head again in the 1900s nativist movement against those "greasy" Italians and "dumb-ass" poles who were polluting out national heritage. You saw in the 1920s when, at its height, the Ku Klux Klan had millions parade on Washington D.C. decrying the growing influence of "uppity" Negroes and "vile" Jews who would besmirch our nation's honor. It happened in the 1950s when the John Birch Society railed against the Communists and suspected Communists who were organizing labor unions in order to, ostensibly, overthrow the government. Each nutty movement came and went. And we survived.

My friends, we will survive this two. We've survived worse. We did it over 200 years ago when 13 diverse colonies took on the greatest empire on earth. And against all odds, when they were counted out, they persevered and installed this Republic. Eight decades later the fledgling Republic was engulfed in a horrendous civil war, and it survived, emerging stronger and more united. It took on the threat of Fascism and Communism, and vanquished both, relegating such unnatural ideologies to the ash heap of history. So, yes, we will overcome the reactionaries within tea party movement and its ilk. The challenge now is to hang on until the glorious sunrise.
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