Monday, September 28, 2009

Current American Politics - Something Old or Something New?

What is wrong with our country?

This is a question that I find myself asking every day. Seriously, a substantial portion of this country seems to have gone off the deep end. Case in point: someone created a Facebook poll asking if President Obama should be killed. Fortunately it was removed quickly and its creator is being investigated, but what on earth would possess you to think that was okay?

Similarly, until a few weeks ago, I had never heard of Glenn Beck. But apparently he's the patron saint of the angry, scared right wing. Now, I understand that there are plenty of people who disagree with me on healthcare reform, climate change, education reform, immigration reform, etc. And many of those people have well-reasoned, thoughtful arguments to make their case; clearly many of these people are far more intelligent and knowledgeable than I am. But the chorus of crazies who have a knee-jerk negative reaction to anything proposed by Obama (or who even dispute the fact that the man was born in the U.S.) seem to be growing louder and stronger. I just don't understand the extra-special breed of crazy that seems to be involved here though. I read an article in Time this week that, among other things, tried to place current sentiment in the greater picture of paranoid movements throughout American history:
We tell ourselves a tale in America, and you can read it in Latin on the back of a buck: E pluribus unum. Many people from many lands, made one in a patriotic forge. And there's truth in that story — it conjures powerful pictures in the theater of our national mind. But it can also be misleading. Lots of Americans can't stand one another, don't trust each other and are willing — even eager — to believe the worst about one another. This story is as old as the gun used by Vice President Aaron Burr to kill his political rival Alexander Hamilton. And it's as new as the $1 million–plus in fresh campaign contributions heaped on Republican Representative Joe Wilson of South Carolina after he hollered "You lie!" at the President during a joint session of Congress. Anger and suspicion ebb and flow through our history, from the anti-Catholic musings of the 19th century Know-Nothing Party to the truthers and birthers of today.

We're in a flood stage, and who's to blame? The answer is like the estimates of the size of the crowd in Washington: Whom do you trust? Either the corrupt, communist-loving traitors on the left are causing this, or it's the racist, greedy warmongers on the right, or maybe the dishonest, incompetent, conniving media, which refuse to tell the truth about whomever you personally happen to despise.

But I still feel like what's happening now is extreme, even for crazy American politics. Is it the economy? Racism? The ease of communication over the internet? Or am I overreacting and this is really just a continuation of paranoid populist movements throughout American history?


  1. There are many relevant comments I could make. I will instead suggest that you use the word "clearly" much more often when posting...

  2. I think you miss the motivation behind it as a result of your personal political leanings. One of the main factors in the reaction is utter disgust at both parties - If you're a libertarian-leaning individual who just wants the government to leave you alone and get out of your way there's no party for you. The Democrats want to tax the hell out of you to pay for "free stuff" that they claim are "rights", and the Republicans haven't pushed any major libertarian-type reforms through since Regan's presidency.

    At the same time Congress makes sure that their races are heavily tilted to the incumbent and gerrymandered so that many people have no effective to make their voices heard in the average election. When the leaders of Congress call the half of the country nazi-like or evilmongers for disagreeing with them, it should be no surprise that we start to see vigorous protests springing up in opposition.

  3. Dear Anonymous :),

    I think the term Nazi has gotten thrown around so much in politics recently that few people even consider what that word really means, but that's another story...

    I certainly can't argue with the fact that my personal political feelings bias me toward thinking the Tea Party movement, etc. is insane. I do happen to believe that healthcare is a right that should be accessible to all, just like public education (hell, Finland just declared that all of its citizens have a legal right to high-speed internet, and we can't even get healthcare coverage for unemployed Americans?)

    I think there has been plenty of disgust with both parties in the past though too--I'll admit to having been drawn in by Green Party rhetoric in earlier times and believed fiercely that the Dems and Republicans were equally evil and a third party was the only way out. And I still think that our political system is crap in that it doesn't leave much room for additional viable political parties on anything other than a local level. But without switching to a system of proportional representation or some other major Constitutional overhaul (or a revolution, I suppose), I don't see how that's going to happen.

    I guess what flabbergasts me here is the anger and threats of violence (and downright weirdness, a la the birth certificate-obsessed folks) against current leadership. There certainly was plenty of anger amongst liberals during the Bush administration, but I just don't remember this much insanity. Maybe the liberals were just lacking in Glenn Becks and Rush Limbaughs? Or in organization? Or maybe they just weren't so into violence and decided to bide their time writing petitions and smoking pot instead? :)