We were the angry ones, talking a little treason in the lobby of the only federal building in town. One of us was a well-educated state employee, a political liberal. Another was a retired working-class conservative who often packs a gun when he leaves the house.
And then there was me, politically somewhere between the other two, someone who has been accused of being a Victorian moralist, a bleeding-heart liberal, a radical and a reactionary by people who only understand politics in terms of polarity, forgetting that people freeze to death as easily at the North Pole as they do at the South Pole.
But it wasn’t Obamacare that had us hot under the collar. I had never seen my liberal, well-educated friend get angry before. He is dispassionate to the point that on 9/11/01, without meaning any disrespect to the victims of that day, he expressed admiration for the sheer ingenuity of the attack. I was deeply offended at the time, although since then I have come to understand what he meant.
On that day two weeks ago, standing in the interminable line at the post office, he was the one who started the conversation, vehemently expressing the fact that state Sen. Pedro Espada is a crook who ought to be in prison. I agreed and said that Hiram Monserrate should be there with him. Then my conservative friend said we should hang them all (meaning politicians), and almost everyone in line laughed or nodded in agreement.
We talked some more about the stupidity of government. I explained how Gov. Paterson just extorted $50 out of each business person in New York state, simply for the privilege of collecting sales tax for the state, and how the city of Amsterdam required me to get a special-use permit to open a retail business in a retail district.
We’ve heard a lot about the angry ones lately in the media, the right-wingers who are angry about Obamacare and who are scaring old people by telling them the plan sets up committees to decide who gets treatment and who dies. Of course, we have forgotten that not too many years ago the left was telling old people that President Bush was trying to take away their Social Security when he simply was asking to pass a bill that would have allowed people to voluntarily contribute a maximum of 10 percent of their Social Security to a private retirement plan. More proof that the South Pole looks suspiciously like the North Pole.
Yes, I am one of the angry ones, but let me tell you what I am most angry about. I am angry that more people aren’t angry, and I am angry that people are more angry about Obamacare and the shenanigans of state and local government than they are about the dramatic loss of civil liberties in the last decade.
I recently watched Naomi Wolf’s film, “The End of America,” released in 2008. (You can watch it free — legally — on www.snagfilms.com). In it she describes the 10 steps an open society descends on the way to becoming a closed society. They are:
1. Invoke a terrifying internal and external enemy.
2. Create secret prisons where torture takes place.
3. Develop a thug caste or paramilitary force not answerable to citizens.
4. Set up an internal surveillance system.
5. Harass citizens’ groups.
6. Engage in arbitrary detention and release.
7. Target key individuals.
8. Control the press.
9. Treat all political dissidents as traitors.
10. Suspend the rule of law.
Wolf convincingly shows not only how this worked in Soviet Russia, Nazi Germany, fascist Italy, Pinochet’s Chile and other countries, but also how it has been happening in post-9/11 America.
When President Bush began to implement some of these 10 steps, there was not enough anger. The unpatriotic Patriot Act was printed at 3 in the morning and voted on eight hours later, while the ink was still drying. The left caved in to the right on scaling back civil liberties, and President Obama has done little to undo the excesses of the Bush administration.
To those who show up at town meetings and express anger about Obamacare, I salute you for being passionate about something. No one is going to use bread and circuses to keep you passive.
While I defend your right to protest Obamacare, I hope you protest the loss of civil liberties just as loudly. I hope you will support someone like Naomi Wolf, even if you think she is a bleeding-heart feminist.
Now’s the time
It is time to get angry. It is time to take an ax to the Patriot Act and similar laws passed during the Bush administration. It’s time for thinking people to stop thinking of America in terms of just left and right, because if things continue as they are, there will no longer be a left or a right.
And there will be no opportunity to get angry. Because we will all be huddled together, quivering, no longer free but for once united, not by anger but by fear.
Daniel T. Weaver lives in Amsterdam and is a regular contributor to the Sunday Opinion section.
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