As for President Obama’s speech on health care the other night, I thought it was a fine effort, possibly even great, making clear the need for reform and striking the right balance between determination and compromise, all of it clearly articulated, but I don’t believe it will make any difference at all.
From what I can see, the people I call the Angry Ones or the Belligerent Ones are hell-bent on blocking any government effort whatsoever to clean up our health-care mess.
Socialism! they holler. Or: Communism! They don’t care what Obama says. They don’t care what anyone says who isn’t wired to a microphone at Fox Propaganda.
They go to Town Hall meetings not to listen and learn but to shout and name-call, or to ask such disarming questions as, “If the plan fails, will congressmen be willing to be executed?” which was actually the first question asked at the Town Hall meeting held by Rep. Paul Tonko in Bethlehem.
Republican congressmen squirmed and sneered their way through Obama’s speech in the same contemptuous spirit, rudely waving papers of some sort and in one now-famous instance shouting, “You lie.” The shouter later apologized, but wait and see if he doesn’t become a folk hero.
“One of the unique and wonderful things about America has always been our self-reliance, our rugged individualism, our fierce defense of freedom and our healthy skepticism of government,” Obama declared, in a conciliatory nod to this rancorous crowd.
But then he continued, ever so hopefully: “large-heartedness … too, is part of the American character. Our ability to stand in other people’s shoes. A recognition that we are all in this together; that when fortune turns against one of us, others are there to lend a helping hand. A belief that in this country, hard work and responsibility should be rewarded by some measure of security and fair play; and an acknowledgement that sometimes government has to step in to help deliver on that promise.”
And at that point he might as well have been whistling in the wind. They knew what he meant. He meant empathy.
Concern for the plight of others? Stand in other people’s shoes? A helping hand?
Not on your life. Just try to confiscate my hard-earned money and give it to some lout who’s too lazy to work, is the position of the Angry Ones. I stand in my own shoes, and I’ve got my gun here to back me up.
Oh, for a return to the wild frontier! Or even to the good old days before the Roman civitas and the Greek polis, when every savage stood on his own, spear at the ready, with no thought of a larger good.
That seems to be their ideal, a pre-civilized state, which, however, as I have noted before, is contradicted by their simultaneous love for a secretive, totalitarian government making war, torturing prisoners, and bugging telephones — but never mind.
For the Angry Ones’ reactions to the president’s appeal to large-heartedness, you had only to turn to the comments posted on Fox’s Web site:
“This house is riddled with vermin and us Freedom, Liberty and Heritage loving Americans are the clean-up crew,” was a typical one.
“What a national disgrace … look away when this false prophet walks by” was another.
They reject the social compact that has bound us together since we laid down our spears, yes, but they also reject democracy. “This is not a democracy, this is a republic,” is one of their formulaic lines.
“Democracy is inherently self-destructing,” one reader advised me, while insisting he himself is not angry, just worried.
I hesitate to apply to this movement or this subculture a conventional name, like Radical Right or anything of the sort, because that makes it sound political, whereas I believe it is deeper than that, belonging more to the realm of psychology or psychiatry.
I think if our practitioners of the psychiatric arts would concern themselves with something other than inventing new disorders to bill insurance companies for and set themselves the task of understanding the lock-and-load yearning for a pre-civilized state that we are caught up in, we would all be wiser — though I’m not holding my breath waiting for that to happen.
The movement, or the subculture, whatever you want to call it, is certainly not going away. If anything, it feels to me like it’s stronger than ever, probably energized by having Barack Obama in the White House with his empathy and his “public option” to get them pumped.
When their own boys Bush and Cheney were in the White House, running the country into the ground, they had to be a tad defensive. No more.
So I am not sanguine about our country’s prospects, with so many of my fellow citizens openly disdainful of the nobler sentiments and proudly protective of their selfishness, whether they call it liberty or anything else.
I do note that the secular side of their philosophy accords nicely with the variety of Christianity that many of them profess, a variety that promises eternal bliss to them and their friends and eternal hellfire to the rest of us unfortunates, who will be “left behind” when they and their friends get raptured up to heaven.
(“Left Behind” is the title of a fictional book series promoting this fantasy of theirs, a series that has sold some 65 million copies, and just think about that — 65 million.)
Perhaps only people capable of such a theology could jeer and boo at the suggestion of publicly subsidized health care. Doesn’t it all seem to fit — their politics, their psychology, their theology? I’m going to heaven, and you, you socialist crumb-bum with your Marxist empathy, you know where you can go.
Is it by chance that so many of the leaders and heroes of this subculture are blatantly nasty — people like Bill O’Reilly, Dick Cheney, Karl Rove, Antonin Scalia?
I think not. I think there is a divine congruence at work here.