Friday, 7 August 2009

The Natural Culmination of the Tea Party Phenomenon

I was briefly elated to hear that the SEIU decided that it was time to get in the game when it comes to the "Tea Party" protesters who have been attempting to disrupt August's health reform town hall meetings. Whether they are as astroturfed as it originally seemed is a matter of some dispute now, but their rage and ignorance when it comes to actually discussing what is or isn't in the health care bill (euthanasia for seniors, for example, or state-sponsored abortion) has now become obvious. What wasn't obvious, and in my mind wasn't inevitable, is the sad turn that the Tea Party movement has now taken: openly advocating violence and intimidation. Brian Beutler at TPMDC captured a screenshot of the following tweets from Scott Oskay:

As Beutler reports, #iamthemob is now tearing up Twitter as a topic, and if you go there yourself you can see what the general mood of the Tea Party people is in anticipation of additional protests in St. Louis tomorrow: angry, violent, paranoid, and dangerous. Greg Sargent at the Plum Line reports that the SEIU has received a threatening phone call from some nut saying that the unions are going to "come up against the Second Amendment."

At some point, the weirdly incoherent rage and hysteria of the Tea Party movement crossed a line, and now we find ourselves here. Despite Glenn Beck's plea to avoid violence, he can't deny his responsibility in drumming up this paranoid frenzy (indeed, just by predicting it as "inevitable" he has contributed to the process). Likewise, when Rush Limbaugh rails against the SEIU and then gives out the address of their St. Louis headquarters on air, he can't distance himself from this nonsense any more. What this all boils down to is summed up, I think, in a prescient post from Sara Robinson syndicated at Alternet under the title "Does the Right Want a Civil War?"

Dear Conservatives:

Your fellow Americans demand an answer -- and we want it now. Just one simple question:

Are you deliberately trying to start a civil war?

Just answer the question. Yes or no. Don't insult us with elisions, evasions, dithering, qualifications, or conditional answers. We need to know what your intentions are -- and we need to know NOW. People are being shot dead in the streets of America at the rate of several per month now. You may not want responsibility for this -- but the whackadoodles pulling the triggers make no bones about who put them up to this.

Robinson goes on to say that if conservatives want a shooting war, plenty of progressives would be "glad to oblige," but I strongly disagree on that point (this is why we have police officers). In the end, it is unacceptable that things have devolved to this point. It isn't even a matter of conservatives upset about significant policy differences. As Electablog points out in an excellent diary documenting a town hall freak-show:

I don't understand these people but I can tell you this: nothing you or I or anyone else can say will change their minds. A woman holding a sign reading "Abortion is not health care" was told TWICE by Rep. Dingell that abortion would never be paid for with public funds under this bill and yet she still persisted in claiming it would. When he told the audience that illegal aliens will not be covered by this program, their response wasn't, "Oh, excellent", it was "LIAR!!!"

They can not be reasoned with; you will not change their minds. The thing to remember is that they are, in reality, a tiny minority. Vocal? Yes. Obnoxious? Yes. In the media? Yes. But do they represent mainstream America? I feel confident in saying, unequivocally: NO.

So here we are. Will it come to armed conflict between the SEIU and the Tea Party people? I hope not, sincerely and with all my heart. But if it does, we'll know damned well who started this, and where the original genesis of this hatred and hysteria came from: the crazies who have hijacked the conservative movement and appear hell bent on driving it off of a cliff.

UPDATE: Andrew Sullivan is calling this blind panic and rage, and does a damn good job of summarizing where this is coming from. John Cole wonders "Will they have any regrets?"

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