Last year at this time, during the GOP's carefully-choreographed Senate-vacation jihad against health care reform, we sat transfixed, with a mixture of bemusement and scorn, as "Teabagger Zero" (as I now call her in retrospect) blubbered the bigoted and xenophobic nonsense that Obama had ushered in "Socialism" and "death panels," crying in conclusion, "I want my country back!" As her vision of "her" country was one in which racial minorities knew their place, Christianity perfused all aspects of public--including gov't--life, business ran unfettered (except as far as she was its victim), life was simple and the good guys always wore white, people like me dismissed her as a racist bigot who swallowed the right-wing cable news bullshit hook, line and sinker. Look at her, we said, shaking our heads in disbelief--can such people exist in this country in this century; and if so, how could they be anything but an ignorant gullible minority, a relic of the past to which we had bid good riddance?
Fast forward a year. If we have (painfully) learned anything since then, it's that fear--even fear based on lies--is a powerful and effective motivator; and that it is far easier to react viscerally to paranoid, racist garbage (and react by willingly accepting it) than it is to check out various sources, sort out the facts, and THINK. Thinking takes effort and time. Blind faith in anything one's mountebank demagogue icons say is easy and convenient, and on its face conforms with one's suspicions about anything that smacks of progress and change--especially suspicions about "the Other"--be he someone from a different country, who has a foreign name, worships a different deity (or even the same God but in a different manner), or doesn't physically resemble you and yours. We used to laugh at the old saw that nobody ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American electorate--surely that's from the bad old days, before progress and enlightenment, right?
Had I placed my bets on my fellow Americans' eager acceptance of xenophobia and simple-minded catchphrases ("throw the bums out," "America for Americans," and the GOP's parroting invocations of "9/11"), I'd be rolling in dough right now (more likely, it'd have been a sucker bet no prudent bookie would honor). Anti-incumbency (especially when the incumbents have or are led by someone of a different color) has developed an unquestioning "Yeah, that's right!" cachet. "Do-nothing" (and its evil twin "do-too-much") governments must be purged of everyone currently in them, so the currently fashionable blabber (not thinking) goes. Never mind that the reason nothing gets done is that those out of power (and who single-mindedly seek to regain it, at the expense of performing the duties they were elected and took a sacred oath to perform) monolithically banded together to oppose everything Obama and Democrats favor. The sheeple electorate willingly parrot the faulty belief that a "supermajority" of those with a certain letter after their names should convey omnipotence, and any failure to part the political Red Sea must be due to incompetence; try to tell them about the ideological diversity in the Democratic caucus and the Senate's convoluted parallel-universe math and the response is "Don't confuse me with facts." Scratch that--it's more like sticking their fingers in their ears and shouting "LA-LA-LA" at the top of their smoke-ravaged lungs till you give up and leave them alone to revel in their immaturity. Never mind that the very people they're poised to replace the incumbents with are the ones who obstructed any real work. Or worse.
Enter the Tea Partiers. As Charles Blow warned, the White House and DNC are only half accurate when they warn that the new broom that sweeps clean is just a rehash of failed Bush-era policies. The truth is that these inexperienced, ignorant demagogues will make us nostalgic for simple old failed conservatism--and Dubya will seem like FDR by comparison. An example? Blago's replacement as IL Gov., Pat Quinn, was his progressive (and less picturesque) political adversary, as Good Government as Rod was Old School Machine. No matter--to "throw the bums out"-crazed voters, the fact that he too carries the telltale D (the new scarlet letter?) after his name is indictment enough: evidence of the failed old order. Quinn's opponent this fall, Republican/teabagger Bill Brady, voted against funding for mammograms and day care, opposes equal pay for women and unemployment benefits, and is against abortion without exception. That's right--if your 13-yr-old neighbor is raped by her dad and becomes pregnant, Brady would require she carry to term. His qualification? He ran a business. (This is the new sheepskin, apparently--even if said business were run like a sweatshop, or--like Carly Fiorina did--run aground). Businessmen are great, no? They create jobs? Nope--this guy eliminated some and outsourced others, and steadfastly resists fairly compensating those Illinois employees he still has. So in the bluest of the blue states he's losing, right? Nope--he's ahead in the polls by 13 points! Never underestim.......oh, hell, it's too depressing to finish that sentence.
Then there's the aforementioned (in my previous blog post) flap over the Ground Zero Mosque. Never mind that it's not a mosque (it's an interfaith community center with gyms and cooking school, and a top-floor prayer room to replace the current one in the basement of a dilapidated storefront building). Never mind that it is at least two blocks from the nearest corner of the WTC site and a quarter mile from the site of the actual Ground Zero monument. Never mind that within the same radius are strip clubs, addicts' shooting galleries, porn-and-panty shops and bars....and that's just in the OCCUPIED spaces. Never mind that the actual mosque predates not just 2001 but even the World Trade Center itself (it was founded in its current space, before WTC ground was broken, when the area was a rabbit warren of pushcarts and schlock stores). Never mind that between the proposed new building and Ground Zero are high-rises that would make it invisible from Ground Zero and vice versa. And there would be no loud muezzin calling the faithful to prayer. It's a symbol of Islam, so the argument goes, and because the 9/11 terrorists were Muslim, any Islamic presence in the neighborhood is "salt in the wound" of first responders and victims' families. Never mind the wound was healing and the only "salt" is that spread by opportunistic right wing rabble rousers like Rep. Peter King, who doesn't even represent the area (and ex-Gov. Pataki, an upstater). Never mind that the NYC zoning board AND its Jewish, Republican Mayor Mike Bloomberg believe it should be built. The chatterers argue that it will stir up resentments and that even though it CAN be built it should not be, because Muslims should not make waves where they are unwelcome. Reminds me of the argument 30 yrs ago by friends and family that the black kids murdered in Howard Beach and Bensonhurst had it coming because they had no business trying to mingle with white kids in neighborhoods where they too were unwanted and did not belong. This is the same logic that kept my people out of LaJolla and Pebble Beach and millions of famine-starved Irish immigrants out of a job in the 19th century. So a "majority" of the country (mind you, a minority of area residents) believes that? Thank goodness we have a Constitution and a Supreme Court to curb the wrongheaded and illegal intent of an ill-informed and knee-jerk visceral majority.
Well, I want MY country back! MY country welcomed those persecuted in Europe for their religions in the 17th and 18th centuries. MY country found slavery immoral and untenable, and passed the 14th Amendment to outlaw it. MY country welcomed my ancestors in the 19th century. MY country gratefully accepted the gift of the Statue of Liberty and engraved it with Emma Lazarus' "The New Colossus" (source of "give me your tired, your poor"). MY country deemed freedom of speech, religion, press and assembly to be no less vital than freedom to own assault rifles and machine guns or of corporations to spend freely and anonymously to influence and buy elections. MY country embraced and revered science and put men on the moon, not espoused the sort of Biblical literalism that would officially legitimize the view that Adam & Eve had a pet dinosaur and ate fried pterodactyl eggs for breakfast. MY country elected a Black President with a foreign name (who nonetheless was born in Hawaii AFTER it became a state). MY country faced and denounced the tragic and disgraceful excesses of its past--slavery, segregation, delayed suffrage, internment camps, blacklisting....
THAT is MY America. Hand it back over or be prepared to pay the price. (I'm thinking of teabags being relocated to someplace anatomically awkward and potentially uncomfortable).