Wednesday, August 19, 2009


We’ve seen some really bad behavior lately among Americans in town hall meetings. Ostensibly, the conflict among Americans right now is the future of healthcare in America. These very public displays of anger and frustration could just be born of something much more than the current healthcare debate. Something tells me people would not be carrying signs with swastikas on them, and defacing pictures of President Obama to make him look like Hitler, if something deeper wasn’t happening here.

For eight years, under George W. Bush, the nation was highly repressed. The Bush White House was inarguably one of the cagiest, most secretive administrations in recent history. Americans shed themselves of what little trust they had left in government. The trust erosion really began with the Nixon administration. People in my generation watched the whole Watergate debacle at the tail end of the Vietnam era. We saw how truly untrustworthy government can be. To many of us in this age bracket (50s), every President we have had since then has been a letdown. That means that a new President has to not only live up to our expectations, but he has to prove that he’s got the stuff with which to do it.

Along comes Barack Obama, who still seems to be a really decent guy. But he showed up as economic prosperity was in the past. Every time a recession happens, there is a substantial part of the population that circles the conservative wagons in a defensive posture. That’s what Obama walked into – a tightly closed set of American conservatives. This is not a political statement. It is, rather, simple observation of what has happened since last November. A black, liberal President walked through the gates of a racially skeptical electorate, at a time when public dissatisfaction with the Presidency was at its absolute hottest.

So, when I see people blatantly strapping guns onto their backs outside of a hall where the President is scheduled to speak, that’s not about healthcare. It’s about anger. It is about stretching the First Amendment beyond its borders. When I watch a woman repeatedly yell, “Heil Hitler” to a Jewish guy at a Town hall meeting, it is not just about about healthcare. It is absolutely about exasperation and disgust with government. I believe the natives are restless – so restless that they are turning on each other. Americans and their legislators are facing off in public, and it’s not pretty. Both are conducting themselves in ways they would never have pictured themselves behaving. On television. Watch:

Yes, healthcare is a critical issue, and yes it is the catalyst for all the yelling and acting out we are witnessing in these town hall showdowns. But healthcare is simply the soapbox. Those who are aggressively acting up -- armed with megaphones and decades-old frustration, jobless and frightened—those people are not just there to protest potential health insurance laws. They are there to say that enough is enough. The people in this country were marginalized for eight years, while despotic and ill-equipped leaders guided us into failed banks, corporate chaos, the highest unemployment rate in 26 years, and an international reputation best described as global disdain. America is damned mad. And it is speaking up in record numbers and in ways it hasn’t allowed itself to be heard since Vietnam.

I’m with Barney Frank. Indeed what is unfolding here is a true testament to the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. I would like to see the loudest among the protesters get their point across without being so disrespectful toward their opponents. Honestly, I’d like to see a little more decorum here. Sometimes it is easier to hear what someone is trying to say when they stop screaming, brandishing semi-automatic weapons and comparing our nation to Nazi Germany. Still, I support their right to do it. Here’s why: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.” That is the entire First Amendement text. Read it again. Haven’t we lost enough freedoms in this country already? We can’t risk losing this one. If only I were able to be as eloquent about this as these guys:

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