Culture Of Violence

by dday

I had another appearance on NPR's Tell Me More with Michel Martin this morning. Could have went better (UPDATE: ok, GONE, grammar police. You get up at 5 in the morning for a radio interview and try to function perfectly. Sheesh...). I didn't get out that my opponent on the program, Vin Weber, is a lobbyist for the health care industry, though I did mention that his group Empower America was bought out by Freedom Works, who is orchestrating a lot of the teabagging protests you're seeing at town halls around the country. I got him to admit that the "Kill Grandma" euthanasia conspiracy theory is a complete falsehood, which was good.

Before my segment, Rep. Lloyd Doggett appeared on the show, and talked about the hooligans who descended on his town hall in Austin, Texas last weekend. He said that their extended sloganeering and disruption "symbolizes what the conservative movement is all about," and while there are also efforts ongoing in favor of health care reform, the "commercial media handmaidens" refuse to give them an equal amount of attention. And that's certainly true to an extent. I got an email from Organizing for America yesterday that touted 1 million people participating in some of their health care actions and discussed 5 concrete actions taken by people that were noteworthy:

• The newspaper in Exeter, NH is reporting that local supporters are canvassing everywhere to build support for reform: door-to-door, at farmers' markets, and at state fairs. The article quotes volunteer Dave Munsey as saying that 2008 "was probably the most important election of my lifetime. This is just an extension of that."

• Supporters in Florida held simultaneous press conferences outside of nine local Senate offices with doctors, small-business owners, and others, all telling their personal health care stories about why reform is so important to them.

• After a huge event in Wisconsin, hundreds of the participants headed to a nearby town hall event hosted by Republican Congressman Jim Sensenbrenner to share their stories and urge him to stand with voters in support of reform.

• A host in Minnesota organized a barbeque for supporters to hear from speakers and write letters to their members of Congress. 1200 people joined in!

• Volunteer community organizers have participated in trainings in more than 13 states -- and 17 more are scheduled for the upcoming weeks.

Needless to say, none of these five events appeared on Hardball because nobody was shouting while wearing a bumper sticker on their head. And even people on the left wonder "Where is OFA? Where is HCAN?" Now, I think those groups should ditch the outside events and just work these same town halls, but the fact of the matter is that Republicans have always been, and for the near future always will be, skillful in getting their crap spun through the right-wing puke funnel and inserted into the media. We are good at responding most of the time - and finding smoking guns showing this to be lobbyist-coordinated astroturfing will help - but cable news producers will cover the conflict every time. Ultimately, nothing will stop Chris Matthews from airing a bunch of knuckleheads bused into a town hall meeting yelling while holding pitchforks, or whatever, and going on at length about how "it's like Tehran" and how this shows the passion on the right. And that perception will drive reality.

And so you have Michel Martin, after hearing Rep. Doggett talk about the corporate lobbyist-directed groups coming in and disrupting his town hall meetings, saying that they are "tapping into an ongoing anxiety" in the country. You have the New York Times, writing about these events, mentioning Freedom Works and Americans for Prosperity without mentioning their founders (Congressman turned lobbyist Dick Armey, for example) and funders.

However, these may be organized attempts, but there's substantial opportunity for them to go way off the reservation. Doggett reports:

“If you look at the YouTube video, you can barely see in the edge of that a beautiful marble tombstone with my name on it,” Doggett) said. “People that worked so hard to get their signs in full-color did not come to dialogue. They came to be destructive.” Video of protesters confronting Mr. Specter and Ms. Sebelius in Philadelphia was also quickly posted to YouTube.

In this YouTube video of the Doggett riot you can see a sign with Nazi-style "SS" lettering on it.

It's ridiculous to suggest that this is some new-found passion on the right just bursting to the fore in reaction to a piece of legislation. These are the same people who crawled out from rocks and into Sarah Palin rallies last year, screaming that Obama was a terrorist and a Muslim. They are the Ron Paul supporters who chased Sean Hannity down the street when their candidate wasn't allowed in Fox News debates. They are the young conservatives who yelled "Hey hey, ho ho, Social Security's got to go" back in 2005. They are that same set of anti-government, anti-social, anti-Obama types who have struck out with fury and not a little bit of menacing implied violence. They hung a Democratic congressman in effigy last week. They harass Republican representatives about the President's birth certificate. They are angry extremists, and it's fair to ask Republican leaders whether they support hanging Democrats, imagery of tombstones, birther fantasies, and the rest. This is not about policy. It's about incitement to violence.