There wasn't a Billy left in the hills on Saturday, when tens of thousands of anti-government types, gun nuts, white supremacists, religious zealots, tax evaders and crazies streamed into Washington. It was pure delirium, as the National Mall resembled a sanitarium.
In a sea of American (and many Confederate) flags waved by more than a few secessionists, Obama was pictured as Hitler and portrayed as Stalin. The federal government was likened to an alien invader run by an illegitimate, foreign-born black president, who just happened to be elected by the American people.
I wish I could say that this unruly behavior is an anomaly, but it seems to be a growing and vocal part of the Republican Party. In the 1980's, Rev. Jerry Falwell and Ralph Reed used direct mail and talk radio to organize what were previously known as busybodies into the Moral Majority. Today's GOP has harnessed the power of the Internet and cable television to lure the loons and create a constituency of crackpots.
The result has been disastrous for this nation. Our healthcare system is broken and we are rated near the bottom when compared to nearly every other industrialized country. We pay more per person for healthcare and we live shorter lives. There is instability, as families often go broke when a loved one falls ill and there is insecurity because losing a job means forfeiting coverage. American businesses are saddled with growing healthcare costs, which make it more difficult to compete in the global marketplace.
Yet, instead of an adult conversation about an issue that is crippling our nation, our dimmest citizens have derailed the debate. These out-of-control, severely under medicated, surreptitious partisans hijacked town hall meetings and may cost the rest of us decent healthcare reform. Obama's powerful speech last week helped mitigate the damage, but having frittered away the summer, it may be too late for the president to regain momentum.
At fault is the media -- who routinely offer right wing sickos a stage to air the most outrageous allegations. Max Blumenthal, author of the new book, "Republican Gomorrah: Inside the Movement that Shattered the Party", discussed the media's culpability last week on National Public Radio.
"The mainstream media attempts this veneer of balance of entertaining both sides," said Blumenthal. "But when one side is completely hysterical, conspiratorial, and leveling baseless attacks, should it be taken seriously? And what are the consequences for taking these attacks seriously in a democracy?"
The result, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), is an explosion of militias and hate groups. In a new report, the SPLC documents at least, "50 new militia training groups -- one of them made up of present and former police officers and soldiers."
"Almost a decade after largely disappearing from public view, right-wing militias, ideologically driven tax defiers and sovereign citizens are appearing in large numbers around the country," says the report. The bizarre theories include:
1) Nativist theories about secret Mexican plans to "reconquer" the American Southwest
2) A secret network of U.S. concentration camps to imprison "patriots" who stand up to the federal government
If these were just harmless blowhards, that would be one thing. The problem is, these nuts are heavily armed and are a staple at shows that hawk firearms. SPLC reports that, "Sales of guns and ammunition have skyrocketed amid fears of new gun control laws, much as they did in the 1990s."
Unless the media culture changes, there will be another Oklahoma City-type disaster or even an assassination attempt on our President. Responsible media outlets must stop offering platforms to serial distorters such as Rush Limbaugh, Ann Coulter and Glenn Beck. The next time Sarah Palin makes up a lie, such as death panels, the story should be about how she twisted the truth. Not a single story should be written or broadcast giving legs to the lies and allowing mistruths to run amok.
Thanks to the press winking and nodding to the nuts, Rep. Joe Wilson (R-SC) felt empowered to heckle the President during his healthcare speech. More disturbing are reports that say many people in Wilson's district applaud his sophomoric actions.
Clearly, it is time we stop calling these people "conservatives." True conservatives, who believe in respecting authority and protocol, would have been appalled at the example Wilson set for children. After all, how can young people be expected to obey parents and teachers when the president is catcalled in the halls of Congress?
I've had it with such antics. This crowd destabilized Bill Clinton's presidency. Then, they stole the 2000 election, by sending partisan thugs down to South Florida to disrupt the recount. Now, the paranoiacs are in a full-blown panic over the first black president.
This fight is no longer about healthcare, nor is about deficits. It is about the very health of the political process and turning back the deficit in decency exemplified by Joe Wilson, Sarah Palin and the demagogues out to undermine our system of government.