What'll We Do About the Town Hall Screamers? Part 1: The Missed Opportunity:
One of the major miscalculations of the Obama administration so far has been a misread of just how fucked-up a good chunk of the nation was after his election. Of course, of course, fear of a black president takes care of some of it. But let's not limit our discussion to that. Because at the end of the Bush era, there was this sense in the nation that something, unnameable but intensely present, was wrong with the country. For many of us, the answer was simple: the Bush administration had fundamentally changed the governance of this country and it had exponentially compounded the nexus between corporations and the government. In other words, the Bush era was focused on disempowering the population in order to consolidate its own power. To put it another way, it's like getting an invitation to watch an orgy through a screen window.
Let's be honest (and, yes, this is one of those overgeneralized, "look at the yokels," elitist statments, so, sure, exceptions exist): there's large swaths of the United States that are filled with lost people, people who have been broken down by wondering whether they're gonna lose or have lost their jobs (and health insurance) as jobs go overseas and employment ranks shrink, people who feel an anger out there that is, yes, yes, soothed by guns and religion, the former that promises them instant power, the latter that promises them happiness everlasting if they do what they're told God wants. They are deluded by those who soothe their anger, the people on talk radio or Fox "news" who say in an endless loop, "It's not your fault, it's not your fault, it's this person or that person, immigrants, gays, liberal activists, attack them." Toss into this mix the natural progression of personal problems like divorce or illness, toss in the shitty education most of them have, and shake, motherfuckers, shake. It's fucking scary to live now, and not even for the reasons they've been told by Sean Hannity.
You ever walked in a room and it just felt like you had to get the fuck out of there, now, for no reason you could explain, but it just felt that way? Now imagine the door was locked behind you. You could panic and try to break the door down. Or you could figure out what's bugging you out. One is easy. One takes work. The rage being expressed at the town hall meetings is the inarticulate belching forth of this irrational fear. It is the attempt to beat down the door and escape when escape isn't possible.
For one thing, Republicans don't do well when they're out of power, especially after an extended period of being in power. Ask Jimmy Carter. Ask Bill Clinton. Democrats try to figure out a way to make it work when there's a Republican president. Republicans just try to figure out how to fuck shit up when the executive's a Democrat. These approaches do not go together.
Let's give a little credit here: people are showing up to yell and rant at town hall meetings mostly of their own volition. No one's paying them or anything to do it. They don't really have anything to say, but they're venting. It's public masturbation. We just gotta make sure it doesn't get to rape. And let's give credit to the ever-Machiavellian Republicans, who have taken advantage of this anger like hate-fucking frat boys on spring break. So much of this anger is misdirected; it should be on the Bush administration, but the people expressing it don't have the self-awareness to see that and they couldn't do it anyways; it'd be like smacking their fathers. Besides, it much easier to blame Nancy Pelosi. Still, anger has to come out. The question is how and for what reason and what's the best way to misdirect that anger for your own purposes.
Now, follow the bouncing ball: Another miscalculation by the Obama administration was in not seeing the political value of investigating and prosecuting Bush administration officials, including Dick Cheney. See, having the Justice Department under Eric Holder threatening to arrest and drag off the ex-VP and others would have been the perfect shiny object for the right wing. Who has time (or as much time) to argue about whether or not Obama wants to kill Granny if he's wanting to jail Alberto Gonzales? Let people protest and let Rush Limbaugh pop like a diseased pimple over it while Glenn Beck weeps that he's next. Hey, Obama has no control, really, if Justice wants to go ahead, right? And think of what it would have forced Republicans to do: state whether or not they support the actions of the Bush administration, the presidency they dare not speak of because it reminds people of what they're actually angry about. Yes, such action against the Bush White House would have been a distraction, but in a good way. The other thing it would have done is to ameliorate the rage of much of the nation, the gnawing sense that "they got away with it."
Sure, sure, this idea presumes a number of almost blindly optimistic scenarios, that Obama would have had the sense to abandon bipartisanship as soon as he had his Senate 60, that Democrats would have had to stand together on some goals.
Ah, but that moment has passed. Now we have to wonder what to do now about this summer fad of shouting down anyone who thinks the country needs to change and progress. More on that tomorrow.