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Monday, August 24, 2009

The Rise of Mobocracy in America

Every history class I ever attended from junior high through college warned about the threat of mobocracy on the American Political system.

To me a mob is an angry group of people who move from place to place mindlessly destroying people's property. I never understood how unruly people could effect something as large and abstract as Democracy. Well, with the recent town hall meetings on healthcare and other issues I now understand. In Massachusetts, Representative Barney Frank was told by a woman that the President's health plan was akin to Nazism. Mr. Frank, with great disdain, declined to respond to her question. Similarly, a Nazi symbol was painted on the sign of a Democratic Congressman from Georgia who supports Obama's plan. I am unclear what providing healthcare to children and the poor has to do with a regime that started World War II and systematically killed 6 million Jews including children. A death threat was made to a congressional supporter of the health plan. The town hall meetings themselves have turned into shouting matches where the opponents of the health plan drown out any discussion. Democratic Senator Claire McCaskill of Missouri admonished the crowd for their rude behavior. Arlene Specter's town hall was so boisterous it was impossible to have any rational discussion. In New Hampshire an opponent of the Obama administration showed up with a pistol strapped to his leg; in Arizona, a man appeared with an AR-15 automatic rifle. In both instances the President was only yards away.

To me this sort of behavior means only one thing: the Right wing does not want any discussion of the issues, they want to drown out the discussion with shouting, threats and ridiculous accusations. You could say that the actions of these crowds are a clear sign of mobocracy as they are drowning out democratic discourse. Clearly, such actions can be a threat to democracy. However, I am afraid that the mobocracy we face has ascended yet another level. Republican Senator Grassley of Iowa met with constituents throughout his state during the August recess to discuss the healthcare plan and other matters. A week or so earlier, Sarah Palin, the former Governor of Alaska and other prominent Republicans began to refer to a portion of the healthcare plan dealing with end of life counseling as a 'death panel'. Ms. Palin inferred that Government bureaucrats would decide who lived and died, or as it was so aptly put by Senator Grassley himself, 'pull the plug on Grandma.' In fact the end of life counseling referred to advising patients about living wills, powers of attorney and other legal devices that have been around for decades. The description of this portion of the bill as a death panel was a complete fiction. No one knows this better then Senator Grassley, as the amendment to the healthcare bill including end of life counseling, occurred in the Senate. The capper is that the end of life counseling was actually proposed by Senator Isakson, a Republican from Georgia. Senator Grassley fielded questions from angry citizens, some of whom invoked the death panels as a reason for the bill to be defeated. Not once did the good Senator explain what in fact the amendment was about. Perhaps he was afraid of breaking their spirit or more then likely he was afraid of losing their votes by telling them the truth. Unfortunately, going along with this lie was the rule not the exception for Republican lawmakers, with even Senator Isakson distancing himself from this harmless piece of legislation. Then, in a final bit of submission to the mob the Senate has decided to do away with the end of life counseling because it is 'confusing'.

Prior to the August recess, other town halls were held and that is when yet another mob (although I suspect essentially the same people) asserted itself although on a different subject. This time it was the issue of whether the President was a natural born American. One after another people stood up completely enraged inquiring from their elected representative why a man who was not born in the United States is President of the Country. The Democratic lawmakers I saw on You Tube said Obama was born in the United States to the boos of the people present. But here once again the Republicans acquiesced to the madness. Our very own Orange County Representative John Campbell appeared on the news show Hardball to explain why he was sponsoring legislature to ensure that Presidential Candidates show proof of their American birth. He also refused to say definitively whether the President was born in the United States. Representative Campbell's lack of character did not permit him to confront the irrational folks in his party and instead encouraged their madness further with proposed legislation. Certainly this new high in American Mobocracy was a new low for the nation. It is one thing for the crazies to disrupt meeting places yelling and carrying firearms; it is another for politicians to knowingly go along with the madness so as not to antagonize them. Members of our Government our giving into the mob so as to not lose their support. It is not the first time that politicians have given into ludicrous mob sentiment.

In the 1920s the National Socialist German Worker's Party came to be in Germany. That party was born as a result of an economic depression, not unlike the economic times the United States is currently experiencing. In addition, there was a wide spread but entirely unsubstantiated belief that Germany's humiliation at the end of World War I was the result of a Jewish/Communist conspiracy. Many political factions on the right tolerated and joined with that party because, among other things, they helped control the communists. In the end, this tolerance led to the complete destruction and division of Germany for 50 years. Perhaps if there had been enough Germans with the character to confront the thugs and their lies a lot of pain might have been averted. It is my sincere hope there are enough strong Americans to stem the current tide.



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