Saturday, September 12, 2009

Weimar Moments

This has been an intense week, to say the least. It was not just the discovery that one of the steel radials on my aerial roof antenna had gone missing, but that after having the house power-washed, I find myself having to kick in the front door just to get inside. Then there were those skin thingies I had removed a couple of days ago. All of it pales, however, and is small potatoes, in comparison to those school kids who were hauled out of classrooms across the country to prevent them from hearing Obama's speech on Tuesday--because their parents think he is Hitler. That really did seem like the last straw in the department of outrageous insults and disrespect that now passes for political life in this country.

But so-called "last straws" at this point have become the unfortunate norm. Not only did Halloween hooligans (disguised as Republican members of Congress) boo the President the following night while he was giving his much-awaited public address to both Houses of Congress and the American public on health care, but one of them, Joe Wilson, shouted at him, saying "You lie!" It seems like we are having ever-escalating examples of what one columnist tagged as "America's very own Weimar moment."

The next morning Wilson mustered a phony apology to the President, but later that day, he used the incident not only to fund-raise on his website, but also to reassert his drivel. "I will not be muzzled," he announced. "I will speak loudly against this risky plan of government takeover of health care and giving health care to illegals." Joe Wilson, it turns out, is a card-carrying member of a White Supremacists group, and also belongs to the Sons of Confederate Veterans, a contemporary offshoot of the KKK. If it were up to Wilson, the Confederate Flag would be flying over the South Carolina State Capitol.

Wilson is now widely known for his absolute contempt for Barack Obama. Two anonymous reader comments I found on the Huffington Post summed it up pretty well, at least for me:

"The bigots of the Republican whites-only world are beside themselves with rage because a black man is in the Oval Office and he isn't there to polish the silverware."
"A black president and a white southern congressman. You do the math. I'm just glad he didn't say, 'You lie, boy.'"

The day after Obama's speech, my friend Liz forwarded me the following letter, written by Lou Pritchett, vice-president of sales and customer development for Proctor & Gamble. It was originally submitted to the New York Times, but did not get published. Now it is circulating in cyberspace, supposedly vetted by a fact-checking site, I've included about two-thirds of the full text.


Dear President Obama:

You are the thirteenth President under whom I have lived and unlike any
of the others, you truly scare me. You scare me because after months of
exposure, I know nothing about you.
You scare me because I do not know how you paid for your expensive Ivy
League education and your upscale lifestyle and housing with no visible
signs of support
You scare me because you did not spend the formative years of youth
growing up in America and culturally you are not an American.
You scare me because you have never run a company or met a payroll.
You scare me because you have never had military experience, thus don't
understand it at its core.
You scare me because you lack humility and 'class', always blaming others.
You scare me because for over half your life you have aligned yourself
with radical extremists who hate America and you refuse to publicly
denounce these radicals who wish to see America fail.
You scare me because you are a cheerleader for the 'blame America'
crowd and deliver this message abroad.
You scare me because you want to change America to a European style
country where the government sector dominates instead of the private sector.
You scare me because you want to replace our health care system with a
government controlled one....
You scare me because your own political party shrinks from challenging
you on your wild and irresponsible spending proposals.
You scare me because you will not openly listen to or even consider
opposing points of view from intelligent people.
You scare me because you falsely believe that you are both omnipotent
and omniscient.
You scare me because the media gives you a free pass on everything you do.
You scare me because you demonize and want to silence the Limbaughs,
Hannitys, O'Relllys and Becks who offer opposing, conservative points of
You scare me because you prefer controlling over governing.
Finally, you scare me because if you serve a second term I will
probably not feel safe in writing a similar letter in 8 years.
Lou Pritchett

Even if this letter were a proven fake, the sentiments expressed in it are bonafide; they are circulating widely on the Internet and on talk-show radio as a matter of course, every day. A short while after reading Lou Pritchett's letter, the same friend forwarded me another article, this one written by a senior writer at Tallahassee Democrat, Gerald Ensley. Ensley identifies the word "socialist" as the new racist slur. It replaces the old "nigger"-word, which it is no longer considered socially acceptable to use. "Socialist" has become code for expressing unrelenting contempt for the black man who was elected President of the United States. "This is hateful, ignorant, racist bile," he writes. Obviously not all people who oppose Obama are racists, he adds, but those people do not use buzzwords like socialist or communist or Nazi. They simply oppose his policies, not the man.

Honestly I wasn't planning to blog about this subject (yet again), until something else put me over the top. Almost immediately after receiving these two e-mails, I happened to read an article in Vanity Fair about the assassination of John F. Kennedy. The essay, by Sam Kashner, was actually more about the huge emotional upheavals undergone by the assassination's embattled chronicler, William Mancheste, in his subsequent relationships with certain members of the Kennedy family, most especially Jackie, who tried to stop the book's publication. "The Death of a President," finally appeared in 1967, and by 1970 had earned more than a million dollars, all of which was donated to the Kennedy library. But it is now out of print. All of which makes for a fascinating story.

However, it was a particular section of Kashner's article that jumped off the page at me, in light of this summer's tea-bagging health-care rallies and the two events (recounted above) of outlandish Obama-bashing that occurred this week. Kashner describes a period when Manchester went back to Dallas, to walk the five-mile motorcade route where Kennedy was killed, and to explore for possible clues to the assassination around the city. What he discovers is that such deep political enmities were simmering in the town that Kennedy had been warned not to make the trip--by people as diverse as Billy Graham and Senator William Fulbright, who both pleaded with him not to go there. Here is the relevant paragraph that made my hair stand on end, and has caused me write this huge, over-sized blog:

"Manchester also discovered that Dallas 'had become the Mecca for medicine-show evangelists...the Minutemen, the John Birch and Patrick Henry Societies, and the headquarters of [ultra-conservative oil billionaire] H.L. Hunt and his activities. In that third year of the Kennedy presidency' Manchester wrote, 'a kind of fever lay over Dallas country. Mad things happened. Huge billboards screamed, 'Impeach Earl Warren.' Jewish stores were smeared with crude swastikas...Radical Right polemics were distributed in public schools; Kennedy's name was booed in classrooms;...a wanted poster with JFK's face on it was circulated...[for allegedly] appointing 'anti-Christians...aliens and known Communists to federal offices.' " That day an ad had appeared in The Dallas Daily News accusing Kennedy of making a secret deal with the Communist Party. When it was shown to the President, he was appalled. He said to Jackie, "Oh, you know, we're heading into nut country today." Shortly after that he was shot.

Yesterday I received a copy of the Southern Poverty Law Center's "Intelligence Report: The Second Wave." The letter which accompanies the report starts off:

"Dear Suzi Gablik,

Nearly a decade after virtually disappearing from public view, the so-called 'Patriot' movement is back. These antigovernment extremists--right-wing militias, 'sovereign citizens,' groups and ideologically driven tax defiers--are being revitalized around the country, and authorities are reporting a disturbing increase in Patriot activities and propaganda....In this issue of the "Intelligence Report," we investigate the recent proliferation of potentially dangerous Patriot groups and examine an alarming new component. Previously, these extremists were motivated mostly by a paranoid hatred of the government. But with a black man now in the White House and high levels of non-white immigration, the movement has been infused with racism. Already we've seen a rash of domestic terrorism incidents largely in response to Obama's election....

Morris Dees, Founder"

I haven't read the report yet, but plan on doing so soon. Even Virgil finds himself at a loss for some kind of worthy punch line to offset the darkness of this blog and close it down. He's just as jumpy today as I am. So I'll let "joetheinformed" have the last word here: "The Republican party needs to be disbanded. They are a disgrace to this country."

"Indeed," Virgil does pipe up. "It's either disband, or take up Tantric Yoga: learn to sublimate those base instincts." The trouble with both of these suggestions is that neither will happen. Growing good human beings is definitely more difficult than growing good asparagus.


Anonymous said...

Dear Suzi,

Chilling observations. And yes, to my chagrin, I teach at a school where the Obama speech was not shown. Censured. Silenced by the voices of a number of extremist parents.

I have shared my disappointment with my principal and I am planning to raise the topic at the faculty meeting on Tuesday. I teach at a school where the KKK was allowed to come in and recruit student members as late as 1987. Where they marched in the homecoming parade the same year. The same county where Lemuel Penn was gunned down in 1964 by Klansmen. A county where the schools should be taking a strong stance to atone for the sins of the past.

I would leave for a more liberal county or state, if I felt like it wasn't essential that I stay. It would be easier and less maddening to work with more like minded colleagues and administrators. My saving grace is the few wonderful compassionate, brilliant colleagues with whom I share a similar world view. And the kids who make me laugh daily.

But I can only take so much. And I am worried for our President. I don't know what to do help squelch all this madness.

Oh, and by the way, what is your source for Joe Wilson's white supremacist ties? I'd love to pass that on to my people.

Unknown said...

oops, that was from me. Not anonymous.