Christopher Beam has a great on-the-ground report about the Glenn Beck-inspired 9/12 rally in D.C. up at Slate.com. Unfortunately it seems as though my assessment of the event was correct. It was not the “non-political movement” Beck has been hyping through his 9/12 Project, but rather a bitterly partisan, 100% political protest concerned not with bringing Americans of different philosophies together for compromise and a common cause, but with opposing President Obama in any and every way possible.
“Everything that comes out of his mouth is a lie,” one protestor quoted in Beam’s article says about Obama.
Attendees were also adamant that members of Congress read legislation. Betsy McCaughey, after being introduced by the MC as “the woman who started it all by actually reading the bills,” appeared at the podium toting her usual binder containing the House health care legislation and proceeded to read from it. (Her claims were similar to ones she made in a New York Post op-ed in July. They have been largelyrefuted.) “I think Congress should read the bills, but I’d be happier if some of them read this a little more often,” said Rep. Pence, brandishing the Constitution.
Unfortunately, reading bills rarely resolves anything. Witness this exchange between me and a young man from South Carolina.
Him: “Have you read the House health care bill?”
Me: “Yes, parts of it.”
Him: “Do you think it covers illegal immigrants?”
Him: “Then you haven’t read it!”
The bill does not, in fact, cover illegal immigrants.
Other details captured in Beam’s piece reveal a gathering filled with the already-all-too-familiar trappings of the so-called tea party movement:
Historical analogies abounded. One woman’s T-shirt showed the Founding Fathers with the caption “Right-Wing Extremists.” Hitler moustaches adorned Obama posters. The tea-party analogy, initially a cute metaphor for conservatives upset about the stimulus package and auto bailout, has become a battle cry. Protesters marched in white wigs tricornered hats. “Don’t Tread on Me” flags were outnumbered only by the Stars and Stripes. During the rally in front of the Capitol, a video compared Obama’s policies to those that incited the Revolutionary War. Now, according to the deep-voiced narrator, “Lady Liberty faces her greatest challenge.”
Most of the themes of the protest were familiar. Demonstrators were upset by TARP, or the stimulus, or health care reform, or cap-and-trade. But some gripes were new. I was especially struck by the tea baggers’ obsession with czars. Everyone knew the number of czars Obama appointed: 37. And nobody was happy with them. “They’re socialist radicals,” said Davy Reeves of Kalamazoo, Mich. “I don’t like the idea of all these czars,” said Geri Shea of Leesburg, Va. “It’s unconstitutional.”
. . . I asked a few protesters how Obama’s czars are different from the unelected advisers every president appoints. “Every president does have advisers,” said Kelly Grillo, Northfield, N.J. “But Obama has way too many.”
Why do I get the feeling Kelly Grillo’s real problem with Obama’s multitude of czars is not the number, but the man who appointed them?
Some on the left, particularly Bill Maher, who I normally find hilarious and insightful, have asserted that these protests are fueled by racism. There are certainly racists actively working to stir up opposition to Obama, and I’m sure that the number of people who voted against the president last November for no reason other than the melanin content of his skin would be alarmingly high if we could ever accurately discover it, but I don’t think racism is the engine driving the protests. I think ignorant, lazy conservatives are no different than ignorant, lazy liberals — they’re easily led, and it takes almost no effort to rile them up into a frenzy.
Watch the footage from these rallies over the weekend. Listen to Hannity or Levin or Limbaugh (when he deigns to take calls) on the radio. See how angry some of these folks are. What are they so angry about? Maybe some small part of it is over there being a black guy in the White House, whether people realize it or not. I think most of it is due to conservative talk show hosts, the most successful of whom attract audiences of millions who dwell in the philosophical margins of our politics, telling their listeners over and over again that Barack Obama is a dishonest, dangerous radical who is purposely trying to destroy the United States of America. Hannity backs off a step or two when directly challenged on this point, but Levin makes no bones about it: he sees Obama as an enemy of democracy, has even called him a Stalinist. If your favorite radio host called the president a Stalinist, and you were too dumb or lazy to think about it for two seconds for yourself, you’d probably be pissed off, too.
“We’re just protesting their president the same way they protested Bush!” some tea party boosters say when accused of extremism. But they really aren’t. President Bush was subjected to a lot of mockery and protest from the left (some small amount of it from yours truly), but let’s compare his perceived offenses to those of Obama. Bush started two wars, one of which was indisputably arbitrary and has cost thousands of American lives and tens of thousands of Iraqi lives. Bush treated fighting terrorism as a military operation and detained suspected terrorists indefinitely, without counsel, without trial, many in secret prisons. With Bush’s knowledge and approval (and also that of Congress — let’s not let them wriggle off the hook), some of these detainees were tortured by American agents, a practice most veterans of Bush’s administration, particularly former Vice President Dick Cheney, still vigorously defend.
Barack Obama, on the other hand, has spent a shitload of money. And that is pretty much the beginning and the end of the conservative protests against him. TARP, cap and trade, healthcare reform — they all raise the ire of conservatives because of how expensive they are. There are also a lot of shouts about the expansion of government power, about socializing this or that industry, but most of the people getting bent out of shape over these don’t even know what they’re saying. They’re painting Hitler moustaches on photos of Obama and shouting about what a commie he is (how’s that for cognitive dissonance?) because they’ve been convinced he’s a bad guy.
Strangely, protests against Obama from the far left have a lot more weight behind them than the right-wing fearmongering. Some liberals are pissed at Obama for escalating the war in Afghanistan, and for wanting to compromise too much with the Republicans. One reason why healthcare reform has become such a clusterfuck is because Obama has tried to involve the other side in the process rather than marshalling his Democratic majority in the House and Senate to bulldoze his reforms through. But these aren’t problems for conservatives like Beck, Hannity and Levin — they’re all for the war, and ignore the efforts at bipartisanship. They’ve found their enemy, they’ve dug in for a four-to-eight year fight, and they’re not about to let facts or scruples stand in their way.