Tuesday, January 19, 2010

What The Tea-Baggers/Brown Voters Have Taught Me

That American people, or enough of them anyway, can overreact at the drop of a hat.  During the history classes growing up, we were always reminded of the Palmer raids and red scares after World War I and McCarthyism during and after the Korean War.  Hysteria and fear driven by a real but distant and quite weak red menace. How could this happen?  The 20th century equivalent of witch hunts?

For the past year, I have been hearing about socialism this and communism that.  Red herrings, indeed. But the efforts by opponents of health care reform to play upon these "ancient hatreds"/fears has worked--folks who would benefit from reform opposite it.  Well done.  And so now I can see how folks might overreact to the threat of real or semi-real communism if they get this upset over imaginary communism.

So, is it more American to accuse other folks of being un-American?  Or is it more American to expect to see reason win out?   Give that we have had a House Un-American Activities Committee and that the previous administration was essentially on the record as seeing reality as an unnecessary obstacle during the planning process, I guess I would vote for the former.  And that makes me a bad Liberal since Liberals expect that with reason and good information, people will bargain and reach decent outcomes.

PS  And I have also learned that the Democrats are often lousy campaigners--attacking Curt Schilling as a yankee?  Jeez.  Talk about clueless.


Chris said...

A quick historical point: While McCarthyism and the Red Scares were clearly over-the-top responses, the Communist threat was not nearly as minimal as it's often made out to be. I didn't know about how bad it was until I took a class on the atomic era and realized how "cool" Communism was for many in the intelligentsia at the time. Plus the threat of Communist spies was real; the Russians were excellent at spycraft while we were total amateurs and several agents they had compromised tons of knowledge (including the atom bomb) and many of our agents in the USSR. So I think there was a kernal of truth there at least, which sometimes gets left out of the quick mainstream view of history.

But back to your main point: there are tea partiers on both sides. Some may act more crazy than others at certain times (usually when their party of choice is out of power), but they are all no less dangerous. Militancy isn't limited to one side of the aisle or the other, though I agree there are probably more right-wing militias than left-wing at the moment (though they all depend on how you define them- construct validity!). And ignorance is in the same boat, for the most part (though if you know of some stats on voter knowledge I'd love to see 'em). In short, there's a normal distribution of political craziness in America and it's definitely not single-tailed.

Also, there's a significant selection bias effect in what the media (both sides) reports. All it takes is one mention of "Communism" to grab cameras or attract radio listeners. Thus you're going to hear those voices much more than the many reasonable arguments and people out there.

I largely agree with you though about the Bush administration being mostly ignorant of reality. It's too bad that such a crucial moment in America's history was bungled so badly.

Steve Greene said...

The biggest over-reaction is coming from the Democratic morons who actually have a substantial majority in Congress and the power to make health care reform a reality with a single vote. Republicans in Congress A) clearly don't understand health care policy at all, and B) don't give a damn about most people other than themselves and their corporate sponsors. The Democrats in Congress should know better and get it done.