I can just hear Emily Litella.
You remember her. She was one of Blessed Gilda Radner's character's on Saturday Night Live - an elderly woman in a frumpy dress and sweater who was hard of hearing. In a high-pitched warbly voice she would look over her reading glasses from her manuscript and launch into an increasingly agitated opinion about some public issue.
One of my favorites was her take on cancer research:
What's all this fuss I hear about pouring money into canker research? How much can you learn about a tiny sore inside your face! Why waste your money, America? Cankers can be beaten. Don't eat grapefruit. And if you do have cankers, don't fiddle with them. Keep your fingers out of your mouth!I know she's off on stage right, just waiting to be introduced.
"What's all this fuss I hear about Youth in Asia," she'd ask, before launching in on a SNL news commentary on the current debates-cum-yelling matches on Health Care.
She'd go on and on until the news anchor, Jane Curtain or Chevy Chase would say, "Ms. Litella, it's 'euthanasia'. Some of the elderly are concerned that President Obama's health care proposals mean that they won't get any health care and the only choice they'll have is euthanasia, or to be 'put to sleep' like old work horses."
"Euthanasia?" Ms. Litella would ask.
"Yes, it's 'euthanasia'. Not 'Youth in Asia'."
"Oh, that's very different," she'd say to Jane or Chevy.
Then, looking straight into the camera, Emily would say, "Never mind."
Indeed, I keep waiting to see the emergence of the spry and indefatigable Ms. Litella in one of the "Town Hall Debates" that keep popping up like pop corn on an open summer camp fire in this long, hot summer of 2009.
She would certainly be a welcomed relief from images such as the guy in New Hampshire who brought a gun (and a sign about watering the tree of democracy with blood from time to time) to a protest outside a recent presidential forum on health care.
Interviewing the guy later on Hardball, Chris Matthews was baffled by this, but it makes a certain, scary sense to me.
I don't think that the folks who show up to yell at their elected leaders about health care are either hard of hearing or confused about the issues. I think they are as clear as their newly-cleaned bifocals.
Yelling is not the disease. It is a symptom of a much more pernicious dis-ease process in this country.
Here's what it looks like from my bifocals: This is an uprising in the Bible Belt whose buckle came undone when this country overwhelmingly elected Barack Hussain Obama as President.
I know. I know. It's very easy to ascribe this to a "vast right-wing conspiracy" and curse the latest wave of Evangelicalism that is sweeping all the main line denominations, including Roman Catholicism.
It's also easy to dismiss this all as the 'last gasps of patriarchy'.
While I think the move to the Right and the still fiercely glowing embers of the slow death of patriarchy are all a part of this, I readily concede that it's much more complicated than that.
And, much, much more dangerous.
Just this week, the Southern Poverty Law Center reported an alarming increase in the 'Patriot Movement' we saw in the 1990's.
"Paper terrorism" — the use of property liens and citizens' "courts" to harass enemies — is on the rise. And once-popular militia conspiracy theories are making the rounds again, this time accompanied by nativist theories about secret Mexican plans to "reconquer" the American Southwest. One law enforcement agency has found 50 new militia training groups — one of them made up of present and former police officers and soldiers. Authorities around the country are reporting a worrying uptick in Patriot activities and propaganda. "This is the most significant growth we've seen in 10 to 12 years," says one. "All it's lacking is a spark. I think it's only a matter of time before you see threats and violence."
A key difference this time is that the federal government — the entity that almost the entire radical right views as its primary enemy — is headed by a black man. That, coupled with high levels of non-white immigration and a decline in the percentage of whites overall in America, has helped to racialize the Patriot movement, which in the past was not primarily motivated by race hate. One result has been a remarkable rash of domestic terror incidents since the presidential campaign, most of them related to anger over the election of Barack Obama. At the same time, ostensibly mainstream politicians and media pundits have helped to spread Patriot and related propaganda, from conspiracy theories about a secret network of U.S. concentration camps to wholly unsubstantiated claims about the president's country of birth.
Race hatred coupled with the economic depression and soaring unemployment, and fueled by fundamental religious beliefs has always been the recipe for violence.
I am convinced that the latest image of a multi-ethnic President welcoming the first Latina to the Supreme Court has a direct impact on the report from SPLC. Indeed, sometimes I fear it may well provide the spark to light the dry, broken remnants and shards of the dominant cultural paradigm which has provided the structure of this country since its inception.
Americans of Anglo-European descent and committed to a conservative Christian worldview are the 'residual culture' which, as history has shown, will not submit quietly to their newly developing status in this country.
Which is why immigration is such a hot-button issue. As the country becomes increasingly 'brown', those of lighter skin coloring who once held a position of dominance feel increasingly isolated, alienated and aggrieved.
The yelling about health care? I wouldn't be so ready to dismiss it, as Ms. Letilla might, as misunderstanding something coming from confused, anxious elders, shrug our shoulders and say, "Never mind."
It's complicated, but to my ears, it has the sound of an expression of an intense but incoherent feeling of being displaced from the seat of cultural and racial dominance.
Which sounds like desperation and, as William Blake once warned, "Desperate people in desperate times do desperate things."