Right now, we need a reminder of a different sort, but it can be found in that same iconic Freedom of Speech painting. The scene is a local town hall meeting where one working man speaks and his neighbors calmly listen. I get the sense that they don't necessarily agree with the nervous speaker, but apparently they don't scream or yell or wave their fists. Nobody is full of rage. They listen respectfully because they might actually learn something. And besides, everybody wants the same respect when it's their turn to speak.
That's been the tradition in this country since about 1600... until last week, of course, when the teabaggers were whipped into a frenzy by their astroturf overlords. As I've stated before, these protesters do not make up a grassroots coalition of "regular Americans." The movement was manufactured by slick, conservative, well-funded, lobbyist-run think tanks called Americans for Prosperity and Freedom Works with the purpose of denouncing taxation (with representation).
However, the teabaggers didn't go away after tax day. The lobbyists now have a fanatical list of grunts at their disposal, and they intend to use them to shout down any intelligent debate about other pressing issues like health care reform and clean energy. Think Progress has a leaked teabagger memo describing harassment strategies for town hall meetings. Suggestions include "artificially inflate your numbers", "be disruptive early and often", and (the most revealing one) "Try To 'Rattle Him,' Not Have An Intelligent Debate."
That says it all. They are firmly against intelligent debate. And they are proving they are against any intelligent debate. One moment of complete absurdity happened at a Town Hall event hosted by Texas Rep. Gene Green:
During the town hall, one conservative activist turns to his fellow attendees and asks them to raise their hands if they “oppose any form of socialized or government-run health care.” Almost all the hands shot up. Rep Green quickly turned the question on the audience and asked, “How many of you have Medicare?” Nearly half the attendees raised their hands, failing to note the irony.But other protests have been more disturbing. In Maryland, a protester hung a Democrat Rep. in effigy. That is a clear threat.
And the only recourse at these meetings may be to arrest for disorderly conduct. We certainly can't afford to tolerate those who endeavor to silence their opponents. It's mob rule. All Republicans need to denounce these tactics or risk closing down our system of government.
But I almost forgot that they want President Obama to fail, and they want our country to fail. I guess America never was as idyllic as a Norman Rockwell painting. I wonder how Rockwell would have painted a teabagger?