Saturday, April 18, 2009

Danger Signs

The tax day "tea parties" were easy to ridicule--as I did here. Organized by big lobbying firms and heavily promoted by Fox News and the largest media company in the world, they gathered "grass-roots" demonstrators protesting not only taxes but any of their right wing and lunatic fringe obsessions.

Rachel Maddow made a telling point in her coverage. She noted that tax day often brings out the lunatic fringe, but this time the Republican party embraced them and their causes--and their tone. I think you can go further and say the Republicans adopted their causes and their tone.

That tone is what really worries me. It was not only extreme but violent. Violently inflammatory images--of President Obama as Hitler, as Mao, and in various racist depictions--seemed to be common. President Obama was routinely called a socialist and a fascist--and not just by the rabble, but by Republican politicians and media. What fascists and socialists have in common certainly includes identification as a deadly enemy that Americans have taken arms and killed people to defend against.

Couple these inflammatory, emotionally charged images with another feature of these protests: they included those asserted not just their right to bear arms but their passionate love of guns, and their anger at the perceived threat from President Obama to take those guns away.

This is in a political climate where it is apparently impossible to suggest that assault weapons and automatic weapons that aren't meant to kill people--and in very rapid fashion, do kill people, in Pittsburgh, in Binghamton and elsewhere just in the past week or so--should be controlled.

Some argue whether these demonstrations were politically effective. They probably weren't. Because they were dangerous, and I don't hear this said enough. The Republican party and its media apparatus whipped up violent sentiments aimed at the President. They made common cause with people are may very well include the seriously deluded and unstable.

I watched some of President Obama's speech to delegates at the Latin America conference on Friday. He said what he has said in Europe, to Congress and the American people, on a bewildering range of issues in an amazingly short time: "I am not here to debate the past. I am here to deal with the future."

Despite whatever misgivings I may have about this policy or that decision, the more I see and hear him the more convinced I am of this: the future depends on Barack Obama. There is no one else with his intelligence, breadth, vision and ability to lead. There is no one else.

Those signs at those tea parties are danger signs. I don't know what else to do but pray for the Secret Service.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Alice Goes to A Grand Old Tea Party

Having followed the directions of the Cheshire Fox, Alice found herself at a grand old tea party. The outdoor table was set for hundreds, but there were only a few figures present. As the Cheshire Fox promised, the Mad Hannity, Duck Armie, Birdbill O’Really and several others huddled at the head of the table, all the better to look like a crowd on TV.

"No room!" they cried as they saw Alice approach.

[continued in posts below]
"But there’s plenty of room," said Alice.

"If you were carrying a sign, then we could invite you," Mad Hannity said.

"It should be handwritten," Duck Armie added, "because this is a grassroots tea party. One of my secretaries at my lobbying firm can make one for you if you like. Now that AIG isn’t paying us as much, they have so little to do."

"Thank you," Alice replied. "But I should like to know what the sign will say."

"Oh, something rash," Duck Armie said.

"Did someone call my name?" said a large badger who had been asleep on the table.

"Oh no, Chairman Rash," Duck quacked, " no one would be so disrespectful as to utter the name of Chairman Rash Limberger, without first bowing to you, the Head Cheese. I was merely suggesting that her sign should say something rash."

Rash nodded. "And racist," he added, "like a picture of President Obama with thick lips and a Hitler moustache, in a Mao uniform, shining somebody’s shoes." Then he nodded off again.

"You can stay," Birdbill O’Really said loudly, looking at Alice meaningfully. "Sit here beside me."

"Have some tea," the Mad Hannity offered.

"But there isn’t any," Alice said.

"Of course not," Mad Hannity sniffed. "It’s Wall Street tea. It's the proper tea for revolutionaries protesting against high taxes."

"But didn’t President Obama cut taxes for 95% of Americans?" Alice asked.

"Oh, that’s all right for them," Duck Armie said. "But what about us—the real Americans?"

"Socialists!" cried another voice. It came from an old man hidden behind a teapot. "There are seventeen socialists in Congress!"

"That’s Old Uncle Joe," Birdbill O’Really said reverently. "Isn’t he inspirational?"

Old Uncle Joe
"Are there really seventeen?" Alice asked.

"I have no idea," Birdbill said. "But ‘seventeen socialists’ is so much fun to say."

"Look at the deficit! Will this never end!" thundered Duck.

"We're 100% against government spending!" Mad Hannity cried.

"Except for big military contracts, in my state anyway" Duck Armie added. "Cutting useless military weapons systems is treason!"

"But didn’t you and the Republicans spend so much that the surplus became a deficit, under President Bush!" Alice asked.

"Shhh!" Bird O’Really warned. "We never say that name anymore."

"No and good riddance," Duck said. "We don’t need him. A Birdbill and a Hannity are worth two Bushes, I always say."

"But isn’t it true?"

"Not from where I’m sitting," Duck said. "You see, here in Washington it’s always feeding time, so there’s never a chance to clean away the tea things, and when we use up our cups and plates, we just move down a seat. Perhaps I was in Congress then but now I’m in a lobbyist seat. Let someone else deal with my old mess."
"There are sixty Socialists in the White House!" Uncle Joe suddenly cried.

"Ohh," Birdbill cooed. "That sounds even better."

"This Obama crowd is anti-American and anti-Christian nation!" snarled Mad Hannity.

"Off with their heads!" cried an imperious voice. Alice recognized the White
Queen Ann. "Use the second amendment! Remember the Alamo!"

"What does that mean?" Alice asked. "Are you advocating violence against political opponents, including the President of the United States?"

"What President?" Rash awoke and cried. "That pirate killer? He’s not legitimate!"

"But he was elected by a large margin," Alice noted.

"Exactly!" Mad Hannity said. "Was he appointed by the Supreme Court? Hah! He was not!"

"Did we have to send thugs to intimidate election officials and wait weeks to know if he got in? Did we even have to wait until the next day? And you call him a president!" O’Really shouted. "And look at the polls! He’s above 60%! When did the president have numbers like that? It’s mind control!"

Suddenly two figures dressed exactly alike came running breathlessly past the table. "Obama is a fascist!" one shouted. "Obama is a communist!" the other cried.

"I’ve seen you before," Alice said slowly. "You’re Tweedlebeck and Tweedlemalkin, though I confess I still cannot tell which is which."

"He’s taking away our freedom!" they both pouted. "He’s got the CIA and the NSA spying on our tea party!"

"Nonsense," Alice said firmly. "Besides, when I saw you before, you said that President Bush had every right to spy on anyone—that our civil liberties are worthless if we’re dead."

"You must be one of them!" Tweedlemalkin screamed. She formed a cross with her fingers and began circling Alice and chanting, "CNN, MSNBC, CNN, MSNBC!"

Tweedlebeck sank down into a chair and began to cry. "You just don’t understand. Nobody understands."
Now Alice heard someone singing—it was a large round figure perched on a narrow fence a few yards away.

"Pay him no mind," Mad Hannity muttered. "That’s Humpty Gingrich. He’s a newt, you know."

"Really?" Alice said, frowning. "He looks like an egg."

"He’s a newt egg, you ignorant girl," Hannity sniffed.

"But he’s such a big, round egg," she said.

"He fancies himself an egghead," Mad Hannity rasped. "Always inviting himself to our tea parties, and trying to take over—take our issues! And our ratings!"

"He’s the Gingrich who stole Christmas!" Birdbill O’Really said. "That was my issue—the liberals against Christmas! That was my Christmas bonus for years, now he wants it all for himself!"

Rash Limberger woke up. "Oh really, O’Really?" he shouted. "I’m the Big Cheese around here! All these issues are my issues! I give the orders! More chaos! More ratings for me!"

All the tea partiers commenced to quarreling, throwing cups and plates at each other until Alice had to escape from the table.

"You girl," said Humpty Gingrich as she approached. "Have you learned your lessons?"

"I’m not sure," Alice admitted. "I am rather confused."

"Why are you confused?" Humpty said. " We are very simple and clear, are we not?"

"You call yourself patriotic, and then you criticize the President’s efforts in saving an American in captivity while that man’s life was still in danger. You protest higher taxes when President Obama has just lowered taxes. You call for an end to government spending while you profit from government spending, and lobby to get more of it. You criticize the President for deficits that you piled up, and for wanting to regulate the people whose unregulated actions caused this painful economy. You want stimulus to end the recession, but not spending, which is what stimulus is. I simply don’t understand you."

"Oh you silly girl," Humpty said. "It is just the same thing as when I say that coal is clean energy, stem cell research is murdering children, the world is cooling and not warming, and this is the biggest grassroots tea party in the history of the universe. When I use a word, it means just what I choose it to mean—-neither more nor less."

But Alice found her attention wandering, as she noticed the many small cracks in Humpty’s shell. Fearing that he would explode at any moment, she curtsied and took her leave.

But not before spotting the Cheshire Fox at the edge of the wood. Not the whole Fox—just his smile.

Additional dialogue by Lewis Carroll.